What are the odds that an Old West cowboy would get into a gunfight?

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What are the odds that an Old West cowboy would get into a gunfight?

Mike Franklin

Poteet, Texas


Not high. Cowboys mostly spent their time “keeping an eye on the cows,” whether it was on the Long Trail to some railhead or on the open range.

Real cowboys (as opposed to reel ones) didn’t have time to get into a lot of mischief. They often worked under a stern disciplinarian, whether it was a trail boss or a ranch owner, who didn’t tolerate cussing, fighting or drinking on the job.

When the boys reached the end of the trail or payday in town, a different story unfolds. At that point, it was Katy-Bar-the-Door—that’s what the mythmakers saw and wrote about. Still, if you consider the number of cowboys who worked the West—many thousands—very few ever pulled a gun in anger.

Women and alcohol were usually at the root of all the brawling and gunfighting. Come to think of it, things haven’t changed much.

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