I once read a book that stated about 400 deaths in the Old West were due to gunfights. Is this figure correct?

Michael J. Glaze

Seattle, Washington

First of all, how do we define a gunfight? Old West authority Jim Dunham says, “If the characters in the Stilwell/Earp confrontation at the Tucson train station had been unknown thugs, I would call it a mugging, a brawl, a murder, etc. But because it involves famous Western personalities, I think you can include it as a ‘gunfight.’ Even the attempt on Virgil’s life and Morgan’s assassination need to be included on the list because of their importance to the history. However, these can be called ‘shootings’ rather than a ‘fight.’”

To answer how many died, your guess is as good as mine. We’re talking about some 40 years and a big, wide country. I wager that many deaths, especially those along the Mexican border, went unrecorded. I’m hesitant to even suggest a total for deaths resulting from gunfights.

Three excellent books that chronicle gunfights in the Old West are: Bill O’Neal’s Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, Leon C. Metz’s The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws and Gunfighters and Jay Robert Nash’s Encyclopedia of Western Lawmen and Outlaws.

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