14 Bizzarre Facts About The American Wild West

The iconic image of the Old American Western frontier has passed into history as a lawless wilderness, replete with notorious outlaws, vigilante justice and famous gunfighters. In the unrelenting fight for survival out West, with pioneers building farms, ranches and towns and trying to establish law and order, legendary figures like Billy the Kid were born.

By the age of 16, Billy the Kid had already been arrested for stealing and two days after, he escaped from jail, effectively making himself a federal fugitive. He was a well known outlaw in his time who met his tragic end at the age of 21.

To learn more about Billy the Kid, check out the fourteenth episode of Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths.

We all know something about the Old West and its many dangers, thanks to history class, John Wayne movies and Little House on the Prairie, but there are a few bizarre things you probably didn’t learn from either of them.

Did you know?...

1. The unclaimed body of outlaw Elmer McCurdy was embalmed and sold to a traveling carnival to be used as a sideshow exhibit. For sixty years, McCurdy’s body passed from one haunted house or wax museum to the next. It wasn’t until one of his limbs fell off that people realized he wasn’t just a prop.

2. The United States Army imported 66 camels from the Middle East and formed the Camel Corps to explore Texas terrain, thinking that its deserts would be like the deserts of Egypt.

3. The Famed O.K. Corral gunfight only lasted 30 seconds.

4. A cowboy and a fur trapper get into an argument over whether wildcats had long tails or not. The dispute is “settled” when the trapper shoots the cowboy dead and the coroner declares he died of ignorance.

5. Only three weeks after his death, a biography on Billy the Kid was published.

6. Dr. John E. Osborne made shoes, a medicine bag and ashtray out of the skin and skull of an outlaw named “Big Nose” George Parrot.


7. Scalping enemies was actually something the Native Americans picked up from the British during the French and Indian War.

8. A cowboy shot his gun over a man’s head in church to get him to stop snoring during the service.

9. Gentleman outlaw and notorious stagecoach robber, Black Bart left behind bits of poetry that he wrote in strongboxes for the lawmen pursuing him to find.

10. Eastern firms bought buffalo bones for $8/ton, using them to make fertilizer and bone china.

11. When legendary lawdog Wyatt Earp was indicted in 1871 for horse theft, he skipped town and fled to Kansas.

12. In 1855, Los Angeles, California, once a rough cowtown, averaged about one murder a day.

13. Old West names for whiskey: bottled courage, bug juice, coffin varnish, fire water, gut warmer, joy juice, neck oil, nose paint, tarantula juice, tonsil varnish, and tornado juice.

14. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson wildly underestimated the cost of the Lewis and Clark expedition. He thought it would cost $2,500 but it actually cost $38,722.25.

If you haven’t already, check out our episode featuring Billy the Kid onRemarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series.

Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths examines the lives and tragic deaths of people who changed history and influenced pop culture.