Real Pictures Of The Old West That You’ve Never Seen Before

The American Old West is key to understanding American history since it represents a turning point where the fate of the Native American population was being sealed as European immigrants were taking over the North American land. A lot of what many of us know about the Old West – sometimes referred to as the Wild West – comes from John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies. But there are also amazing photographs from that period that have been preserved, allowing us to get a glimpse into the real West.

Rose of the Cimarron
The outlaw whom many referred to as “Rose of the Cimarron” was born Rose Dunn in Oklahoma. In 1893, at the age of 14 or 15, she fell in love with a wanted man by name of George Newcomb. Two years later Rose’s brothers – who were bounty hunters – shot and killed him.

Death Valley
Death Valley received its name in 1849, during the Gold Rush era. At that time gold hunters, eager to make a fortune, were willing to put their lives at risk by going through areas such as Death Valley, where food and water were almost impossible to find.

Charley Nebo
In 1861 Charley Nebo – seen on the left in the above picture – came to the U.S. from Canada and during the Civil War, he fought on the Union side. He went on to work as a cowboy in New Mexico and became friends with the famous Billy the Kid. Everyone knew not to get on Nebo’s bad side; in fact he once shot and killed a man for killing a young boy’s dog.

Rufus Buck Gang
The Rufus Buck Gang stood apart from other popular gangs of the Old West because their members were African Americans and Creek Indians. They were known mainly for holding up shops and ranches in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The gang’s reign eventually came to an end when they were hung.

The Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers were created in 1823 to defend Texas after the Mexican War of Independence. They quickly developed a reputation for violence which isn’t surprising given that between 1858 and 1901, 30 of their members faced bloody deaths. The Rangers did manage to kill and capture big name outlaws like Sam Bass, a bank robber who was shot by George Herold.

Belle Starr
Although she wasn’t the only female outlaw of the Old West, Belle Starr made a name for herself by mingling with the likes of Jesse James. In 1880 she married Cherokee Sam Starr, and started stealing horses and bootlegging. She spent some time in jail and was eventually shot and killed in 1889.

Olive Oatman
Olive Oatman had one remarkable thing about her: a chin tattoo. Olive and her sister, Mary Ann, were kidnapped by Native Americans who eventually sold her to another Native American tribe. It is believed that the tattoo served to identify her as a slave.

Navajo Tribe
Many Native American tribes were decimated in the Old West and the Navajo tribe, seen in the above picture crossing Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, were one of those tribes. In 1864 9,000 members of the tribe were forcibly moved to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. This forced relocation later went on to be known as the “Long Walk” and resulted in many Indians dying due to food shortage, disease and conflict with other tribes.

After “The Long Walk”
Taken by famous photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan, the above image shows members of the Navajo tribe in 1873, near Fort Defiance, New Mexico. O’Sullivan took the picture after the “Long Walk” which forcibly moved many Indians hundreds of miles away from their ancestral homes.

Ned Christie’s War
Ned Christie was a Cherokee statesman who went up against U.S. law enforcement in what was known as Ned Christie’s War. It all started in 1887 when Christie was accused – some say, wrongly – of killing a U.S. Marshal. Two years later his house was burnt down by law enforcement officers, but Christie managed to escape. He was eventually caught and killed in 1892.

Darkroom In A Wagon
Photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan dedicated a great deal of his time to documenting the Old West in the form of pictures. However, this was no easy feat given that those were the early days of photography and a lot of equipment was needed to take and process pictures. O’Sullivan faced one of his toughest assignments when he was asked to survey the land west of the 100th meridian. In order to get the job done, his entire darkroom had to be transported through Nevada’s Carson Sink by four mules.

The Paiute
The above image, from 1872, shows a group of Paiute people, one of the few left from that indigenous group. Although it is agreed that a lot of Paiute lives were lost during the 1860 conflict, it’s unclear exactly how many were killed.

Sierra Nevada
Taken in 1900, the above picture most likely shows a very dangerous pass in the Sierra Nevada, with some upper society passengers sitting in the carriage. The passengers also have armed guards with them, which further emphasizes the fact that they are most likely wealthy and influential people.

Captured Wolf
This picture from 1887 shows cowboys in Wyoming displaying a wolf that they captured. Cowboys frequently had to protect their precious farm animals from being attacked by grizzlies, coyotes and other prey.

Cowboys Bathing
Contrary to Hollywood’s depictions, the life of a cowboy was anything but romantic. Cowboys were often away for weeks at a time and they had no time or means for luxuries such as bathing. So when they came upon a creek such as the one shown in the above picture, they’d take advantage of that opportunity to take a bath and relax for a bit.

The Cowboy
Known simply as “The Cow Boy,” this picture, taken by ex miner John C. H. Grabill, is one of the most accurate representations of cowboys from the Old West. This particular cowboy seems quite at ease in front of the camera.

Bill Anderson
Commonly referred to as “Bloody Bill”, William T. Anderson rose to fame during the Civil War. As an act of revenge for his sister dying while in Union custody, Anderson led a guerrilla unit in capturing a train in Centralia, Missouri. 24 Union soldiers were eventually killed as part of Anderson’s revenge plot.

The Dalton Brothers
In 1890 the Dalton brothers, unhappy about not getting paid for work they’d performed, decided that the best option for them was to become outlaws. They had a successful run for a while, but in 1892 things went awry during a Kansas bank heist. Two of the brothers were shot and the third one was shot 23 times, managed to survive it and then went to prison for 14 years.

Spotted Elk
Spotted Elk was a Lakota Sioux chief who died at the Wounded Knee Massacre in December 1890. Along with 152 other people – most of them women and children – Spotted Elk was killed by Union officers.

Perle de Vere
Perle de Vere is by far one of the most famous madams in wild west history. Born in 1860, de Vere moved to Colorado in 1883. There she became the infamous red-headed matriarch of The Old Homestead. An average stay at a hotel in Cripple Creek, Colorado would cost $3 a night, but at Perle de Vere’s hotel a night’s stay would cost $20!

Billy Brookss was the gunfighter in the photograph above. Fascinatingly, gunfighters were their own group entirely in the Old West. They did not identify as outlaws or lawmen but were usually both during the course of their lives. This Billy Brooks photo showcases the typically look of a gunfighter around 1872.

The Hunt For Buffalo
By mid-1880, millions of Buffalo had been eradicated by Buffalo hunters like the one photographed above. Buffalo hunting was a lucrative business that peaked in 1872-1873. 

Chief Joseph
Chief Joseph was the legendary leader of the Nez Perce. He was one of the most famous Indian Chiefs after he led his tribe in a 1,200-mile march to Canada. Even though the march was unsuccessful, Chief Joseph was still seen as a hero. 

General George Cook
A rare photo of General George Cook and two Apache scouts in 1886. Cook was known as the army’s Indian fighter during the Indian War. 

The photo is of Joe LeFors, the famous lawmen in the white hat. Lefors has been depicted in movies like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. He lived a long life until 1940 and wrote a manuscript about his life.

Texas Jack Omohundro
Texas Jack Omohundro was a famous Wild West Showmen. He helped carry the spirit of the Wild West around the country by acting on stage with Buffalo Bill Cody. According to some, they were not the best actors.

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