May was Always a Good Month in the Old West

May Day Pole

In 1852, the month of May started off seeing the birth of Martha Jane Canary, who became Calamity Jane. Fittingly, she shared her birth month with James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, who was born May 27, 1837. May 1st is also the date in 1880 that the first issue of the Tombstone Epitaph was published by John Clum, who said “every tombstone should have its epitaph”, and it’s the day in 1883 that William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody staged his first Wild West Show. It was a May day in 1875—the 4th to be exact—that Wyatt Earp made his first arrest, bringing W.W. Compton to jail in Wichita, Kansas as a horse thief. It was May 6, 1877 when Chief Crazy Horse surrendered 900 warriors, women and children to Fort Robinson in Nebraska. And when did the only horse to survive Custer’s massacre arrive in the west? The horse Comanche reached Fort Leavenworth, Kansas from St. Louis on May 10, 1868.

Exactly a year later, a golden spike was driven to finish the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in Promontory, Utah. And who can forget that it was May 10, 1878 when a murder warrant was issued for William Bonney in Mesilla, New Mexico Territory—the guy better known as Billy the Kid. May 14 turned out to be a deadly day in Montana Territory—on that day in 1864, they opened Boothill in Virginia City after hanging five men.

But May 20, 1862 was one of the most hopeful days in American history—the day President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act that allowed men and women to claim for free, 160 acres of federal land, repaid by the sweat of their brows over a five-year period. The day has to share its moment in history with 1874, when Levi Strauss began marketing blue jeans with copper rivets.

May 22nd seems to be a great day of robberies: First, in 1867, the James-Younger gang rode into Richmond, Missouri to rob the Hughes and Wasson Bank, making off with $4,000 they stuffed in a wheat sack; then in 1868, the Great Train Robbery in Marshfield, Indiana saw the Reno gang ride off with $96,000 in their saddle bags from robbing a train that had stopped to take on water. May 30, 1899 holds the honor as the day Pearl Hart and her boyfriend, Joe Boot, pulled off the last U.S. stagecoach robbery when they flagged down the Benson-Globe stage in Arizona Territory. A year and a day later, Carry Nation went on her first saloon wrecking rampage in Kiowa, Kansas. Thirty years to the day later, on May 31, 1930, actor Clint Eastwood was born.

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