Old West

Zebulon Pike spots an imposing mountain

Approaching the Colorado foothills of the Rocky Mountains during his second exploratory expedition, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike spots a distant mountain peak that looks “like a small blue cloud.” The mountain was later named Pike’s Peak in his honor.Pike’s explorations of the newly ...read more

Zachary Taylor fights the Battle of Palo Alto

Before the United States formally declared war on Mexico, General Zachary Taylor defeats a superior Mexican force in the Battle of Palo Alto north of the Rio Grande River.The drift toward war with Mexico had begun a year earlier when the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas as a ...read more

XIT Ranch sells its last head of cattle

On this day, the XIT Ranch of Texas, once among the largest ranches in the world, sells its last head of cattle.Despite the popular image of the cattle rancher as an independent and self-reliant pioneer, big-city capitalists and stockholders owned many of the most important 19th ...read more

Yellowstone Park established

President Grant signs the bill creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone.Native Americans had lived and hunted in the region that would become Yellowstone for hundreds of years before the first Anglo explorers arrived. Abundant game and mountain streams teaming ...read more

Wyoming grants women the vote

Motivated more by interest in free publicity than a commitment to gender equality, Wyoming territorial legislators pass a bill that is signed into law granting women the right to vote.Western states led the nation in approving women’s suffrage, but some of them had rather ...read more

Wyatt Earp dropped from Wichita police force

A Wichita, Kansas, commission votes not to rehire policeman Wyatt Earp after he beats up a candidate for county sheriff.Born in 1848, Wyatt was one of the five Earp brothers, some of whom became famous for their participation in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881. Before ...read more

Wyatt Earp dies in Los Angeles

Nearly 50 years after the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp dies quietly in Los Angeles at the age of 80.The Earp brothers had long been competing with the Clanton-McClaury ranching families for political and economic control of Tombstone, Arizona, and the ...read more

William Randolph Hearst is born

The newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst is born in San Francisco. He was the only son and principle heir to western mining magnate George Hearst.George Hearst had made a fortune with his shrewd investments in successful western mining operations. His son William, however, ...read more

Wilson Hunt arrives at Astoria, Oregon

Having departed St. Louis more than two years earlier, Wilson Hunt and his party stumble into the fur-trading post of Astoria, Oregon.Later romanticized as the archetypal frontier hero in Washington Irving’s novel Astoria, which chronicled the early Far West fur trade, Wilson ...read more

William Quantrill killed by Union soldiers

William Quantrill, the man who gave Frank and Jesse James their first education in killing, dies from wounds sustained in a skirmish with Union soldiers in Kentucky.Born and raised in Ohio, Quantrill was involved in a number of shady enterprises in Utah and Kansas during his ...read more

William Fetterman joins the U.S. Army

William Fetterman, who will later lead 80 of his soldiers to their deaths at the hands of the Sioux, joins the Union Army.By all accounts, Fetterman was a born fighting man. During the Civil War he served with distinction and received at least two battlefield promotions in ...read more

Will Rogers is born in Oklahoma

On this day, the cowboy philosopher and humorist Will Rogers, one of the most beloved entertainers of the early 20th century, is born on a ranch in Cherokee Indian territory.The son of a respected mixed-blood Cherokee couple, William Penn Adair Rogers grew up riding and roping on ...read more

Wild Bill Hickok’s first gunfight

Wild Bill Hickok begins to establish his reputation as a gunfighter after he coolly shoots three men during a shootout in Nebraska.Born in Homer (later called Troy Grove), Illinois, James Butler Hickok moved to Kansas in 1855 at the age of 18. There he filed a homestead claim, ...read more

“Wild Bill” Hickok kills a soldier

A drunken brawl turns deadly when “Wild Bill” Hickok shoots two soldiers in self-defense, mortally wounding one of them.William Hickok had earned his reputation as a gunslinger a decade earlier after shooting three men in a gunfight in Nebraska. He parlayed his standing as a ...read more

Wild Bill Hickok is murdered

“Wild Bill” Hickok, one of the greatest gunfighters of the American West, is murdered in Deadwood, South Dakota.Born in Illinois in 1837, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok first gained notoriety as a gunfighter in 1861 when he coolly shot three men who were trying to kill him. A ...read more

Whites massacre Chinese in Wyoming Territory

On this day in 1885, 150 white miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, brutally attack their Chinese coworkers, killing 28, wounding 15 others, and driving several hundred more out of town.The miners working in the Union Pacific coal mine had been struggling to unionize and strike for ...read more

Wild Bill Hickok fights first western showdown

In what may be the first true western showdown, Wild Bill Hickok shoots Dave Tutt dead in the market square of Springfield, Missouri.Hollywood movies and dime novels notwithstanding, the classic western showdown–also called a walkdown–happened only rarely in the American West. ...read more

Wetherill and Mason discover Mesa Verde

While searching for stray cattle in the isolated canyons of southwest Colorado, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law stumble upon the magnificent ancient Indians ruins of Mesa Verde.The Wetherill family started ranching in the rugged southwest lands of Colorado in 1881, and ...read more

Western writer Mari Sandoz is born

Mari Sandoz, the author of several histories that demonstrated sympathy for Indians that was unusual for the time, is born in Sheridan County, Nebraska.Sandoz had a difficult childhood on a Nebraska homestead. Her father, Jules, was a bitter, tyrannical man, who took out the ...read more

Western writer Emerson Hough is born

Emerson Hough, one of the most successful writers of adventure novels of the romantic western genre, is born in Newton, Iowa.After graduating from the State University of Iowa in 1880, Hough briefly studied law before turning to a career in journalism. In his 20s, he became the ...read more

Western novelist Vardis Fisher born

Vardis Fisher, a gifted novelist who dealt with both the myth and reality of the American West, is born in Annis, Idaho.Fisher, educated at the University of Utah and the University of Chicago, was one of the most important forces for establishing a uniquely western voice in ...read more

Western author Larry McMurtry is born

Larry McMurtry, one of the most talented modern writers working in the western genre, is born in Wichita Falls, Texas.McMurtry’s family had been involved in Texas ranching for three generations, and he was exposed to ranching life from an early age. McMurtry, however, ultimately ...read more

Wells Fargo and Company established

Businessmen in New York establish Wells, Fargo and Company, destined to become the leading freight and banking company of the West.The California economy boomed after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849, spurring a huge demand for shipping. Henry Wells and William ...read more

Warren Earp killed in Arizona

Warren Earp, the youngest of the famous clan of gun fighting brothers, is murdered in an Arizona saloon.Nicholas and Virginia Earp raised a family of five sons and four daughters on a series of farms in Illinois and Iowa. Three of the Earps’ sons grew up to win lasting infamy. On ...read more

U.S. takes San Francisco

An American naval captain occupies the small settlement of Yerba Buena, a site that will later be renamed San Francisco.Surprisingly, Europeans did not discover the spectacular San Francisco Bay until 1769, although several explorers had sailed by it in earlier centuries. When ...read more

United States Geological Survey created

Congress establishes the United States Geological Survey, an organization that played a pivotal role in the exploration and development of the West.Although the rough geographical outlines of much of the American West were known by 1879, the government still had astonishingly ...read more

U.S. establishes Fort Buchanan

On this day, the United States buttresses its control over the Gadsden Purchase with the establishment of Fort Buchanan. Named for recently elected President James Buchanan, Fort Buchanan was located on the Sonoita River in present-day southern Arizona.The U.S. acquired the bulk ...read more

U.S. reconsiders war with Plains Indians

After more than a decade of ineffective military campaigns and infamous atrocities, a conference begins at Fort Laramie to discuss alternative solutions to the “Indian problem” and to initiate peace negotiations with the Sioux.The United States had been fighting periodic battles ...read more

U.S. Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase

On this day in 1803, the U.S. Senate approves a treaty with France providing for the purchase of the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the United States.At the end of 18th century, the Spanish technically owned Louisiana, the huge region west of the ...read more

U.S. Army avenges the Grattan Massacre

On this day in 1885, General William Harney and 700 soldiers take revenge for the Grattan Massacre with a brutal attack on a Sioux village in Nebraska that left 100 men, women, and children dead.The path to Harney’s bloody revenge began a year before near Fort Laramie, Wyoming, ...read more

U.S. Army massacres Sioux at Wounded Knee

In the tragic final chapter of America’s long war against the Plains Indians, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.Tensions had been running high on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for months because of the growing popularity of a new ...read more

Trial of Frank James begins in Missouri

The trial of Frank James begins in Gallatin, Missouri. It was held in the city opera house in order to accommodate the crowds of spectators.After having robbed dozens of banks and trains over nearly two decades, Frank James finally turned himself in October 1882. Discouraged by ...read more

Tycoon William Ralston drowns

Hours after being asked to resign as president of the Bank of California, the powerful western capitalist William Ralston is found drowned in San Francisco Bay.One of the first men to build a major financial empire in the Far West, Ralston was born in Ohio in 1826. In 1854, he ...read more

Travis sends for help at the Alamo

Texan Colonel William Travis sends a desperate plea for help for the besieged defenders of the Alamo, ending the message with the famous last words, “Victory or Death.”Travis’ path to the Alamo began five years earlier when he moved to the Mexican state of Texas to start fresh ...read more

Tom Horn is born in Missouri

The notorious hired killer Tom Horn is born on this day in 1860, in Memphis, Missouri. “Killing is my specialty,” Horn reportedly once said. “I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.”Horn was raised on a farm, and like many young farm ...read more

Three leave Powell’s Grand Canyon expedition

Convinced they will have a better chance surviving the desert than the raging rapids that lay ahead, three men leave John Wesley Powell’s expedition through the Grand Canyon and scale the cliffs to the plateau above.Though it turned out the men had made a serious mistake, they ...read more

The utopian Amana colony embraces capitalism

After nearly a century of cooperative living, the utopian Amana colonists of Iowa begin using U.S. currency for the first time.The wide-open spaces of the West have always appealed to visionary reformers attempting to start new societies. Among others, the Mormons in Utah, the ...read more

The last American Indian warrior surrenders

For almost 30 years he had fought the whites who invaded his homeland, but Geronimo, the wiliest and most dangerous Apache warrior of his time, finally surrenders in Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, on this day in 1886.Known to the Apache as Goyalkla, or “One Who Yawns,” most ...read more

The inventor of western swing dies

Bob Wills, one of the most influential musicians in the history of country-western music, is born on a small farm near Kosse, Texas.Born James Robert Wills in 1905, he was trained to be a musician from an early age. His father was a champion fiddle player, and he began giving ...read more