Western History & Genealogy Blog

Adventures in the Wild West

Just a little taste of some of the people that roamed the streets of Denver
Just a little taste of some of the people that roamed the streets of Denver
The streets of early Denver

What makes the Wild West really Wild?

When I think of the American West I often think of the ever so popular westerns of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I have a mental picture of a cowboy wearing an oddly colored fringe shirt, saying “Howdy there partner” before kissing the way too un-natural looking girl as they ride off into the sunset.  Besides the un-naturally shaped woman (we can thank corsets for that one) this probably wasn’t how every day life in the American West, or “Wild West” was.    The term Wild West has its own stereotypes and images.  Similar to the American West mental images of the late 19th century western town complete with tumble weeds, shoot-outs, horse thieves, saloon girls, and bank robbers come to mind.  Have you ever wondered what made the “Wild West” so wild?  Whelp, Chapter 31 from reading the History of Denver by Jerome C. Smiley I have finally realized what made the Wild West so wild…liquor and men. Let me restate that, bad liquor and unstable man.   According to Smiley, in about 1859 “the whiskey Denver consumed in her youthful days was of an exceeding bad quality. It was colored and otherwise doctored to suit the fiery tastes of various grades of customers, and retailed from bottles bearing popular nick-names; one virgin barrel usually serving as the base of all these operations.” (Smiley, 293).  Consequently, Smiley states “Whiskey was at the bottom of most of the frequent brawls and fights.  Considering the common inclination among many who were then here, to use the pistol on slight provocation, the wonder is that the number of homicides was not greater than it was.”    If you think about it, horrible alcohol mixed with lonely men blowing off steam while carrying six-shooters is a very scary thought.  Being someone who doesn’t drink alcohol I find it interesting what it will make people do.  What I found most entertaining though was the story of a man who tired to steal a mule…the owner of the mule was later quoted as saying that the whiskey in Denver would make any man want to steal.   So what I have learned for this little jewel is first that the Wild West actually existed before the Civil war in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  Second, that life in Denver during the first few years was never dull.  And finally…if you ever find yourself in a 1859 saloon with a bunch of questionable men carrying guns while drinking whiskey hide all your mules and then…run fa them thar hills…

Denver's wild west

Many people don't think of Denver when they hear the words "wild west." In my research I have read every page of the Rocky Mountain News between 1879 and 1896. The saloon shootings, gambling hall murders, hi-jenks, crime and mayhem are every bit evident in Denver as they were in the smaller typical "wild west" towns and camps.