Henry McCarty was born in New York City in 1859, far from the West where he would eventually become famous as Billy the Kid. Although he is generally depicted as a ruthless killer, Billy the Kid only wanted to avenge the murder of his employer who treated him like a son. Only four of the men Billy shot, died, and these may all be considered acts of self-defense or self-preservation. At the age of 21, Billy paid the ultimate price for his violent lifestyle when he was shot and killed by sheriff Pat Garrett in a pitch black room at Fort Sumner. Many years later, a man calling himself Brushy Bill Roberts claimed to be Billy the Kid. He claimed that Garrett had mistakenly killed a man by the name of Billy Barlow. These claims were never verified.
The Colt Peacemaker, a .45-caliber gun manufactured by Colt's Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut, was produced for the first time in 1873 and has become known as "the gun that won the West". At the time, it sold for $17.00.
On May 29, 1899, Pearl Hart became the only woman known to have robbed a stagecoach. She and a man named Joe Boot (probably an alias) stopped the Globe, Arizona stagecoach and relieved its passengers of all their money -- about $400. Feeling badly, however, at leaving her victims penniless, Pearl decided to return a dollar to each of them -- "enough to eat on". She and her accomplice were arrested a few days later, however, after getting themselves lost in the Arizona hills. The woman bandit became an overnight sensation and crowds gathered at the courthouse to see her and get her autograph. She claimed to have committed the robbery to get money for her ailing mother, and the jury was sympathetic and released her, but when she was picked up a few months later for carrying an illegal weapon, she was sent to Yuma Territorial Prison where she earned the distinction of not only being the first woman sent there, but also the first woman to become pregnant while in prison! As the only men who had been alone with her were the prison guards, a preacher, and the Governor of Arizona, Pearl was discretely pardoned and asked not to return to Arizona. After that, not much is known about Pearl Hart. There is some evidence that she earned a living as a pick-pocket and a prostitute, spending time in and out of prison. According to other reports, she eventually settled down and married a rancher, smoked cigars, and lived to the ripe old age of 90.
It has been estimated that 90% of women living in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876 were prostitutes. It was difficult for a woman to make a living in the American West, especially if she did not have the protection of a father or husband, and many single women turned to prostitution as their only option. According to historical accounts, Charlie Utter's famous wagon train of prostitutes arrived in Deadwood in 1876 to find miners lined up along the street and cheering their arrival. The women were accompanied by two madams who had chosen the professional names Madam Dirty Em and Madam Mustachio. Prostitution proved to be a thriving industry in the male dominated town of Deadwood and continued almost without interruption until the State's Attorney's Office closed the last four brothels in 1980.
Legendary Old West figure Bat Masterson held a wide variety of jobs during his adventurous lifetime, including stints as a buffalo hunter, frontier lawman, gambler, Army scout, U.S. Marshal, and sports editor for the New York Morning Telegraph. Masterson was also a frequent visitor to Theodore Roosevelt's White House and the inspiration for the character of Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.
In poker, aces and eights are known as the Dead Man's Hand. According to legend, this is the result of an incident that took place on August 2, 1876, when an alcoholic drifter named Jack McCall shot and killed Wild Bill Hickok while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. When he was shot, Hickok was holding a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. There is some disagreement as to the fifth card, but according to some first-hand accounts, it was a five or nine of diamonds.
Jesse James took great delight in his notoriety and once went so far as to write his own press release for one of his robberies and hand it to the engineer of the train he was robbing before riding away with his men. This press release, entitled "A true account of this present affair", stated: "The most daring robbery on record. The southbound train on the Iron Mountain Railroad was stopped here this evening by five heavily armed men and robbed of ____ dollars... The robbers were all large men, none of them under six feet tall. They were masked, and started in a southerly direction after they had robbed the train, all mounted on fine-blooded horses. There is a hell of an excitement in this part of the country!"
Although best known as a fearless frontier lawman, Wyatt Earp had several run-ins with the law himself. He was arrested for horse theft in Van Buren, Arkansas on May 8, 1971. After jumping bail, he fled to Kansas where he hunted buffalo and married a local prostitute. He is usually depicted as the hero of the famous gunfight at the OK Coral, but according to quite a few sources, he and his brothers actually instigated the fight. Afterwards, Earp was arrested by sheriff John Behan for the murder of Billy Clanton and Tom & Frank McLaury. Fortunately for him, the judge who tried the case, Wells Spicer, was a relative and the Earps were found to have been justified in their actions. Earp was jailed for theft again in 1883 and 1885. He died on January 13, 1929. Two years later, Stuart N. Lake, one of Wyatt's friends, published a book entitled Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall, depicting Earp as a great Old West hero. The book was quickly denounced as grossly inaccurate by those who knew Earp personally, and Allie Earp, the widow of one of Wyatt's brothers, went so far as to call it "a pack of lies". Nevertheless, the legend of Wyatt Earp has grown around Lake's biography, and right or wrong, he has been immortalized as a fearless frontier lawman.
Black Bart (Charles E. Boles) wore socks over his boots during his robberies so that he couldn't be tracked. He considered himself a gentleman outlaw and enjoyed taunting his victims by leaving little bits of poetry behind in empty strongboxes to confuse those that would pursue him. He was eventually arrested in 1883 after dropping a handkerchief with an identifying laundrymark at the sight of one of his stagecoach robberies. He was sentenced to San Quentin Prison for six years, but had his sentence shortened to four years for good behavior. A short time after his release, he disappeared and was never heard from again.