Here is an old essay from my Year 10 History classes. It was meant to be about Law and Order, but thata didn't really happen.
The American West was virtually lawless when people first started living there. In 1849, when the Gold miners entered the west, nobody could stop the '49ers' from doing what they wanted to get at the gold. Only murder was taken seriously, with small 'Miners Courts' being established. Eventually small towns were set up in California and Oregon, but there still wasn't any proper law and order. There was the U.S. Army, but there were only a few Army outposts out west by 1851. Soon towns started sprouting up in the middle of the Plains and the U.S. Army was stretched to its limit. It was decided by the Government that the slow-growing country should have a proper Law and Order force.
The existing Eastern towns and states all had Marshals and Sheriffs. The new Western states and towns had nothing. So the President appointed new U.S. Marshals and Sheriffs for the West. However the U.S. Civil War came first. It started in 1861 and after 4 long and bloody years, the Union side finally defeated the Confederates. Just days after Wars end, the President, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. Suddenly, America became an unstable place. People became unsure of the countries future. Would there be another war? What would the ex-soldiers do? Although they had only spent five percent of their Civil War army life fighting, many ex-soldiers still knew how to operate a gun and held grudges against others. And the south of the US had fallen into recession, hated by the North. The South was desperate for money. Soon, many people started carrying guns, the most common being the Colt .44 calibre revolver, though others were used also. Money-making ways started. The law-abiding ways were few, there being cattle-ranching and not much else. The outlaws way were in their plenty: cattle-rustling, bank robbing, trail robbing and the new-fangled train robbing. Every crime could involve the unforgivable crime of murder. Barely a year after the Civil Wars end, the economy of the North booming and the South's struggling, the criminals burst out from their hidey-holes and started committing crimes by the dozen.
One of these characters was the infamous Jesse James and his older brother Frank, who got together in a gang known as the 'James-Younger Gang'. The gang's first robbery was in Lexington, Missouri, in October 1866. It got them $2000, and the gang reigned until 1881 when their last train robbery in Blue Cut, Missouri got them $300. By this time only two of the gang's original members were still alive: the James brothers themselves. Eventually, Jesse was murdered by one of his own gang and by 1915, Frank was dead, but the gang had ceased to exist long before that. The gang had worked up around $136,500, nearly $15,000,000 in today's value. The gang was seen as a sort of Robin Hood lot, giving to the poor after robbing the rich, but no evidence has been found about this theory.
Jesse James wasn't the outlaw. There were of course several others such as Billy the Kid and, probably most famous of all, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Both were born after the Civil War. Both were stars of a fictional film simply named Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But although fictional, the film wasn't entirely fantasy. They really did exist. Respectively, their real names were Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. Butch originally commanded a gang called the Wild Bunch. The gang's members included Kid Curry and Flat Nose Logan, as well as the Sundance Kid. The gang's tidings were late in the 19th century and early in the 20th. By 1908, just Cassidy and Sundance remained as the others had either quit or were dead. They decided to leave the US and go to Bolivia to work in a mine. But their bad ways got the better of them and they stole a mine payroll, but the Bolivian army was just round the corner. Trapped by a small patrol, Butch shot Sundance and three days later himself.
Outlawry was just one side. There was still the law and wherever outlaws went, there was always the law not far behind. The Law wasn't just a face, it was many and one of those faces was that of Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp was born in Illinois in 1848, but grew up in California. For 28 years his life was uneventful, until he got a job as constable of Lamar, Missouri. However, despite the fact he was soon to become a famous lawman, he was sacked because of horse theft, but he escaped trial. He soon became a lawman again in Wichita, Kansas where he unbelievably married the local prostitute. In 1876 he was sacked yet again because he fought with another lawman. Like many other famous lawmen, he worked and made his fame in rowdy Dodge City as a Deputy Marshal. Skip forward a few years and Wyatt ended up with his brothers Morgan, Virgil and James in Tombstone, Arizona. Virgil was the settlement's Marshal and decided to make Wyatt his special deputy. This led to bad misgivings. Wyatt had a row with the Sheriff and the whole lot of Earp's started arguing with two families. Eventually Wyatt and his brothers Virgil and Morgan and friend 'Doc' Holliday had the big disagreement the families. They had the most famous gunfight of American history at the OK Corral, Tombstone in October 1881. Three people died and the Sheriff arrested the Earp's. A 30-day trial ensued, but the Judge was related to the Earp's. Despite this, he tried them and released them. Despite being free, the brothers couldn't Tombstone under control for much longer. Virgil's life was shortened after a failed assassination and Morgan was eradicated by two men while he played billiards with Wyatt. After the men were found dead, apparently shot by Wyatt, Tombstone lost the Earp brothers trust and Wyatt fled, never to be a lawman again. After years of petty theft, Wyatt finally settled in Los Angeles in 1906, where he died in 1929. Although he spent much of his life as a lawman, he still thieved for a part of it.
Wyatt Earp wasn't much of an outlaw compared with Jesse James. Although he stole, at least he wasn't Henry Plummer, an outlaw who became a lawman and didn't punish crime. But although the sides are set, they aren't complete. There is one thing that neither side could do without. Guns.
When people first moved west in the 1820's, few people carried any kind of weapon, let alone guns. Those that did carry a gun carried old flintlock rifles. Some oldies even had older muskets! The weapons were slow; even the best rifleman could only manage 2-3 rounds per minute. However, guns were getting more advanced. The first major advancement was the revolver. In the old days, flintlock pistols were tedious, clumsy devices. They were so slow at reloading, that boarding party members of Navy's would often carry several on their belts. But, the revolver changed all that. It was the first repeater weapon (held more than one bullet at a time). The standard revolver had a magazine of six cartridges, often of the .44 or .45 calibre. The magazine spun round (or revolved, hence the name) when the gun was fired, ready for another shot. The first revolvers were ugly as sin and the firing hammer had to be pulled back after every shot. But they got better. Less bulky and more reliable, the revolver came in a variety of types and sizes. The most common was the aforementioned Colt pistol. Designed by Samuel Colt, all of the Colt guns made during his lifetime were single-action, where the firing hammer had to be pulled back by hand after every shot. Other popular brands, such as Remington, made similar guns, but with double-action firing, where the firing hammer sprang back to firing position by itself. Getting bigger, revolver rifles and shotguns were made, but not successful. Getting smaller there were pocket pistols, larger than the titchy derringers. Revolvers were immensely popular weapons and the U.S. Army bought thousands. Revolvers were eventually replaced by automatic pistols, but the transition was slow. They last saw military service in the 1950's. Then there were 'longarms', guns that needed to be held with two hands. The most common of these was the Winchester series of rifle. And there was the series of Deringers (often misspelt Derringer), tiny pistols for self-defence. John Wilkes Booth used an early deringer to assassinate Lincoln, as it was small and undetectable. That was the purpose of the deringer, to be hidden on the person. Later Deringers became revolvers and could often have many barrels. But derringers soon lost their popularity and people stopped carrying them.
So what does this have to do with law and order? Guns are guns, but outlaws could have existed without them whereas gunfighters could not. Law and order wasn't easy whether with or without guns. Why? Because of two main factors…
America was a really small place. You could get from one side to the other in days... well actually that's when people first went and stayed there. Really, the continent was (and still is) Huge with a capital H. It is nearly 2,500 miles wide. Getting across was no walk in the park. If you started a journey from the North-Eastern state of Rhode Island and headed for Sierra Nevada, you would have to cross two sets of mountains, a river (the Mississippi), the Great Plains (highly unpredictable) and an absolutely freezing part of Sierra Nevada. It took months to get from East to West. Even on established routes it could take at least 6. Now all the people had were horses. The best ones could reach up to 45 miles per hour. If someone, say a pony express man, rode a horse at a constant 35 miles per hour transcontinental, from New York to Los Angeles it would take approximately… a very long time. This is one reason why law found its job difficult. If someone killed the Dodge City sheriff, it would take days for the news to arrive in Washington. By the time the new one gets there, the place is uncontrollable. And that leads to the next point. Dodge was a cow town. Abilene's little sibling. Abilene was fine, rather large, and the occasional crime. That's because Abilene came along like a grand old lady: slow and giving just enough time for others to do things, such as sending in the new lawmen. Abilene was started in 1867 and took around a year to complete. Dodge was started 1872… and finished months later. By 1876 Dodge had set a new record… a record for growth. Lawmen had started appearing there soon after it was finished. But, they were pipped to the post by outlaws. Lawmen were shocked to discover the place was Outlaw capital. They weren't for very long. That's because they were soon dead; riddled by outlaw bullets.
Dodge wasn't the only town to have grown too fast. There were others. Dodge is the most notable and the U.S. Government was appalled by the dead sheriff count. Eventually, a whole lot of Marshals and sheriffs were shoved in and they took the city by force. One of the first laws they passed was to ban all guns. Result? No more outlaws. Then they banned cowboys! Eventually things started getting better. Railroads were all over the place and so were telegraphs, making communications faster. Also if an outlaw ended up at a railroad town and stayed for a while, there was a chance that the law could catch them as the law could sneak up on them, undetected, using the trains. And outlaws found that their guns were outdated: Colt .45's and Winchester's were outclassed by two new weapons of the law: the machine-gun and the automatic pistol. Old, smoky locomotives were replaced by faster, cleaner and more efficient models making pursuit of bandits possible (in 1860 it took 50 hours to get from New York to Chicago by rail. By 1900, it only took 24). Telephones came into business, and photographs made Wanted posters more accurate. In time, even the car would be mobilized to pursue outlaws. Outlawry was never going to go away, of course, but the turn of the century changed all of that.