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The Real facts of The Wild West Frontier


If not for the Civil War and a Washington lobbying group, the Wild West might have been populated by camelboys instead of cowboys. When Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a Texan war veteran, saw how poorly horses fared in the deserts of the Southwest, he suggested importing camels.

It was in 1855 that the idea first took off, under then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Two years later, the U.S. military imported 75 camels and formed a U.S. Army Camel Corps. One group was stationed in Texas, and the other headed for California under Beale’s command.

But with the Civil War looming on the horizon, U.S. Congress was not inclined to pay for still more camels. Mule breeders fought the idea, too. And when the fighting broke out, Confederate forces captured the Texas herd and let most of the camels loose.

That’s where things get interesting, because it turns out Beale and Davis were right. The camels really were exceptionally suited to the desert. And most cowboys had never seen the beasts, meaning that as they roamed Arizona and New Mexico until the late 1890s, they spawned a lot of strange tales.

Take, for example, the Red Ghost. Settlers described it as a terrifying beast with some terrifying rider strapped to its back. According to a Smithsonian article, legend said the ghost took down a bear and could disappear into thin air. But when the Red Ghost was finally caught, it was not by a hardy cowhand who tracked it through the desert, but by a rancher who shot the beast in his tomato patch. That’s when they discovered that the Red Ghost was just a mean, reddish feral camel and a lot of tall tales.

All of the camels were eventually captured or killed, and the last feral camel, Topsy, died in a Los Angeles zoo in 1934.

Cowboy Code 

The cowboys of the Old West had an unwritten code that they lived by. The code included such rules as being courteous, always saying "howdy", don't wave at a man on a horse (you should nod), never ride another man's horse without his permission, always help someone in need, and never put on another man's hat. 
The Code of the West

The Cowboy Cook

The cowboy cook was known among cowpunchers as "gut robber,"  "dough-boxer," " Sally," "greasy belly," "bean-master," "belly-cheater" and "biscuit Shooter."

All these names-and some less complimentary-
were applied to ranch-house and trail-drive cooks.  To the right, a  trail-drive cowboy cook prepares supper at has chuck wagon. The cowboy cook uses Dutch ovens to prepares meals for the cowboys. 

The phrase "willows,"  was use to described Western men on the run from the law and may have come from the desperado's practice of traveling across open country by night and hiding by day among  the willows that shaded many Western waterways. 

So many sharks were attracted to the area...

BEEF PRICES being what they are these days, it 's hard to imagine the just after the Civil war a cow's hide was worth more than the live cow. Hide and tallow factories  lined  Texas major rivers and the  Golf Coast. At a plant near the  coastal hamlet of Quintana, workers shucked off the hides and skidded the meat down chutes directly into the sea. So many sharks were  attracted  to the area that people were afraid to go swimming in the  surf.

The Long Branch Saloon of “Gunsmoke” fame really did exist in Dodge City—and still does. Sort of.

Anyone who watched the television show “Gunsmoke” growing up is well acquainted with Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, Kansas. What viewers may not have realized is that the Long Branch really did exist. No one knows exactly what year it was established, but the original saloon burned down in the great Front Street fire of 1885. The saloon was later resurrected and now serves as a tourist attraction featuring a reproduction bar with live entertainment. According to the Boot Hill Museum, the original Long Branch Saloon served milk, tea, lemonade, sarsaparilla, alcohol and beer. Marshal Matt Dillon and Festus sporting milk mustaches? Now there’s a storyline.

Jesse James was larger than life—so much that his body required two graves.

Few outlaws were as notorious during their own lifetimes as Jesse James. Though he lived a quiet existence in Kearney, Missouri, after his bank robbing days were over, old friends—and enemies—never forgot him. After Jesse was murdered, he was buried in the front yard of his farm to thwart grave robbers. As the years passed and his enemies died off, he was re-interred in a Kearney cemetery by his family. So who’s that lying in the Jesse James grave in Granbury, Texas? A man named J. Frank Dalton who came forward around 1948, at age 101, claiming he was the “real” Jesse James. A court even allowed him to legally adopt the bandit’s name. No one knows why Dalton made this claim or if he ever had any link to Jesse James, although there is a very small chance he was the youngest member of the Dalton gang James rode with in the bank raid of Northfield, Minnesota. Regardless, mitochondrial DNA showed decades later that James is indeed buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney—but his legend also lives on in Granbury.

In 1870, the Bender family settled in Kansas along the Great Osage Trail. It was a great place for Ma and Pa Bender, along with daughter Kate and son John, to set up their little inn and store. Travelers could stay, pick up some supplies, get their fortune told by Kate, and possibly die.

It wouldn't come out until later that Ma had been married a few times to men who had a tendency to die from head trauma, that Kate was one of her 12 children, and that John was possibly Kate's husband, not her brother. Uh ... what?

It wasn't uncommon for people to head West only to drop off the face of the earth, so it wasn't until the 1872 disappearance of George Loncher and his baby daughter that things started unraveling. Dr. William York set out to find them, and when he disappeared, too, his very important brothers wanted to know what the heck was going on. By the time they followed the trail to Labette County and got wind of how creepy the Benders were, they'd high-tailed it out of town and left behind a house with a blood-covered cellar. When neighbors recalled that the Benders always seemed to be plowing no matter the season, volunteers started digging. They found 10 bodies, and the Benders were ultimately linked to 21 murders. Mental Floss says there were plenty of stories, but no closure — none of the Benders were ever heard from again.