Monday, December 2, 2019

Wild Bill Hickok's Wild Bear Story

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

In Wild Bill, his biography of Wild Bill Hickok, Tom Clavin relates an anecdote about Hickok's alleged encounter with a cinnamon bear.

Wild Bill Hickok

According to Clavin, the story probably happened, although “a few researchers have disputed that the encounter” between Hickok and the bear “ever took place” (38).

It seems that the gunfighter was working as a teamster when “he found a bear blocking the road,” whereupon he climbed off his wagon “and shot her in the head.” The gunshot didn't do anything but anger the mother bear, causing her to attack, "crushing Hickok against her” (38).

He responded by shooting her in the paw, after which the bear locked onto his left arm and began to bite; Hickok jerked his Bowie knife from his belt and slashed "the bear's throat” (38).

Somehow, Hickok managed to drive his “freight wagon to the next town,” despite his extraordinary pain, and the local sawbones treated his patient “for broken bones in Hickok's chest, shoulder, and arm” (38).

Clavin mentions a film that features a bear attack: The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (37). (Another movie, set in Canada, that features a horrific bear attack is Backcountry.)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Nineteenth-Century Guns: What's in a Name (Part 2)

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

Several weapons that first appeared during the days of the American Wild West are named for famous people.

Richard Jordan Gatling

Richard J. Gatling (1818-1903), a medical doctor, invented the Gatling gun in 1861 and patented it a year later. He hoped that his spring-loaded, hand-cranked weapon (Handbook of the Gatling Gun, Caliber .30, Models of 1895, 1900, and 1903, Metallic Carriage And Casement Mount, 13), would lead to armies of fewer troops, thereby reducing wartime deaths and casualties (Harold A. Skaarup, Shelldrake: Canadian Artillery Museums and Gun Monuments, 133). It was an early rapid-fire weapon, preceded only by the French mitrailleuse (Skaarup, 133).

French mitrailleuse

Since the gun required the gunner to crank a handle to fire the weapon, it is not an automatic weapon; the first automatic wouldn't be invented until 1884, when the 7.92-millimeter Maxim machine gun, appeared. (Skaarup, 133).

Gatling gun

The Gatling gun, however, was superior to other weapons of its day, because the time that it took to eject a spent cartridge and load the next round of ammunition during “the firing/reloading sequence” allowed the barrel to cool a bit, permitting “higher rates of fire . . . without the barrel['s] overheating” (Skaarp, 133). (Today, the U. S. Army's .50-caliber machine gun fires so many bullets so quickly that the barrel must be replaced at frequent intervals.)

Bane Messenger, the protagonist of my Western series, An Adventure of the Old West, uses a Gatling gun twice in Blood Mountain, to even the odds against him.

1873 Winchester Rifle

The Model 1873 Winchester rifle was sold as “The Gun that Won the West,” although, technically, of course, a rifle is not a “gun,” since a rifle is rifled, whereas the bore of a gun is smooth. Originally, the rifle fired a .44-40 centerfire cartridge. The bullet could travel at a velocity of about 1,500 feet-per-second. The rifle also featured “a sliding breech cover . . . that [kept] dirt and snow out of the breech,” and “an integrated safety sear . . . prevented accidental discharge of the rifle when the hammer was cocked” (Martin Pegler, Winchester Lever-Action Rifles).

Buffalo Bill Cody's 1873 Winchester rifle

Various lengths of barrels were available, as were a number of embellishments: “silver or gold plating, engraving, set triggers and special carrying cases” and “an all-in-one reloading tool” (Pegler).

The standard version of the rifle cost $27 ($439 today), the carbine $24 ($390 today), but “these prices were often doubled by the time the guns had shipped west” (Pegler).

Oliver Fisher Winchester

Oliver Winchester and his family became fabulously wealthy. His son, William Wirt Winchester, served as the treasurer of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. After his demise, William's widow Sarah became convinced that their house was haunted. The ghosts of Native Americans and others who'd been killed by her family's rifle, she believed, were out for revenge. 

To protect herself, psychics told her, she had to continue to add on to the eight-room farmhouse she'd purchased in San Jose, California, after leaving her home in New Haven, Connecticut. The work had to continue non-stop, twenty-four hours a day, year after year—and it did, to the tune of $5 million ($71 million today), until her own death in 1922.

Sarah Winchester

To confuse the spirits, the 24,000-square-foot mansion (as it came to be) incorporated some decidedly strange features. For example, only one bathroom has a “working toilet”; the others were constructed to confuse the ghosts (Gia Lui, “Take a Tour of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House”).

Winchester Mystery House

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Nineteenth-Century Guns: What's in a Name (Part 1)

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

Several weapons that first appeared during the days of the American Wild West are named for famous people.

The Armstrong breech-loading gun was named after its English designer Sir William Armstrong (1810-1900). In 1854, Armstrong sold the Secretary of State for War on making a rifled breech-loading three-pounder for testing purposes. Later models fired ammunition of higher calibers, including the largest among them, a 100-pounder. Although the guns were more expensive, they were also safer, but, ultimately, their design was found to be too complicated, and loading them was a time-consuming process involving several discrete steps. The Ordnance Selection Committee reported its conclusions:

The many-grooved system of rifling with its lead-coated projectiles and complicated breech-loading arrangements is far inferior for the general purpose of war to the muzzle-loading system and has the disadvantage of being more expensive in both original cost and ammunition. Muzzle-loading guns are far superior to breech-loaders in simplicity of construction and efficiency in this respect for active service; they can be loaded and worked with perfect ease and abundant rapidity.

As a result, the military resumed its use of muzzle-loading guns.

Sir William Armstrong

Armstrong, a man of many talents and abilities, is considered the father of modern artillery. A well-respected inventor and philanthropist,” he was knighted, and Queen Victoria later elevated him to the peerage as a baron (Robert P. Dod, The Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage of Great Britain and Ireland 93). In addition to the breech-loading gun named for himself, Armstrong also developed the hydraulic accumulator.

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt began making weapons in the 1830s, securing a British patent for an improved revolver design in 1836. According to True West, the weapon that Wyatt Earp used during the 1881 Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, Earp “probably” used a Colt single-action revolver with a ten-inch barrel. A Tactical Life article indicates that Bat Masterson “ordered a total of eight single-action revolvers from Colt’s,” the “most notable” of which was a customized “nickel plated short .45 calibre” (source's italics):

Bat Masterson

. . . make it very Easy on the trigger and have the front Sight a little higher and thicker than the ordinary pistol of this Kind. Put on a gutta percha handle and send it as soon as possible, have the barrel about the same length that the ejector rod is (source's italics).

Wild Bill Hickok

The favorite sidearms” of Wild Bill Hickok, who earned his living as a lawman a bit earlier than Earp and Masterson, were a pair of “a pair of elegantly engraved, ivory-handled 1851 Navy Colt cap and ball .36 caliber revolvers [source's bold]. . . [the cylinders of which were] engraved with a naval battle scene between Texas and Mexico” (“Wild Bill's Colts”).

Employed by his father, Colt worked on several ideas for inventions, one of which was the first pistol he'd ever created. Unfortunately, when the weapon was fired, it blew up (R. L. Wilson, Colt: An American Legend 8). The rifle on which he was working at the same time fared better (Colt: An American Legend 8). Leaving his father's employ, he traveled across the United States and Canada, demonstrating the effects of nitrous oxide, calling himself the Celebrated Dr. Coult of New York, London, and Calcutta” (Gardner Soule, The Story of Sam Colt's Equalizer” in Popular Science. 179 (6): 89. 8).

After focusing on a handgun with one barrel, rather than multiple barrels, he managed to find a financial backer and was able to secure a patent in 1836 for the first model of his Colt revolver (Soule, 89). Eventually, with modifications and refinements, his revolver would become one of the most popular handguns in the Wild West.

In 1852, Henry Deringer gave the world the small handgun with a large bore that is named (but misspelled) for him. Muzzle loaded, the percussion-cap pistol fired one shot. Usually sold in pairs for $15 to $25 for both, these weapons were known in the Wild West as “boot pistols” (Gettysburg Museum), “Vest Pocket Pistols,” or “sleeve guns

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charles Siringo: The Moral of the Story

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

According to Pinkerton detective Charles (“Charlie”) Siringo, a year after Dodge City's incorporation, 81 men had been buried in the town's graveyard. Eighty of them had been killed, only one having experienced “a natural death” (A Cowboy Detective 315).

It was in this wild West town that Siringo first encountered Bat Masterson, the nighttime bartender at the Lone Star dance hall. Siringo, attracted by the hall's good-looking women and the establishment's “Texas flavor,” visited the place with a cowboy friend, “Wess” Adams (315). Wess, complaining of having been insulted by Jim White, a buffalo hunter, enlisted Siringo's assistance (315).

Bat Masterson

In the ensuing barroom fight, Masterson intervened, tossing a handful of “heavy beer glasses” at Siringo, one of which, breaking, drew blood (135). A dozen men were involved in the fracas; Masterson didn't differentiate between brawlers and bystanders, but struck anyone in range of the ice mallet he'd taken from its place behind the bar (135).

Jim White

Some of the fighters clubbed others with their pistols. When Siringo saw White “lying on the floor apparently dead, with blood flowing from wounds in the head,” and witnessed Adams being stabbed “in the back,” he beat a hasty retreat, Adams in tow, to their horses, hitched out front, and threatened a police officer, Joe Mason, who barred their way, before riding out of town (136-137).

Siringo and Adams took refuge in a stock yard “shanty.” Examining Adams's knife wound, Siringo saw that it was, indeed, “serious”:

. . . The knife had been thrust in and then brought around in a semi-circle in the shape of a large horseshoe. The open part of the shoe was where the flesh was not cut, and the other part of the wound [was where] the flesh stood out several inches from the body. The clothing was saturated with blood (317).

Charles Siringo

There was nothing to do but ride back into Dodge. Suspecting that the police might be waiting to ambush him, should he return to town, Siringo took a different route back to Dodge, where he bought supplies at the local drug store: “needles and thread, sticking plaster, and a candle” (318).

Returning to the shanty by the same route he'd ridden back to town, Siringo tried, unsuccessfully, to stitch his friend's wound, but found that “the horseshoe[-] shaped protruding flesh could not be pushed back into place on a level with the rest of the body” (318).

Siringo had no alternative but to apply the sticking plaster, before the men rode eighteen miles “to the Bates & Beals cattle camp,” as Adams became progressively weaker “from loss of blood” (318).

Later, Siringo learned that White, “the boss of a large gang of buffalo hunters,” had survived; he ultimately “recovered” from his “many wounds” and the multiple cracks in his skull (319). Siringo also learned, years later, upon meeting Masterson, that he'd been right to take a different route back into Dodge than the one he and Adams had taken out of town, as Masterson “and a gang of officers” had, indeed, been lying in wait to ambush him, had he ridden back to Dodge by the same path he'd left town. “Armed with rifles and shotguns,” the posse had “stood guard till morning,” intent upon making “angels” of the suspects “if [they] returned” (318).

Siringo ends his account of “how near” he'd come “to being put out of business by Bat Masterson” (315) by drawing a moral for his story: “This little scrape illustrates what fools cowboys were after long drives over the rail” (319).

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Past Glimpses of the American Wild West

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

 The format of Patrick T. Holscher's book On This Day in Wyoming History encourages his reports of historical facts as though they were tidbits of trivia. As a result, his account of Wyoming's history, day by day, is an easy, entertaining read; occasionally, it also surprises.

For example, did you know that, on January 5, 1883, Cheyenne was first “lighted by electric lights” (5) Neither did I. I'd have thought the date would have been much later—and I'd have been wrong. (Electric streetlights would follow on January 15 of the same year [16].)

Likewise, I had no idea that a play had been produced “based on Owen Wister's novel The Virginian,” but this very drama opened on Broadway in 1904, two years after Wister's novel was published. What, one might wonder, has the opening of the play in New York have to do with Wyoming? Simple: “The book, hence the play, is set entirely in Wyoming” (5).

As the title of Jodie Foley and Jon Axline book suggests, the authors serve up a decidedly different dish in their In Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Montana's History. Who among us has never had the misfortune of knowing a jerk or two? (Indeed, which of us, on occasion, hasn't been a jerk?)

Montana's had its fair share. Two of them, Boone Helm and John Johnston, better known, in some circles, as “Liver-Eatin' Johnston,” were known for the proclivity for consuming human flesh. Boone was, indeed, a cannibal, the authors report, whereas “Johnston was a cannibal by reputation only” (62).

It's difficult to discern which was the “jerk” in the strange story the authors tell about Bear's Rib and Sir St. George Gore, an English baronet who journeyed to the United States to hunt the country's abundant wildlife.

When Gore and his party of thirteen men trespassed on the sacred lands of the Sioux, Bear Rib's war party surrounded the interlopers. Instead of killing Gore and his men on the spot, Bear Rib let them leave along the same path they'd followed onto the Sioux's lands, but first made them surrender “their weapons, their equipment, their horses, their clothing, and their foodstuffs” (28).

For five weeks, the naked men lived on such delicacies as “roots, berries, lizards, insects, birds' eggs, and small game,” without benefit of a cooking fire, and cut “their feet on prickly pear cactus.” They also alternately froze or “toasted.” Finally, after traveling in this fashion for nearly three hundred miles, Gore and his entourage encountered “a hunting band of friendly Hidatsa tribesmen” who, taking pity upon the bedraggled party, fed them before leading “them to their camp near Fort Berthold on the Missouri,” whereupon the baronet and his men, once again clothed, resumed their Wild West adventures (29).

Buffalo Bill Cody hired some of the more illustrious men and women of the Wild West, including Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley, and, at one time, Wild Bill Hickok. As Buffalo Bill himself (William F. Cody) points out in his book The Wild West in England, Buffalo Bill's Wild West was not a haphazard show; its “standard program” featured such fare as “racing between cowboys, Mexican vaqueros, and Indians and horsemanship demonstrations, such as the roping and riding of bucking horses, and a Virginia reel on horseback,” and “marksmanship exhibitions . . . made stars of Annie Oakley” and others (xvi).

In 1887, Buffalo Bill took his show to England, where he and his troupe toured for a year, giving a command performance for Queen Victoria. “During its six months' run in London,” the entertainers performed “fourteen times a week” for audiences of more than twenty thousand each. Besides the queen, other “distinguished” guests included future prime minister William Gladstone and Edward, Prince of Wales (xxiii).

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Horse Tack: A Brief and Partial History

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

We often take things for granted, without investigating their origins or the history of their developments. Western dramas and narratives provide us with glimpses into the past—mainly that of the late-nineteenth-century American West—but, of course this late Victorian period is itself predicated upon earlier times and their inventions.

In this post, we'll look back at the origins and developments of some of the items of horse tack, the articles of equipment used in riding horses. Specifically, we'll consider the bit, the bridle, reins, the saddle, and stirrups.

For horses, the earliest bits must have been uncomfortable to say the least. They were made of whatever material was handy, including “horn, bone, wood, sinew, rawhide and rope” (“History of Bits, Evolution of the Double Bridle”). It wasn't consideration for the horse's comfort that led to the replacement of such materials by metal, but the fact that the other materials “tended to wear out rather quickly.” The earliest metal bits have not changed much from those first used by the Luristans of Iran, as “bas-reliefs as well as paintings of riding and chariot horses in Assyrian and Egyptian tombs and temples show.”

The bridle's history is also ancient. Its inventor is unknown, but an archaeological discovery has allowed scientists to date the use of this item of tack to 2,700 BC. “Dental analysis of the teeth” of a donkey shows that the animal's remains are 4,700 years old. The dig also provides evidence that the bridle and the accompanying bit found at the site date from a period 600 years earlier than had been thought and “predates the arrival of horses to the region,” leading the researchers to conclude that bridle and bit were introduced to the area long before the arrival of the first horses.

Although no one knows when reins were first used, history does indicate their ancient employment. They were used for more than guiding one's mount; both the Scythians and Native Americans ornamented their reins with the scalps of their enemies. The Japanese gave the reins themselves an aesthetic twist by fashioning them not of hemp or leather but of silk (Knight'sAmerican Mechanical Dictionary 1915).

Although some believe that the saddle originated in 365 AD as an invention of the Sarmations of Iran (“History of the Western Riding Saddle”), others contend that the first saddles were those of Egypt and Persepolis; however, the earliest saddles “were not for riding”; “they rested on the withers of the horses and were held in place by belly and collar bands” (Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary, Volume 3 2009). The true saddle is believed to have been introduced during “the time of Theodosius” and is described in a code that this emperor “published about the year 385 [AD], specifying that the saddle and bridle together should not weigh more than 60 pounds” (Knights 2010).

Spanish vaquero's working saddle

Prior to the introduction of the true saddle, horses were ridden bareback. The Huns introduced the true saddle to Europeans, but “the Western saddle as we know it today is an evolved version of the Spanish Vaquero’s working saddle.” Over the years, saddles continued to change to meet the needs of riders, especially those of the American West, and “specialized jobs, such as roping cattle, resulted in specialized saddle types” (“History of the Western Riding Saddle”).

It seems that stirrups date to about the third century AD. Sketches of riders during this time show that the stirrups were rings that “fit round” riders' “big toes” (“Giddyap! How the Stirrup Revolutionized Horseback Riding and Helped Build Empires”). Prior to the appearance of the stirrup, cavalry warriors rode barefoot, clamping their thighs against their horses' sides to maintain balance—a difficult feat when launching a spear or fending off an attacker with one's shield.

Modern stirrups were in use by the fourth century AD; the Chinese are recognized as their inventor. However, modern stirrups weren't used in Europe until four centuries later. As in the ancient world, this invention greatly aided combat by mounted troops. Later, stirrups would make riding easier and more comfortable for the men and women of the Wild West as well.

Note: For other interesting historical tidbits about horses and horse tack, try “Horse Facts.”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Night Riders

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

Riding a horse at night sounds dangerous—and it can be—but it's not necessarily risky, if riders take precautions.

During cattle drives, cowboys often rode at night, as, on occasions, did posses hot on the trail of suspected outlaws.

In the days of the Wild West, there were no superhighways, streetlamps, or other modern inventions to worry about (night traffic can startle horses, and bright lights can temporarily blind them, neither of which situations is good for the safety of the horse or the rider).

Still, riding at night had distinct disadvantages on the frontier. Despite their good night vision, horses couldn't see every obstacle on the trail. Low branches could knock a rider from his or her mount. The resulting fall could break an arm or a leg (or a neck). Depending on where one rode, there could be close encounters of the worst kind, too, with bears, cougars, or other nighttime predators. In the event that a horse encounters an animal that might be a predator, it is apt to bolt, rather than to stand its ground while it attempts to discern whether the other animal is a threat. For horses, discretion is the better part of valor.

Most often, night riders rode in the company of others, whether fellow cowboys, other members of a posse, comrades in arms, or other members of their outlaw gangs. They'd avoid any gait other than a walk, unless they were sure the path ahead was level and free of obstacles.

Not all night riders were men, and not all of them rode horses by night on the frontier. Women also rode horses at night. One, a sixteen-year-old Connecticut girl, Sybil Ludington, rode forty miles, through the night in April 1777, “to warn her father's troops about a British attack on Danbury,” earning the praise of General George Washington. Thereafter, she became known as “the female Paul Revere.”

As Virginia C. Johnson makes clear in Virginia by Stagecoach, “Old Moll” Tate may not have ridden a horse after sunset, but she drove “the night stage from Abington to Blountville,” Virginia, “for several years” as a means of earning a living for herself and one of her children after losing the rest of her family, including her husband, to a plague (137). She had excellent night vision, which allowed her to avoid a tree that had fallen into the road (137). After mail she was carrying had been stolen, “Old Moll” Tate carried a “dummy” mail bag to “foist on any would-be robbers” (137). An extraordinary woman, she had fourteen given names, having been named after “each of the women who attended her birth and one for each of her aunts”: Mary Malzeeda Susan Elizabeth Cynthia Parnintha Sarah Adeline Rosey Daisy Laura Lucretia Louisa Jane (137).

According to Pinkerton detective Charles (“Charlie”) Siringo's A Cowboy Detective, Butch Cassidy escaped riding bareback one night and, to avoid lawmen, continued to ride at night, sleeping during the day. A posse led by William Beeler, on the trail of outlaw Kid Curry and his gang, “waylaid” Cassidy and his fellow traveler, outlaw “Red” Weaver. The lawmen continued to hunt Curry, as he and his gang “committed bloody crimes” as they rode north, but Cassidy escaped the posse's custody and lived on “nothing . . . but crackers.” It was only after Cassidy received news at one of the gang's “blind post offices,” that he learned the men from whom he was hiding during the day weren't members of Beeler's posse, after all, but his own “friends” (368).

Siringo himself was no stranger to night riding. Advised that a party of three-hundred men planned to “take over” Murray, Idaho, in order to kidnap him, Siringo writes, “I would pretend to retire to my room for the night; . . . then, I would slip down the back stairs and [ride] up the mountainside.” He would remain awake . . . on the mountainside overlooking the town,” his Winchester “ready for action,” until morning, when he “would return to the hotel . . . and slip into [his] room” (184). After providing testimony to a grand jury, Siringo thwarted “Dallas and his gang,” who intended to ambush him, by riding a rented horse twenty miles to Wallace instead of taking the stagecoach, the route of which went through “a dense growth of timber and underbrush,” which would have made ambushing the stage an easy matter (184).

In Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman, Leon Claire Metz recounts a night ride undertaken by Garrett and his posse. Charlie Thompson, Bill Gatlin (aka Dan Bogan), and Wade Woods were wanted for cattle rustling, and Garrett had obtained warrants for their arrests. The suspects were believed to alter the brands of the cattle they stole using “a versatile brand called the Tabletop.” So effective was the technique in changing marks that the difference was undetectable “unless the animal was killed and skinned and the hide turned inside out so that the old and new brands could be compared” (143).

Learning that the wanted men were hiding out in “a rock house at red River Springs near the Canadian River,” Garrett and his posse, joined by Sheriff James East, rode forth at night, during a fierce snowstorm, which, Garrett believed, was the most effective occasion “to hunt a badman” (143). The posse rode throughout the night, “pausing stiff and nearly frozen at two o'clock in the morning to feed their horses and bolt down a warm meal.”

Bill Gatlin (aka Dan Bogan)

Despite approaching the hideout from a direction that prevented the outlaws from seeing their approach, Garrett and his posse were spotted by Bob Basset, a member of the gang who was collecting firewood. Running back toward the house, Basset warned the other wanted men of the arrival of Garrett and his posse (143). To avoid a shootout, nine of the men inside the house left the domicile, including two of the suspects, Charlie Thompson and Wade Wood, who surrendered, but Garrett made the mistake of allowing Thompson to return to the house to fetch his coat, and Thompson then refused to return, saying he would fight and die beside Gatlin, who remained in the house. However, assuring Thompson of a fair trial, East was able to talk him into surrendering, and the arrests were made, after East entered the house and convinced Gatlin, with whom he had once herded cattle, to also surrender 143).

The outlaws were jailed in Tascosa, but Gatlin and Thompson escaped, using a file “someone [had] slipped them” to cut through their handcuffs (145). For their efforts, Garrett, East, and the rest of the posse retained in custody only two of the four fugitives they'd brought to justice.

Bob Switzer

Plenty of others rode horses at night (or drove stagecoaches after sunset), but none of them were equipped with the supplies recommended by today's experts—largely because most of these supplies didn't exist in the days of the American Wild West. For example, Equisearch: For People Who Love Horses recommends that night riders “carry a flashlight in case of emergencies,” being careful not to spook the horse in using the instrument. For greater visibility, the wearing of “reflective clothing” is also recommended (“Riding Your Horse at Night”). Battery-powered flashlights weren't patented until about 1899, and Bob Switzer didn't invent reflective clothing until the 1930s (he tested his new Day-Glo paint on his wife's wedding dress!), and such attire didn't become popular until World War II, when aircraft carrier crews began to wear it.

Another website, The Spruce Pets, recommends night riders carry not only flashlights and wear reflective clothing, but also equip themselves with headlamps, and wearable LED lights (“Safety Tips for Horseback Trail Riding at Night”). Headlamps did exist in the early 1880s, but they weren't the type of lights riders would want to use. They burned acetylene or oil, and, although the flames produced by such fuels were wind- and rain-resistant, it seems safe to bet they'd frighten horses.

British researcher H. J. Round invented the first light-emitting solid-state diode (LED) in 1907, but the public couldn't buy an LED light until dim red LED lights became “commercially available” during the 1960s, well past the era of the Wild West.

Horse & Rider is even more particular in regard to recommendations for safe night riding. A host of “special gear” is needed, the website's “Trail Riding at Night” article suggests, including “a handheld flashlight” as well as “a first-aid kit, a multipurpose tool, an EasyBoot,” glow sticks, and duct tape.

1888 Johnson & Johnson first-aid kit

We've already addressed the origin of flashlights. Commercially available first-aid kits appeared in 1888 (although riders could certainly assemble their own kits before then, if the thought occurred to them).

Sheffield contrivance

Such multi-purpose tools as the Modell [sic] 1890 “Sheffield contrivances,” as Herman Melville identifies them in chapter 107 of Moby Dick, consisted of pocket knives containing, all in one, “blades of various sizes, . . . screw-drivers, cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, [and] countersinkers,” and the Swiss army pocket knife debuted in 1890, featuring a spear point blade, a reamer, a can-opener, a screwdriver, and water-repellent grips” (The Swiss Army Knife Owner's Manual, September 7, 2011). For Wild West night riders who rode after 1890, these multi-purpose tools could have been carried in the saddlebags.

The EasyBoot was first sold in 1970, and could “be applied to the barefoot hoof. . . and used as a spare or . . . when a barefoot horse needs additional hoof protection,” so, of course, this item was unavailable to the night riders of the Old West.

When Edwin A. Chandross of Brooklyn, New York, in experimenting with luminol in the 1970s, mixed hydrogen peroxide with oxalyl chloride and dye, the mixture “emitted a [feeble] visible light,” but glow sticks were not invented until 1976, when, after a variety of materials and devices were patented, “the first . . . device to resemble glow sticks as we know them today,” the Chemiluminescent Signal Device, was patented by Vincent J. Esposito, Steven M. Little, and John H. Lyons. Clearly the night riders of the latter half of the nineteenth century would not have had access to glow sticks.

Duct tape was invented in 1943, after Vesta Stoudt, a worker at the Green River ordnance Plant in Illinois, wrote a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, asking him to pursue her idea of replacing the thin tape that sealed packages of cartridges used to launch rifle grenades with a stronger “cloth-based waterproof tape” that would not tear away when soldiers opened the ammunition packages, leaving them “frantically scrambling to claw the boxes open while under enemy fire.” She'd proposed the idea to her superiors at work, but it seemed to have gone nowhere. Roosevelt forwarded her letter to the War Production Board, which contracted the task of producing the tape to Johnson & Johnson. Although duct tape might be highly recommended for night riders' use, those who rode horses at night prior to World War II wouldn't have been able to adopt the suggestion (“The Woman Who Invented Duct Tape”).

Of the modern recommendations for items to carry on night rides, the horsemen and horsewomen of the Old West would have been able to take with them headlamps (although they probably wouldn't have wanted to do so, as the flames would have startled their horses), self-assembled first-aid kits, and multi-purpose tools of the type that Melville describes or the earliest Swiss army knife alternative. Mostly, though the night riders of the Old West (and of eras before then) would have had to trust their horses' excellent night vision, the animals' instinct, and their own experience as riders. Examples such as those of Ludington, Tate, Siringo, Garrett, and others suggest that the night riders' trust in their horses' night vision and instinct was well placed.

Wild Bill Hickok's Wild Bear Story

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman In Wild Bill , his biography of Wild Bill Hickok, Tom Clavin relates an anecdote about Hickok...