What are “long-tailed heroes”? In the book Roughing It, Mark Twain refers to gunfighters as “long-tailed heroes.” What does that mean?

marshall trimble ask the marshall true west magazine

In the book Roughing It, Mark Twain refers to gunfighters as “long-tailed heroes.” What does that mean?

Paul Gortarez
Phoenix, Arizona

Twain was referring to the frock-coat-wearing gunfighters who prowled the streets of Virginia City. Let’s let Mr. Twain tell the story: “The deference that was paid to a desperado of wide reputation, and who ‘kept his favorite graveyard,’ as the phrase went, was marked, and cheerfully accorded. When he moved along the sidewalks in his excessively long-tailed frock-coat, shiny, stump-toed boots, and with the dainty little slouch hat tipped over left eye, the small fry roughs made room for his majesty.

Mark Twain.

“The best known names in the Territory of Nevada were those belonging to these long-tailed heroes of the revolver. Orators, Governors, capitalists and leaders of the legislature enjoyed a degree of fame but it seemed local and meager when contrasted with the fame of such men as Sam Brown, Jack Williams, Billy Mulligan, Farmer Pease, Sugarfoot Mike, Pock-Marked Jake, El Dorado Johnny, Jack McNabb, Joe McGee, Jack Harris, Six-finger Pete, etc., etc. There was a long list of them. They were brave, reckless men, and traveled with their lives in their hands.”

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, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.