The American West was full of notorious outlaws. From train robbers like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to the infamous Jesse James and the Younger Gang, dangerous gunslingers and bandits were rampant at this time in history. Numerous towns were notorious for their criminal behavior, but lawmen rose up throughout the country to keep the peace and protect towns and ranchers from these dangerous criminals. Both heroes and villains from the Wild West have become folk heroes over the years, prominent fixtures of the late 1800s who have inspired books and popular films and TV shows.
Here are 14 of the most famous cowboys and lawmen of the Wild West.
Easily one of the most famous Wild West heroes of all time is Wyatt Earp. He's been a notable figure in three of the most famous Old West towns -- Tombstone, Dodge City and Deadwood, but more importantly, he was one of the lawmen who brought down the Cochise County Cowboys at the infamous O.K. Corral shootout. He had a reputation for being one of the toughest guns in the west and has inspired numerous films and TV shows over the years. He was even a consultant on some of the earliest western films in Hollywood.
John Henry Holliday, best known as Doc Holliday, was a dentist and a gunfighter in the Old West. He's best remembered for being a friend and associate of Wyatt Earp's, deputized by Earp's brother Virgil leading up to the events at the O.K. Corral. He developed a reputation for having killed countless men and being a dangerous gunslinger, though historians later concluded he was only behind the trigger of a few deaths. His colorful personality and fascinating life have made him legendary, and he's been central to multiple popular western films over the years, played by the likes of Val Kilmer and Dennis Quaid on the big screen.
Also known as "Deadwood Dick," Nat Love was perhaps the frontier's most famous Black cowboy. A cattle drive, rodeo hero and all around Wild West legend, Love wrote about his incredible life in his 1907 memoir The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick."
Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok earned a reputation for being one of the biggest heroes of the American frontier. Before he was killed in Deadwood over a game of poker, he had spent years as a Marshal and Sheriff throughout Kansas, known for bringing down countless criminals and upholding the law. He was also a talented gambler and dabbled with acting in Buffalo Bill's West West show though it didn't last long. He apparently shot the spotlight when it landed on him and left the troupe shortly after.
Harry Wheeler was Captain of the Arizona Rangers and a veteran of the Spanish-American War and World War I. He's well known for stopping the kidnapping and deportation of miners in Arizona to New Mexico in what is now known as the Bisbee Deportation. He also spent years protecting Cochise County as Sheriff.
Born into slavery in 1838, Bass Reeves became first Black deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, defending the Old West and arresting more than 3,000 outlaws over the course of his 32-year career.
Pat Garrett was a lawman who worked as the Sheriff of Lincoln County and Doña Ana County in New Mexico. He's perhaps best known for killing Henry McCarty, known as Billy the Kid. After Billy was wanted for murder following the Lincoln County War, Garrett was elected sheriff and spent months tracking down Billy and his gang members. Eventually, Garrett settled down in Texas, where he was appointed by President Roosevelt as the collector of customs in El Paso.
"Buffalo Bill" Cody
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has become a focal point of the Wild West. He featured some of the biggest names of the time, including cowgirl Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickok, and Native American Chief Sitting Bull. But that's only part of Buffalo Bill's story. William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody fought in the Union Army in the Civil War and earned the Medal of Honor as an Army Scout in the American Indian Wars. Later on, his Wild West tours were so popular, he toured throughout Europe eight times, even providing a private performance for Queen Victoria.
The Three Guardsmen
Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen and Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas were three US Marshals who earned the nickname "The Three Guardsmen" for their apprehension of multiple high-profile outlaws throughout Oklahoma. Perhaps one of their most famous moments was apprehending the Wild Bunch, also known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Thomas went on to become the Chief of Police in Lawton, Tilghman was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate and Madsen retired after his days of capturing dangerous gunfighters.
John Hughes is known for his work with the Texas Rangers, which earned him a reputation for bringing down the bad guys. His exploits throughout his career were so fascinating, its believed that he is the inspiration for the Lone Ranger character of the popular TV series. (Though it's also rumored that Bass Reeves inspired the Lone Ranger.)
Bartholemew William Barclay "Bat" Masterson earned a reputation as a notable gunfighter and lawman as the sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas. He's known for taking part in multiple high-profile gunfights and spending time working in Colorado. He was one of the few lawmen dubbed one of the "White House Gunfighters" by President Roosevelt.
John Selman joined the Texas Calvary in the Civil War and helped protect areas of Texas from lawless outlaws. His desertion from the Confederate Army is what led to his brief period as an outlaw in hiding but he did return to law enforcement. He's best known for killing the notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin.
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