ask the marshall true west

Were bounty hunters as despised as most Westerns depict?

Jeff Mock
Sandy, Utah

I’m sure some bounty hunters weren’t well liked, especially if they were working for the banks or the railroads—both of which were despised by common folks. Plus, some wanted men were pretty popular with the citizenry, who would help hide them from the law and bounty hunters.

Keep in mind, though, peace officers or detective agencies, such as Pinkerton’s, or private enterprises, such as Wells, Fargo & Company, more commonly collected bounties than did professional bounty hunters, like the lone wolves we see in the movies. Many town marshals and sheriffs supplemented their meager incomes by collecting bounties.  Also, most bounties were for less than $100, not the thousands of dollars one hears about in the movies.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, e-mail him at

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