Why the Towns in the West Were Often Lawless and Violent

Why the Towns in the West Were Often Lawless and Violent

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Why the Towns in the West Were Often Lawless and Violent

In this essay I will be explaining why the towns in the West were
frequently lawless and violent. The various factors why the West was
lawless are: Geographical factors, social factors and values and

To begin with one of the reasons that the west was often violent and
lawless was due to geographical factors. The size of the West was vast
and this contributed to this problem. This is because it was
impossible for officers to enforce law and order everywhere, and as a
result of this people took the law into their own hands and abused
justice. For example when Nathanial Boswell was made sheriff of Albany
Country by the government of Wyoming Territory in 1869, he became
chief law enforcer of an area covering 16,000 square miles, which is
evidently too much for one individual to cover. This means that there
was no efficient police force on the frontier. Another explanation why
the West was unruly is that there was a lack of speed through
communication. As a result of these, people took advantage of the
loose control in society and frontier life became lawless.

The next factor contributing to the lawlessness and violence in the
West is social factors. The very lawlessness of the West attracted
characters with an aggressive back round. For example, the famous
outlaw brothers, Frank and Jesse James, were examples of men who had
been educated in guerilla warfare, by the confederate, (southern)
army, throughout the American civil war. An additional example is that
some men, such as the brutal murderer Bill Longely made no such
excuses for themselves. Lonely just reveled in the lawless existence
of the West. Vicious men such as the examples above were in the civil
war and they drifted towards the frontier where they thought they
could put their 'skills to use' subsequent to the civil war.

Another factor contributing to the lawless west is values and
Attitudes. People in the West had an exceptionally independent

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attitude. They believed in settling things for themselves. As the
official law was sluggish and weak this was frequently the only thing
they could do. An example of this is that almost every man in the West
carries a gun. A gun made its owner feel protected and confident. When
everybody carries weaponry it was too simple for a quarrel or dispute
to erupt into violent behavior. An example of this is in 1879 when a
gambler and a wagon driver quarreled over a woman. They shot each
other at point blank range over a gambling table.

A man like these above who carried a gun and was skilled with one
could gain a lot of admiration in the west. In return for law and
order, frontier towns were at times prepared to take on even
recognized bad men as their peace officers! Evidence of wrongdoings
was no handicap, provided troublemakers were kept at bay. An example
of this is people like Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock. For a great
part of their careers, well-known gunmen such as Wyatt Earp plus Wild
Bill Hickock were both criminals and law officers.

Many people turned to vigilantes as they thought that the law too
feeble and slow in dealing with wrong doers. In places where the law
could be a number of days ride away or even further, settlers
organized vigilance committees, which were groups of men who sought
after suspected ruffians or criminals. Vigilantes sometimes made the
problems of lawlessness and violence worse. A number of of the
vigilantes were well-intentioned citizens, seeking to protect their
homes and families. Nevertheless numerous settlers suspected that the
vigilantes themselves were accountable for terror and disorder.
Occasionally the vigilante groups were nothing better than gangs,
using the violence to defend their own well being or hiring gunmen to
do it for them.

With these problems happening there were local town marshals and
federal marshals. The problems with these were that they were
underpaid and overworked. The 'Federal' marshal was in charge of a
large and (Usually too large) area. The Government in Washington would
have appointed him.

These men were expected to earn their pay. The marshals were
furthermore overworked, as said above; they ranged from being health
inspectors and tax collectors, to keeping official records and looking
after the local prison. In addition to these people the Washington
Government selected federal judges to the new territories. The judges
would judge all the major crimes, which could vary from selling whisky
to Indians, to theft or murder. These people were as well given a
great area of land to look after. For example a judge named Judge
Parker had in excess of 70, 000 square miles to look after. Many of
the judges had to work in difficult circumstances, such as: stores,
saloons and even pool halls were used to hold court hearings, as there
were no courthouses. These men were not always well-trained and honest
men. Some of the men who did this job could not even read or write,
and knew little about law. An example of an eccentric judge in Western
history was names Roy Bean. He was a gambler and a saloon- keeper. He
once fined a corpse $40 for carrying weaponry! Countless numbers of
judges took bribes or took the fines imposed on offenders, this shows
that a quantity of judges were dishonest.

Overall I conclude that due to the lack of government interest and the
lack of the government helping led to the lawlessness and violence in
the West. A solution to the problems in the West would have been found
if there was a better government and if honest citizens that cared
were appointed. Furthermore if an appropriate police force would have
been set up, it wound have solved the dilemma of lawlessness in the
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