Guest Linda Shenton Matchett – Law Enforcement in the Old West

Photo credit: Pixababy/ArtTower

I settled on Gunnison, Colorado as the setting for my upcoming release, Ellie’s Escape. I’ve been fascinated with the state since visiting on business many years ago. The rugged mountains, deep canyons, and expansive vistas captivated me, and when I discovered that my boss is from Crested Butte (the next town over), I knew I had my location. He shared lots of photos and information that only a “local” would be privy to.

The premise for Ellie’s story is that she is an eye witness to a bank robbery and can identify the thieves. Frightened for her life, she decides to leave the area and agrees to become a mail-order bride. I knew very little about law enforcement in the Old West, so dug into my research with gusto.

Most folks think a constant stream of gun duels, shootouts, hangings, and chasing stage and train robbers made up the typical career of a lawman in the Old West, but in reality most of their work involved mundane and routine tasks such as collecting taxes, ensuring licenses were current, preventing the illegal sale of liquor, checking that businesses were locked up tight after hours, cleaning the streets, and keeping order in the saloons, gambling sites, or other entertainment venues.

Photo credit: Pixabay/Prawny

Sheriffs and marshals were the two main types of lawmen. U.S. Marshals have been appointed by the U.S. Marshal Service since its inception in 1789. They are not elected, and as federal employees their jurisdiction extends beyond county lines, often working with an assigned territory. Prior to 1896 when they were put on salary, marshals worked on a fee system, collecting set amounts for performing certain tasks. Between 1790 and 1870, marshals were responsible for taking the census every ten years. Up until 1861 when Congress created the Department of Justice, they reported to the Secretary of State.

Town marshals were elected or appointed depending on town laws and worked strictly within town limits. Towns and counties were also served by sheriffs (again depending on their laws). Privileges and responsibilities varied widely by territory and state. Most hired their own deputies and only rounded up a posse when necessary. In states that have not expressly repealed it by statute, forming a posse is still legal. Additionally, in some places the sheriff had the authority to carry out death sentences, most frequently by hanging.

The majority of lawmen were good and honest people, performing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Others were dependable only when wearing their badge, but lived outside the law during their off-hours. Still others were evil, using their powers and authority to break the law.

Photo credit: Pixabay/ddzphoto

A fun tidbit I unearthed is that famous marshal Wyatt Earp spent the winter of 1882-1883 in Gunnison. His cohorts Warren Earl, Doc Holliday, Texas George, and Big Tip were with him, all well-armed with a team of mules and entire camp outfit. Earp is said to have run the faro bank at one of the local saloons. Described as a fine-looking man, Earp had a drooping mustache that curled at the ends.

Gunnison “busted” shortly after that year, losing nearly half its population. The ore deposits had been exaggerated, with most mines producing low amounts and quickly running dry. Those who remained soon turned to cattle, ranching, and timber.

What areas of the Old West, if any, have you visited or lived in? I WILL GIVE AWAY AN EBOOK EDITION OF ELLIE’S ESCAPE TO ONE RANDOMLY SELECTED COMMENTER.


Ellie’s Escape

She’s running for her life. He needs a trophy wife. They didn’t count on falling in love.


Ellie Wagner is fine being a spinster school teacher. Then she witnesses a bank hold up and can identify the bandits. Fellow robbery victim Milly Crenshaw happens to run the Westward Home & Hearts Matrimonial Agency so she arranges for Ellie to head West as a mail-order bride. But her groom only wants a business arrangement. Can she survive a loveless marriage?


Banker Julian Sheffield is more comfortable with numbers than with people, but he’s done well for himself. Then the bank president tells him that in order to advance further he must marry in six weeks’ time. The candid, unsophisticated woman sent by the agency is nothing like he expected, but time is running out. When her past comes calling, does he have what it takes to ensure their future?


Purchase HERE 

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, speaker, and history geek. She writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. Her books are regularly praised for their accuracy and realism. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library.

She was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland and has lived in historic places all her life. Now located in central New Hampshire, Linda’s favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors.

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40 thoughts on “Guest Linda Shenton Matchett – Law Enforcement in the Old West”

  1. I have visited Cripple Creek, CO., Laramie, Cody, and Cheyenne, WY, plus Yellowstone and the Tetons.
    I love all westerns set in these areas. I live in SW KS, so my area is very well known for western, since I live 80 miles from Dodge City,

  2. Welcome! My husband and I have traveled throughout the United States. What an amazing country we live in. My heart belongs to Wyoming. We go to the Big Horn Mountains every year four wheeling.

    • We’ve been blessed to have done some traveling but only a few states in the West/midWest. I gained a great appreciation for this country. We love the mountains so look forward to visiting the various ranges in the west.

  3. Welcome. The only place I have visited is geronimo grave while out in Oklahoma for my son graduation from basic training.

  4. Hi Linda, nice to see you in another venue. We lived in Colorado Springs and one of its suburbs, Fountain, Colo., for four years while my husband was in college. We loved it. A totally different culture. In Fountain the locals would ride their horses down the middle of the street, and not just when there were parades. It was a huge adventure for us, and even more when we drove up to Cripple Creek and Victor in the REAL mountains. We had both our children out there, many memories, thanks for sharing. KB

  5. Linda, Gunnison, Colorado is beautiful so that’s a great setting for your story. I just love Colorado and would have a summer home up there if I could. Your new book sounds like a lot of fun with danger thrown in. I love mail order brides books and wrote a series of my own about them. That piece of history really fascinates me. Best of luck with your Ellie’s Escape! Enjoy your visit.

  6. I’ve never lived or had the pleasure to visit in the west, although I would love to visit someday. I love reading about the mail order brides!

  7. I once visited an Old West mining town in Arizona many years ago. It was so fun to see history come to life.

  8. We were lucky enough to live in Colorado Springs, CO for 3 years. We would have stayed longer, but the Air Force had other plans. It was our best assignment. We Explored as much of Colorado and the West as we could in those 3 years. We have been back on vacations multiple times since and been to every state. We have a trip planned visiting friends in Arizona and Texas this Spring. There is so much more to see. We have been to Gunnison, but it was many years ago. The West is wonderful for its history, the variety of weather & terrain, and the many cultures represented.

    Thanks so much for the interesting post and historical tidbits. Ellie’s Escape sounds like it will be a good read. Best wishes for a most successful release.

  9. My best friend lives in Montana so a few years back, I went to visit for a couple of weeks. She drove me all around and told me of the history. Went to Browning and got an Indian coat because it turned cold while I was there. Went on up through Glacier Park to the Continental Divide. Beautiful area! Would love to go back someday and see Yellowstone.

  10. I have visited all over the old west as in our travels we have been in all contiguous states except 3. We spend lots of time exploring the Badlands, many old cities in Montana and even stayed in an old boarding house. It was fascinating. There are many locations I have forgotten the names of. We had a spectacular time out west. Deadwood and Lead were especially interesting in the past but have become very modern today and the thrill we found soaking up history has been replaced by gambling halls and shopping venues. So sad.

  11. Never been to Colorado myself but have a friend in Colorado.
    Love the sounds and looks of this book. Love book cover, title and excerpt. My interest is already peaked & intrigued.
    Look forward to getting this author who is new to me and their books.
    The plots sound so exciting and action packed. Also sounds like an easy to read book and a page turner.
    Would love to read & review this book and the author’s other book in print format. Love books like this

  12. Cripple Creek, CO, ghost towns, winding back trails that the outlaws were supposed to have traveled, South Dakota’s Black Hills, Montana, California, Oregon, Washington, all of Tx and OK, which both have oodles and gobs of old west history in them. Love history, especially old west history and civil war era history.

  13. Good morning. I forgot to read P&P so I’m late to reply. I love Gunnison & Creste Butte Colorado. I’ve seen pretty much al of Texas, being a Texan and having lived all over the state. I’ve visited Oklahoma, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska. Much of which was as a child. I wish I could travel all over as an adult since I would appreciate it much more now.

    I think I had Marshalls and Sheriff’s duties and jurisdiction a little confused.

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