There were many problems from living in newly set up towns in the American West. As these towns nearly ‘sprang up’ over night many problems were caused, as there was no time for the normal systems to be developed. Each type of town – the mining and cow towns had different problems. These problems were caused, partly, because of the speed, which these towns grew up. This caused disruption of systems, which had developed in the east. Systems needed to be speedily set up to prevent law and order problems. As did systems for water supply, sewage and sanitation.
An example of disease spreading is when in Virginia City (Montana), 1864 during fall and early winter there was typhoid fever. Some people fell ill but there were no deaths. Shelter needed to be put into place of a reasonable standard because of the climate. Houses had to be put up quickly -they were mainly wooden. However building houses from wood caused problems of fire.
In Virginia City (Nevada) November 1875 no rain had fallen for 6 months “loose horses from the stables were dashing madly to and fro seeking to escape, with hair burned from their backs. It was necessary to appoint town marshals to help keep the law and order. These town marshals often caused as many problems as they solved because they were often renowned gun-fighters. This helped keep criminal behaviour under control. James Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok was hired in 1871 by the citizens of Abeline. He has made his name as a gunfighter in 1865 when he killed Davis Tutt. As town marshal of Abeline he was paid well, $150 per month. He used this money on drinking gambling and he lived with a succession of prostitutes.
However having accidentally killed his own deputy his contract was not renewed. In cow towns the cowboys had disposable income as their food and board was paid for. This was used on drink, gambling, and prostitutes. And they had nothing else to do after the long cattle drive. There was also a gender imbalance. For example in 1 mining town, “at the mouth of cherry creek”, there were “some fifty or sixty inhabitants-some three or four women amongst them. The main reason why a speedy and effective government was needed in the mining towns was that of claim jumping.
As most early discoveries were on public land no miners had legal claim to their workings. This lead to claim jumping. The camps often attracted criminals, gamblers and prostitutes. As there was no federal government the miners set up their own courts and methods of law enforcement. Why were the towns in the West often lawless and violent places? Towns in the west were often lawless and violent places. This lack of law and order was caused by many different factors. They can be put into different groups such as- geographical, political, social and economic factors.
Some of the problems were caused by the values and attitudes of the people in the West. The primitive code of honour adopted by most inhabitants of the west encouraged the use of guns. Vigilantism was allowed to grow and outside interference was prevented. By encouraging vigilantism more tension was created which resulted in more crimes. Geographical factors include that the West was a vast area and transport was very slow meaning it was difficult to enforce law and order, and there were no enforced boundaries meaning that there were no specific areas of jurisdiction.
As herds of cattle roamed freely on the ranged they were an easy target for rustlers. Most mining camps grew up on isolated mountain regions on the far edge of vast and thinly administered federal territories. Sometimes, therefore, it was a long time before any federal officials or lawman reached the camp. The most well know crime that occurred in mining towns was claim jumping which was when late arrivals to mining sites tried to steal land other’s had already claimed. Political factors include that, as there was no money spent there was a shortage of reliable law-enforcement officers.
There were many different ethnic groups there were many racial differences, plus no one was willing to forget the events of the civil war. This led to racist violence, the worst incident took place in 1885 at a coal mining centre, Rock Springs, Wyoming, when 51 Chinese were killed and over 400 others were expelled from the town. A further cause were the vigilantes as they were all from the nearby area and may have discriminated against outsiders. An economic factor is that people originally moved west to make money meaning it was an important factor. Bank robbery and train robbery were two economic based crimes.
Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch were famous train robbers between 1870 and 1880. Their crimes were made easier partly due to the large distances that had to be travelled in the West. Robberies could take place far from the nearest town. The speed with which the towns in the West developed meant that it was difficult to create systems of law and order quickly. No factor seems to me to be more important than another in creating lawlessness and violence but they are all linked together to produce an area that is highly likely to have a lack of law. But it is not due more to one particular factor than any others.
Analyse the part played by (i) vigilantes and (ii) women in dealing with the problems of living in early towns in the West. There were many problems associated with living in early towns in the West. Vigilantes and women had important parts to play in these, whether they solved, caused or increased the problems. Both played their part in mining and cow towns however normally there were many more men than women in both. Vigilantes could be described as men who took the law into their own hands. They did this by punishing suspected criminals that the law didn’t deal with.
Vigilantes came into existence because there was, in their opinion, no adequate system for punishing criminals. Punishments dished out by vigilantes ranged from lashings to hangings. At the time there was range of views about the vigilantes. A Denver newspaper reported on a vigilante hanging in 1879 as “not only well deserved but a positive gain to the country, saving it at least five or six thousand dollars. ” However in a description of a lynching by Edward Buffum, a journalist working as a miner, he described how 5 men were caught robbing a gambler and given 39 lashes each.
And then how three of them were accused of murder and an attempted robbery that had happened three months earlier. They were sentenced to death by two hundred jurors -they could not speak English two were French and one was Chilean. “Vainly they called for an interpreter, for their cries were drowned by the infuriated mob. The wagon was drawn under them and they were launched into eternity. ” These sources show that there were varied opinions about vigilantes. The first source puts across a view that vigilantes were a good thing because they correctly punished criminals but also that they saved the state five or six thousand dollars.
However the description by Edward Buffum shows that vigilantes were not always fair and even that they were slightly racist. This may have been because they were formed from local people who resented the presence of outsiders. Vigilantes successfully solved the problems in mining camps by setting up mining courts, as there was a lack of effective successful government. They dealt with claim jumping, other crimes, criminals and debts. Women also played their part in the new towns in the West. There were three types of women the community developers, homesteaders, and the independent women.
Within the community developers there were the moral and the social. Within the independent women were the entertainment, services and industry. The so-called homesteaders consisted of house workers, family women and land-workers. The women performed different jobs in mining towns and cow towns. In mining towns as the men went mining the women had to run the town. They were restaurant owners, postmistresses, hotellers and laundresses. The independent women consisted of prostitutes who were often used by men in the West as there was a lack of women and especially in the cow towns men had much disposable income.
Also the cowboys had just returned from a long, tiring cattle drive and would have wanted to relax so they used their money on the prostitutes, drink and gambling. In San Francisco alone it is estimated that there were 10,000 prostitutes in the 1880’s. However some women did a lot to help in new towns on the west. They campaigned for curbs on alcohol that was wrecking many families and even managed to persuade Kansas to introduce prohibition in 1860. They also helped to change the value and attitudes of people in the West playing a vital role in educating children and setting up churches and persuading their men to attend.
Both vigilantes and women played an important part in the new towns of the West. They both caused problems and solved them but I think that women were more influential in solving problems than vigilantes. All that vigilantes prevented was lawlessness and violence and come loss of money from the state. However women helped prevent lawlessness and violence by introducing new moral codes and they also prevented town ceasing to function as they ran important business while men were working, such as Sallie Frazier who ran a restaurant in Dodge City.