Living in the Wild West was an intense experience. There were frequent gunfights, saloons were everywhere, and the men wore crazy mustaches. Fortunately, we still have some unbelievable pictures from those bizarre days in the 19th century. Pictures that won’t change the way you think about how the West was won, but they will make you appreciate that much more. Wait until you meet some of the most colorful characters and hear about the ordeals people had to endure in the Wild West.
Missions That Carried A Legacy
This Mission Church was built in 1630. It is one of the earliest signs of the Spanish Colonial era. Located in New Mexico, this church is on the small side but is still impressive. You can still visit it today if you’d like to experience some history.
These sites are steeped in history, and it’s incredible to see what they looked like trapped in time in a picture like this. You can even see people walking around the mission, going about their everyday lives.
Goldie Sets A New Standard
Her name was Goldie Griffith and she wasn’t just another piece of eye candy. Griffith was a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where she was known for her boxing and wrestling skills. She also had a set of numerous other skills that were more masculine than feminine and these abilities helped her become a star.
In today’s world, she probably would have made a living as a WWE superstar or a UFC stalwart. Back then, she did the best she could with the opportunities she was given.
They Called It The Gould And Curry
Mining was an essential part of the Wild West. It was a huge part of the economy and it provided many jobs for people. This mine is located in Virginia City, Nevada. The population of a city was relative to how much resources were available in the mine.
So when the materials being mined were at a high in Virginia City, so were the number of people living there. And when the materials were gone, many cities were forced to find new industries or fall apart.
The Name’s Billy
Probably the most famous outlaw from the Wild West, Billy the Kid was a dangerous gunfighter. The man who was born Henry McCarty killed at least eight men at a very young age.
He was eventually killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett when he was caught off-guard in the dark at a friend’s home. Maybe not the most glamorous way to go, but the real Wild West rarely followed the plot movies would make you believe they did.
The Soiled Doves
Burlesque dancers in the Wild West were staples of the saloon scene. They were regarded so highly that some of them became millionaires. They were called different names based on their locations. For example, the California-based women were called “soiled doves” by the cowboys.
Any city you went to, you could be sure to find a saloon. Whether you decided to enter said saloon would have been entirely up to you.
Attacked At A Young Age
This young woman’s family was taken when she was only 14. Olive Oatman and her sister survived but were held against their will and later sold to the Mohave people.
Both girls received distinctive tattoos on their chins, which signified that they were members of the tribe. Some people believe the tattoos were meant to mark the girls as slaves, but this doesn’t align with Mohave tradition. In the Wild West, Native American tribes were often referred to as “Savages,” a term that brutalizes their history. While it’s true they were responsible for some horrible crimes, so were the Cowboys forcing them out of their homeland.
The Wild West Charging Thunder
Meet Charging Thunder. He joined the Wild West Show when he was 26 and eventually married one of the horse trainers. Once he was done with the show, he became a British citizen and worked at the circus in Manchester.
He later changed his name to George Edward Williams and found a factory job. It’s safe to say he changed a lot from his humble beginnings. Now we just need to know what the dog’s name was.
The Renowned Jesse James
Jesse James was a bad man. He was more than just an outlaw. James was a gang leader, a murderer, robber, and guerrilla fighter. He and his brother formed the Younger Gang together. The two were Confederate bushwhackers during the Civil War. That’s quite a sibling bond right there.
James is one of the most famous gunslingers from the Wild West and has been depicted on the silver screen multiple times.
One of the most famous Wild West characters, Annie Oakley rose to fame at a young age. She trapped and hunted by the age of eight, and became a great sharpshooter when she was 15.
She did all of this to support her family after her father had passed away. Her intentions may have been noble, but that doesn’t mean she always did the right thing. Then again, morals weren’t exactly the law of the land back then.
The Sioux Teepees
The Sioux Nation is comprised of three tribes (Lakota tribes, Western Dakota and Eastern Dakota). They lived in the Great Plains, hunted bison, and built these teepees as their homes. This picture was taken in the Dakota Territory.
Teepees may look like simple structures, but creating them was actually an incredible balancing act. They had to be sturdy, yet easy enough to disassemble in case the people living there needed to move at a moment’s notice.
The All-Around Man
Here we see another well-known man by the name of Doc Holliday. He gained notoriety through his gunfighting skills. He was also a gambler and dentist. Holliday was diagnosed with tuberculosis while he was a dentist and that is when he went off to become a gambler in Arizona.
Today, that would have been seen as a pretty drastic career shift. Back then it was another day at the office, although his patients probably weren’t very happy about it.
Wyatt Earp Was Not To Be Messed With
A friend of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp was into gambling even though he was a sheriff in Arizona. He earned his fame after a gunfight at the O.K. Corral in which he killed three cowboys.
The gambler, brothel owner, and miner was called an “old offender” by a local newspaper. He also might have been one of the country’s first true entrepreneurs. Just look at all those businesses he owned!
The Fierce Rose Dunn
In what could be an entertaining movie storyline, Rose Dunn became romantically involved with gang member George “Bittercreek” Newcomb when she was only 15. Newcomb’s gang got into a shootout and went into hiding. When Newcomb came back to visit Dunn, her brothers shot him and collected his bounty of $5,000.
Some say Dunn set him up, but we’ll never know. It would have been a great plot twist though if we didn’t just spoil the ending.
Kit Carson Helped Develop California
Christopher Carson, better known as Kit, a wilderness guide, fur trapper, and army officer is pictured here. He was a frontier legend of the wild west and has had his life exaggerated throughout the years.
One of his most notable accomplishments was helping to develop California. Not only did Carson lead tours throughout the territory, he also participated in the conquest of California at the beginning of the Mexican-American War.
Nebo And A Friend
Charley Nebo was a well-known cowboy out in New Mexico, Nebraska, and Texas. While serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, he sustained an injury which handicapped him. He then became a stockman. He was friends with Billy the Kid.
You’re only as safe as the people you keep company with. In this case, Nebo clearly wasn’t that safe. Regardless, it was the lifestyle he chose for himself.
Women And Guns
Sure, there are plenty of men on this list who were highly known for their gun skills. But there were some women who had skills with their weapons as well. Women like Big Nose Kate, Calamity Jane, and Lillian Smith were some fierce women who could be deadly when they wanted.
Women weren’t underestimated back then. If you came across one carrying a gun, you knew not to mess with her you wanted to get in trouble.
George Crook Was The “Chief Wolf”
George Crook spent his entire career in the United States Army as an officer and was noted for his distinguished service. He served in several major conflicts during the 1800s and was nicknamed “Chief Wolf” by the Apache Nation.
Here we see Crook in 1885 on a mule. After spending a career fighting Native Americans, the U.S. soldier spent the finals years of his life advocating for the ones who fought alongside him.
The Union Pacific Railroad Under Construction
This photo shows the Union Pacific Railroad while it was still under construction. The railroad stretched from Iowa to San Francisco and was designed to create a transcontinental railroad for more efficient transportation.
After six-years, construction of the railroad was completed and was considered a major success. First run in 1862, the railroad is still functional today with a total length of 32,200 miles and 8,300 operational locomotives.
The word “cowboy” stems from the Spanish term “vaquero.” The word means a livestock herder riding a horse. The cowboy tradition also has Spanish and European roots. You needed skills and a lot of strength from an early age to be able to be a cowboy.
The standard attire for a cowboy was a pair of jeans, leather gloves, a bandana, boots, and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. Some country singers still rock this outfit today.
Saloons could be bawdy places. Some had dancing girls and dice games, and others had pastimes like bowling. Some people just went to relax and others partook in the seedier elements offered by the saloons. Bob Leavitt’s Saloon was in Jordan, Montana.
This saloon might be a little smaller than what you would expect to see thanks to Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean it was any less rowdy. One wrong movie, one poker player caught cheating, and the whole place could go crazy.
His parents named him John Wilson Vermillion but people in the Wild West called him Texas Jack. He was an amazing gunfighter who worked with the Earps (who we’ll talk more about later) while on the hunt for outlaw cowboys.
His other nickname was “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Vermillion” because he once shot someone’s eye out. That’s pretty violent even for the Wild West. Hopefully, he ended paying the price for his incredibly misguided behavior!
Cowboys Ran The West
It is from the Wild West where the quintessential cowboy look was born. They rode their horses complete with a bandana, leather gloves, chaps, boots, and a cowboy hat. While cowboys were often depicted as being white men, in reality many cowboys were also freed African-Americans, Mexicans, and Native Americans.
Remember, the roots for cowboy, “vaquero,” is not an English word. As long as you could prove yourself with a gun and a horse, you were a cowboy.
Maiman Knew The Way
Maiman was a Native American from the Mojave tribe. He was often a guide and an interpreter, especially for photographer Timothy O’Sullivan, who took this picture. Maiman was crucial in helping to scout out locations for photographs.
O’Sullivan chose rather to capture his Native American subjects in a natural setting, as opposed to a studio. This is really helpful for historians looking to see how Native Americans candidly lived their lives back then.
Mining Was No Simple Task
This miner was captured hard at work in Virginia City, Nevada. After silver was discovered there, many people flocked to Virginia City to work in the mines. This one in particular is 900 feet underground. After the mine was excavated clean, the city’s population died down.
Life as a miner was a dangerous life, but it could prove fruitful for anyone who found precious minerals. Sadly, dangerous conditions inside these mines didn’t allow many to live long lives and enjoy their spoils.
Mining Towns Popped Up Everywhere
Little Cottonwood Canyon is located just 15 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah. Many mining towns like this popped up all over the west. Those in the Utah area were often founded by Mormon miners, who helped build Salt Lake Temple with quartz monzonite, granite, and granodiorite.
Some cities thrived after the mines closed. Salt Lake City is still one of the United States most visited tourist destinations. Others, as we’ve already mentioned, were left to the ghosts.
Meanwhile, Chinese Immigrants Built Railroads
One often forgotten fact of the Old West was that about Chinese railroad workers. They were often paid very little in comparison to their white counterparts and companies refused to provide room and board. If not for these men, the Transcontinental Railroad might cease to exist.
It wasn’t a fair trade for these workers to be forced to live these kinds of lives. Like miners, work conditions could become unruly at a moment’s notice.
Gambling Was The Way To Go
Many cowboys and other men of the Old West often found themselves making wagers in gambling halls. In fact, many structures built in the West were built as gambling halls, which shows what people back then really valued.
Back then, this was such a popular sport that it was considered a profession. Today you can still be a professional gambler, but it is much less respected as a livelihood then it was back then.
The Bathhouse Was The Place To Be
This is the bathhouse in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The area was hailed for its warm, natural springs and frequented by the native Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. They considered the springs to have healing properties and therefore regarded Hot Springs as a sacred space.
Today hot springs are still heavily visited attractions nationwide. People flock to hot springs to relax and refresh themselves after long weeks of work or just for fun family get aways.
The Masked Robber
This is a photo for William Whitney Brazelton, a famous outlaw in the late 19th Century. Known as Bill Brazen, he often wore a mask to hide his identity from his victims. This particular photo was taken just after Brazen was shot dead by Sheriff Charles A. Shibell and five of his men in 1878.
Let this serve as proof the even in the Wild West crime didn’t pay and outlaws didn’t always live happy lives.
Hangin’ With The Boys
After traveling so much with Buffalo Bill’s troupe, it’s important to take some time aside to relax. That’s exactly what these fellows are doing. Pictured are John Nelson and John Burke with some cowboys and a Sioux Native American. He might actually be Charging Thunder.
It’s hard to tell if these men are posing in front of a saloon or a hotel, but we’re betting saloon from the look of the man staring out of the window to the right.
Will There Be Refreshments?
In the Wild Wild West, of course, there will be! And no refreshments were better than beer, whiskey, and bourbon! Some fancy saloons also served what was called “cactus wine,” which was a mix of tequila and peyote tea. Cowboys back then knocked these back like no one’s business!
Other spirits like gin or vodka weren’t popular back then. They might have existed in some places, but if you ordered them you might need to be ready to fight.
General Custer Crosses The Dakota Territory
This is a photo of cavalry, artillery, and wagons commanded by General George A. Custer. They were crossing the Dakota territory on their fateful journey west. This was likely before Custer’s Last Stand during the Battle of Little Bighorn, which took place in modern-day Montana.
Custer and his men were used during this journey to help protect the caravan from Native Americans. Long journeys like this tended to be very dangerous and fraught with peril.
The Crew At Diamond Creek
Here’s another classic photo by Old West photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan. Sullivan captured this boat crew at Diamond Creek, which is located along the Colorado River. Some sources say this is The Wheeler Survey Group, which embarked on an expedition to survey the Western United States.
After taking pictures of the Wild West, O’Sullivan settled down in Washington D.C. where health problems ended up ending his life at a very young 42-years-old.
Navajo Family Life
Timothy H. O’Sullivan also captured moments of Native American family life in the Old West. This is a photo of a Navajo family in Canyon de Chelle, which was located in the New Mexico Territory.
On the right, you can see a woman with her loom and on the left, a man holds a bow and arrow. This picture is much more naturalistic then a previous Timothy O’Sullivan picture featured earlier.
This Tribe Had Style
In 1871, Timothy O’Sullivan joined a geological survey team, which enabled him to travel all over the West. While in Cedar, Utah, O’Sullivan captured this shot of members of the Pah-Ute Indian Group, also known as Paiute.
These guys were likely of the Southern Paiute people, given that they were in Utah. Thanks to O’Sullivan’s skills with his camera, we have a much better understanding of what life was like for Native American tribes back then.
Cleansed By Mother Nature
This is a photo of a man bathing in the Pagosa Hot Springs of Colorado. It must have been refreshing for this man to have the springs all to himself. It certainly would have felt better than a sponge bath, which is how people in the Old West often bathed.
That’s right, despite rumors that people weren’t able to bathe, it was much more common in the past that we like to think.
A Buffalo Soldier
This is a Buffalo Soldier in the 9th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army in 1890. The name was given to African-American members of the cavalry by Native American tribes during the Indian Wars.
The Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress as all-black regiments in the Army back then. These soldiers became some of the most important and decorated men of the American armed forces. Like we said, if you handle a weapon and ride a horse, people looked at your differently back then.
Don’t Forget About The Cowgirls
Cowgirls were prominent during the Old West as well and it seems that people are forgetting about that! These women were just as tough and wild as the men, riding broncos and shooting guns. The most famous cowgirls are perhaps Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Pearl Hart.
These women help show that the Wild West was not entirely run by men. Women could be just as dangerous and weren’t afraid to take charge of dangerous situations.
Traversing The Desert
Timothy O’Sullivan captured this photo of a wagon crossing the sand dunes of the Carson Desert in Nevada. Much of the Western United States turned out to be desert, which might have come as a surprise to the folks who traveled out there for the first time.
The high heat and lack of resources made these journeys dangerous for any groups who didn’t bring enough supplies or were not skilled at rationing the supplies they had.
Abducted In New Mexico
When Santiago McKinn was just a young lad, he and his brother were out in Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. His brother was killed and McKinn was stolen by the Chiricahua Apache people. Legend has it that General George Crook came to rescue the boy but that he didn’t want to go back to his family.
By that time, if the legend is true, he had become a part of the tribe and they felt more like family to him that white people.
A Snapshot Of A Typical Downtown
Things were a lot simpler back in the 1890s, which is roughly when this picture was taken. The streets were meant for cattle, which is why ox and cattle were found outside the stores of Sturgis in the Dakota Territory.
Around this time in the Dakotas, droughts left the lands fairly barren, and settlers that were attempting to move west were forced back east just to survive. Crops that somehow did survive the drought were often in low demand and sold for little.
The Deadwood Coach Crossing The Dakotas
It’s no secret that traveling across the nation back in those days was an arduous journey. Settlers were battling the elements and the unknown, exploring land unseen by the settlers. The stagecoach was often used to transport large groups of settlers, and no stagecoach was more famous than the Deadwood Coach.
What really brought the Deadwood Coach to prominence was its use by Buffalo Bill for his Wild West shows. The Deadwood Coach has certainly seen its fair share of history.
The Earp Family Was Well-Known Around Tombstone
While Wyatt Earp was especially well-known in the wild west, he had members of his family that were by his side as the policemen battled against the outlaw cowboys. Because of the constant interference of Wyatt and his brother, Morgan Earp, the family soon found themselves as targets of the outlaws.
Unfortunately, Morgan lost his life when he was ambushed by the outlaws, causing Wyatt to lead his life trying to avenge his fallen brother, even if that meant going outside the law.
Morgan’s Death Impacted More Than Just His Brother
While the death of Morgan led Wyatt to a life of vengeance, Louisa was left behind in California with her deceased husband’s parents. The couple had met in the 1870s and moved from Kansas to Montana together.
Originally, Morgan thought that the rough lifestyle of the mining town of Tombstone would be too much for Louisa, so he had her stay with his parents while he moved to work in Tombstone.
Old Mission Church Has Been Standing For Centuries
Exploration of the wild west may seem like something from ancient history, but it’s still fairly new in the scope of American history. Also, we shouldn’t forget that there were settlers throughout the nation before the settlers started moving their way west.
For instance, the Old Mission Church in New Mexica was established back in 1630, long before settlers discovered the area. Its history dates back to the Spanish Colonials, who were looking to gain independence from Spain.
The Crystal Palace Saloon In Tombstone
We’ve talked about the exciting stories of what went on in the streets of Tombstone between the Earp family and the outlaws, but what did those saloons look like where all the action went down? The Crystal Palace Saloon still stands today, but here’s a snapshot of what it was like in the late 1800s.
It originated in 1879 as the Golden Eagle Brewery, but was burnt down only three years later in a town fire.
Spitting Became A Health Hazard
In the Old West, many of the men spit tobacco, and when in a saloon, would spit it directly on the floor where spittoons lined the bar (as seen here). The saliva on the floor and the spittoons were then covered in sawdust, which became an issue due to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis.
The spit-riddled sawdust was a breeding ground for germs. A lot of people slept on the floor when the saloon would rent out space to travelers. For this reason, spitting was banned in some places altogether, and to do so would mean a fine or prison time.
Soap Wasn’t A Top Priority
An associate of Billy the Kid, Frank Clifford wrote a memoir about his life in the American West, even discussing his experiences with soap. He describes a product called “soap-weed,” which Mexican women would use to wash their hair. It is made from the yucca plant and supposedly left their women’s hair “soft and clean and lustrous.”
While some people used soap-weed, many settlers relied on soap made of animal fat. These homemade soaps were known to be particularly harsh and would cause skin irritation. Furthermore, body odor was considered to be just a fact of life with many believing that having overly clean pores would subject them to germs and disease.
Women’s Complexions Were Important
For women, a popular look at the time was to keep their skin as white as possible, and without blemishes and freckles. Many middle and upper-class women did this by either bleaching their skin or keeping out of the sun as much as possible.
If they did find themselves outdoors, chances are they wouldn’t be seen without a bonnet, gloves, and long sleeves. Unfortunately, not all pioneer women had this luxury and were exposed to the sun regardless. Many women also went against social norms and conformed more with the cowboy way of life.
Clean Water Wasn’t A Guarantee
In the Wild West, finding clean water was imperative to survival, especially when traveling. Yet, it wasn’t easy to come by. Even when people believed they found drinkable water, it was always possible that an outhouse had been built upstream, potentially contaminating the water.
On the other hand, stagnant water was essentially poison as it usually attracted insects or had already been stepped in by horses. Furthermore, the rainwater that was collected using cisterns was fresh at first, but would eventually become undrinkable over time.
Dust Was A Part Of Life
In the Wild West, dust was inescapable whether you were in or outdoors. Dust storms were frequent and devastating, covering entire towns in a thick layer of dirt and grime. Sarah Raymond Herndon, a young girl who traveled from Missouri to the Montana region in the 1860s, reflected:
“Oh, the dust, the dust; it is terrible. I have never seen it half as bad; it seems to be almost knee-deep in places […] When we stopped, the boys’ faces were a sight; they were covered with all the dust that could stick on.” Of course, the presence of so much dust also caused severe respiratory illnesses.
Outhouses Were A Nightmare
As you can imagine, going to the bathroom in a shed that’s built on top of a hole in the ground isn’t the most pleasant experience. Although nobody had a problem taking care of their business outside in the bushes or the woods, outhouses were typically built near homes, and when the hole became full, it was buried, and the structure was moved to another hole.
Unsurprisingly, considering the smell, outhouses attracted all kinds of insects and were an easy way to catch a disease. There was no toilet paper at the time either, with people relying mostly on leaves, corn cobs, and grass.
There Were A Few Different Types Of Shampoo
If they were lucky, some people had access to soap-weed in order to wash their hair, but that wasn’t the only method around. Besides drinking it, whiskey served a variety of purposes ranging from a disinfectant to a shampoo.
When mixed with castor oil, it was used to wash hair, which was then rinsed with rainwater or water softened with borax. When it came to women styling their hair, it wasn’t uncommon for them to use heated pencils as rudimentary curlers.
Women Had Much Better Hygiene Than Men
Everyday laborers, cowboys, soldiers, and other men typically spent their time outside and would go extended periods of time without bathing. When they did, it was usually in a body of water, something they typically avoided during the winter months. Women, on the other hand, had both more time and resources to maintain slightly better hygiene practices.
According to Sarah Raymond, each morning she would go down to the spring where she “bathed my hands and face in the water, picked a bouquet for the breakfast table, and returned to camp.” However, due to a lack of privacy, they weren’t always able to do much else.
Communal Towels Were Used In Saloons
Bars back in the Wild West looked different than they do today, as many of them didn’t have stools to sit on. Instead, they had rails at the bottom and the top to lean on, with the top rail having hooks to hold towels.
These towels were then used by the men occupying the space to wipe beer foam from their mouths and beards. Because these towels were communal, used by numerous patrons a day, and rarely washed, they also carried countless germs and diseases.
Long Hair On Men Wasn’t Unusual
Although long hair might seem like a hassle to keep clean and something that will make you hotter, it was a popular style among men in the Wild West, with some of the most notable figures of the time sporting long tresses.
However, men didn’t just let their hair grow as long as they could. When arriving in a town, many cowboys would treat themselves to a trim, a bath, new clothes, and a shave. During the 19th century, shorter hair became the norm among men.
Disease Was Inescapable
Because of the unsanitary conditions that many people living in the Old West experienced, it was common for diseases to ravage settlements in the American Frontier. One of the most prominent was cholera, which was devastating to both Native Americans and settlers alike.
Sickness was at every turn, and it was seen as a miracle if you came across a camp or settlement where there wasn’t any disease at all. According to Sarah Raymond Herndon upon arrival at one camp, “There is no sickness in camp at all; it is marvelous how very well we are. I hope it will continue so.”
The Importance Of A Kerchief
One of the most iconic aspects of a cowboy’s outfit is his kerchief or bandana, something he couldn’t live without. They served a multitude of purposes such as keeping the dust out of their mouths and noses, protecting their neck from the sun, ears from the cold, and more.
Of course, Hollywood also likes to show them as a way for outlaws to hide their faces when committing a robbery. They were made from a variety of materials and were mostly red. To wear one, you would fold it into a triangle and tie the knot around your neck.
From Bushy Beards And Long Hair To Clean-Cut
In the late 19th century, as more dental products became available to the public, new hair care products and styles arose as well. Although the initial look for cowboys and other men in the Wild West tended to consist of a scruffy beard and long hair, this changed with the introduction of these products.
Men began to view their extra hair as another place that could harbor harmful germs, so many began to cut their hair and shave for a more clean-cut look.
You Took Your Chances Sleeping On A Public Bed
Although not every bed in the American Frontier was made from straw and hay, many of them were. Because they weren’t cleaned often, many of these beds became infested with what became known as “seam squirrels,” or lice. However, these were just one of the many types of insects that plagued those living in the Old West.
Flies were everywhere, contaminating food with their larva as well as mosquitoes making their way into poorly insulated structures. Furthermore, few people had screens on their windows, welcoming in any kind of insect that passed by.
Dental Hygiene Wasn’t A Thing
Back in the Old West, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other oral care products weren’t prevalent. This meant that a lot of people suffered from severe oral issues, and when a tooth became problematic, it was usually just pulled out.
With dentists being uncommon, this task was usually performed by barbers or blacksmiths, or even the “patient” themself. Of course, besides drinking or applying whiskey, there were few pain medications available as well. All in all, oral care was horrendous, and countless people paid the price for it.
Cowboys Suffered From Fungal Infections
With the inability to properly bathe for weeks and even months at a time, few changes of clothes, and riding on a horse all day, many cowboys suffered from horrendous fungal infections.
Many of these infections appeared in the crotch, buttocks, armpits, and feet regions. They were terrible to live with because they severely itched and burned, and often times, scratching them with dirty hands and fingernails only led to further bacterial skin infections.
Smelling Like His Horse
After weeks on the trail, many cowboys were described as “smelling like their horse.” Although this saying led some to believe this was the result of a cowboy being atop his horse for extended periods of time, this is mostly the accumulation of normal skin bacteria from not being able to shower.
Being so dirty, if a cowboy was unlucky enough to have a cut or abrasion with staph or strep, they had the possibility of impetigo. Although this was not always fatal, these infections were contagious and chronic among cowboys.
Venereal Diseases Were Rampant
Unsurprisingly, with all of the intimate activity occurring within saloons and other establishments, many men and women suffered from venereal diseases. Not only was there very little information or education about these diseases, but there wasn’t a whole lot of hope of curing them, either.
With many people not even knowing that these diseases and infections existed, they carried on with business as usual, further spreading the ailments. It has even been rumored that the legendary Wild Bill Hickock contracted such a disease, although this is is just speculation and has not been proven.
Drinking Alcohol Was Not For The Faint Of Heart
Back then, many saloons served whiskey that was made up of burnt sugar, alcohol, and chewing tobacco, producing a dangerously strong alcoholic beverage. A nickname for the drink was also “firewater,” with cowboys lighting whiskey on fire to create a reaction to prove that it had a strong alcohol content.
Another popular drink at the time was known as cactus wine, which was a combination of tequila and peyote tea. Almost all the alcoholic beverages back then were far more potent than they even are today, and there was no shortage of people drinking them. Of course, all of these powerful drinks resulted in countless bar fights and deaths.
The Typical Diet Wasn’t All That Bad
In the Wild West, frontier cooking was greatly influenced by an individual’s location and the season. People ate the indigenous plants available as well as local game such as rabbits, squirrels, buffalo, and more. Other dried provisions such as flour, beans, sugar, would also be used and restocked when possible.
Food was often cooked simply using dutch ovens, frying pans, boiling pots, and other heavy materials. However, as settlements began to grow, so did the options for food.