True Facts of the Old West

Though it’s hard to imagine the likes of Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson bowling, this was actually a popular sport in the Old West.  According to True West magazine, one of the strangest bowling alleys was built in California in 1866. After felling a majestic Redwood, miners turned the flat, heavily-waxed surface into a bowling alley.

Speaking of sports, baseball was also a popular sport in the Old West. Even Wild Bill Hickok was a baseball fan and reportedly umpired a game wearing a pair of six-shooters.

We think of the old West as wild, but it pales in comparison to what’s going on in some cities today. From the 1850s to the 1890s, Texas held the title as the most gun-fighting state. But during that forty-year span, the state logged in only 160 shootouts.

The number of Old West bank robberies were also greatly exaggerated. During this same forty-year period, only eight bank robberies were recorded in the entire frontier. Today, yearly bank robberies number in the thousands.  California and Texas have the highest number of bank robberies. At long last, the west lives up to its reputation.

Some cowboys were real swingers. Yep, they even played golf.

It breaks my heart to say this, but some of the phrases associated with the Old West weren’t actually coined until the 1900s, which means I can’t use them in a book.  These include “Stick em up” and “hightail.”

The one thing outlaws feared was dying with their boots on.  To “die with your boots on” was a term that meant “to be hanged.”  Outlaws often pleaded with the sheriff to take their boots off so their mothers would never know the truth of how they died.

Before the days of GPS, it was the chuck wagon cook’s job to keep the cattle drives heading in the right direction. Before retiring, his last chore of the day was to place the tongue of the chuck wagon facing the North Star. This was so the trail master would know which direction to move the herd in the morning.

It might be hard to believe, but most cowboys didn’t carry guns while riding. Carrying a gun was a nuisance to the riders and firing it would scare cattle and horses.

Of the 45000 cowboys working during the heyday of cattle drives, some 5000 were African-American.

The tradition of spreading sawdust on saloon floors supposedly started in Deadwood, South Dakota. The sawdust was used to hide the gold dust that fell out of customer pockets, and was swept up at the end of the night.

So what Old West fact did you find most surprising or interesting?



There’s a new sheriff in town and she almost always gets her man!

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Guns and Whiskey – At the Olympics?

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I have to admit to being a rabid Olympics fan. I’m a mediocre fan of sports overall. I enjoy watching grand slam tennis events and am known to watch football and baseball games if my husband has them on, but rarely do I purposely turn on the TV in search of sports. Until the Olympics come around. When Team USA plays, I set my schedule around being in front of the TV to cheer on my country.

Virginia Thrasher OlympicsOur first gold medal of the 2016 games was awarded to a young, 19-year-old shooter by the name of Virginia Thrasher. Watching this cool-as-a-cucumber athlete, reminded me of Annie Oakley and all the talented shooters who came from an era when guns were necessary to keep food on the table and danger from the door.

As it turns out, shooting was one of the original events at the first modern Olympics in 1896. There were 5 different shooting events, 2 for rifles and 3 for pistols. And of the 8 athletes representing the United States at the games in Athens, 2 of them were shooters. Brothers John and Sumner Paine from Harvard. Lieutenant John B. Paine happened to be a member of the Boston Athletic Club, which was the organization that sent a handful of athletes to compete at the newly organized games. John’s brother, Sumner was in Paris, France at the time, working as a gunsmith. After deciding to make the trip to Greece to compete, John stopped by France on his way in order to invite his brother to come along.

Sumner is seated on the floor second from the left and John is sitting on the floor second from the right.
Team USA in 1896 Olympics. Sumner Paine is seated on the floor second from the left and John Paine is sitting on the floor second from the right.

Not knowing what weapons they would need, they packed an arsenal: two Colt army revolvers, two Smith & Wesson Russian model revolvers, a Stevens .22 caliber pistol, a Wurfflein, two pocket weapons, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition.* They entered all 3 pistol events. Unfortunately, they were excluded from the rapid fire pistol competition because their .22 caliber pistols were disqualified as not being standard issue.

The shooting house was built of white marble, and they shot at a black bull’s-eye with a white dot inside.

Using their Colt revolvers, John and Sumner dominated the 25 meter military pistol event. John took first place with a score of 442. Sumner took second with a score of 380. The next closest opponent scored 205. The brothers had decided privately that whoever won the first event would bow out for the second, so John withdrew from the 30 meter free pistol event, leaving Sumner to capture first place easily with the same score his brother had earned in the previous round – 442. They only needed 96 rounds from the 3,500-round stash of ammunition to win their events.

Sumner Paine
Sumner Paine

John and Sumner Paine were the first US athletes to win gold at the Olympics.

Where does the whiskey come in, you ask? Well, according to eye-witness accounts, the Paine brothers paused between rounds to sip whiskey from flasks when tensions ran high. By the next day, all the other competitors decided to follow suit.* I don’t think these fellows would have passed the anti-doping regulations of today.

Being an Olympic shooting champion has it’s advantages, though. One night in 1901, Sumner Paine came home to find his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher. He drove the man away with four shots from a .32 caliber pistol. He was briefly jailed and charged with assault, but Paine was released when the police found his medal and realized he must have missed on purpose.

  • What are your favorite Olympics events?

*Information taken from:


On a Wheel and a Prayer


“What was it about yesterday that made you think

I was a gentleman, Miss Blackwell?” 

                                                                                                                           -A Bicycle Built for Two

When you think of the old west, bicycles probably don’t come to mind. I mean can you honestly picture John Wayne chasing down bad guys on a tricycle  or boneshaker? Yet, the bicycle craze that hit the country in the 1890s was just as prevalent in the west as it was in the east.



The new craze not only changed the way people got around, but also the economy. An editorial in the Fort Macleod Gazette in the early 1890s stated, “If this craze for bicycle riding continues much longer our livery stable men will have to close down.” The same lament could be heard from hatters, dressmakers and carriage workers.

Not only did cowboys, sheriffs and outlaws join the wheeling club, but so did women

One Texas newspaper in 1895 issued this warning regarding female bicycle riders: “We have been watching the course of events with breathless anxiety and Nebuchadnezzar himself never saw the handwriting on the wall more distinctly than we see it now. The bloomer is coming sure enough.”


One Kansas newspaper lamented that “Women wear their trowserettes even when their machines are left at home.”  While bikes1jpgsome were criticizing women’s attire others like Susan B. Anthony declared bicycles “Have done more than anything else in the world to emancipate women.”

Head over Handlebars

Bloomers aside, muddy dirt roads and wooden sidewalks made for a wild ride. Newspapers regularly reported people taking a “scorcher” and “being knocked senseless” or “carrying an arm in a sling.”


One Texas town responded by adopting the following regulations:

          1.Anyone riding a tricycle or relocopede must be supplied with a bell or horn that must be rung at all crossings.
          2.Any persons riding a tricycle at night must have a suitable lantern.
          3. It is especially prohibited for three or more riders to ride abreast
          4. No person or persons shall rest their bicycle, velocipede, or tricycle against a building (including saloons) where the vehicle will be on sidewalks


Some cities imposed a speed limit in town, usually four miles an hour. Fines could be as high as twenty-five dollars. The ordinances created as many problems as they prevented. Not only was there suddenly a shortage of cowbells but the noise created by them posed another problem.


It wasn’t just riders that gave sheriffs and marshals a headache, but a new kind of outlaw—a bicycle thief. Bicycles were also used as getaways and one thief led his pursuers on a merry chase through Sacramento.


Hold on to Your Stetsons

An Arizona Territory newspaper reported that cowboys in Three Rivers, Michigan “have discarded their horses for bicycles in herding cattle. Cowboys in Arizona would have a happy time herding cattle on bicycles.”


Cattle didn’t always take kindly to bicycles as one doctor found out when he unexpectedly ran into a herd of cattle. He ended up with a broken shoulder blade and his $100 bike in ruins. Things got so bad that some insurance companies announced they would charge double for bikers.


Some lawmen like Arizona Sheriff Donahue decided to fight fire with fire and announced that he was the proud owner of a “handsome nickel-plated bicycle” and was in negotiations to purchase a Ferris wheel bike for his under-sheriff.  John Wayne will never know what he missed.


I don’t know how it is where you live but the bicycle craze has hit my town big time and I recently caught my husband drooling over a $1000 bike. How are wheeling conditions in your town and have you joined the pack?

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A Bicycle Built for Two

Everything goes to hades in a handbasket when Damian Newcastle rides into Amanda’s life.

No one can pedal a bicycle around turn-of-the-century New York without a license, so Amanda Blackwell’s cycling school has become all the rage. The innovative establishment provides an income for the independent miss and her brother Donny, a special child. But in one afternoon, everything goes to hade in a handbasket. Amanda’s uncle is suing to put Donny into an institution and Damian Newcastle, the man she has every reason to hate, rides into her life to ruin everything.


Tennis Anyone?

I’m a huge tennis fan, and this weekend the finals of the last Grand Slam tournament of 2011 will be going on in New York at the US Open. I’m always amazed at the athleticism and power of the top contenders, but I wonder how they would fare if someone turned back the clock 120 years and gave them the equipment and clothing of their predecessors.

Like most sports, the game of tennis evolved over several centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the first lawn tennis club was established in England. The first tennis championship took place in 1877 at a lovely little place called Wimbledon. Just a few years later in 1881,  the United States National Lawn Tennis Association was formed, and the US National Men’s Singles Championship (later to become the US Open) was held in Newport, Rhode Island. 

The sport became a fashionable rage in the 1880’s and 90’s, especially among the middle classes, and soon men and women both were taking up racquets and installing private lawn tennis courts at their homes. However, women’s clothing of the time made few concessions to the sport. Men were able to play in loose-fitting trousers, shirt sleeves, and a bare head while women were still expected to wear dresses with high-neck bodices, floor-length skirts, layers of petticoats, hats, and yes. . . corsets. The restrictive clothing made it nearly impossible for a woman to bend over and retrieve a ball, so beautifully embroidered tennis aprons with large pockets became the style.

In the beginning, tennis was simply a recreational activity, much like croquet. The fun came in the gathering of friends. Players stood close to the net and simply patted the ball to each other. Yet competitive natures prevailed, and it soon became a sport for athletes. During this time of change, women began making strides in adapting their clothing to better accommodate the physical aspects of the game. Maud Watson became the first female champion at Wimbledon in 1884 and she shocked many with her agressive style of play and *gasp* her short skirts. They barely reached her ankles!

American MaySutton stunned spectators when she rolled up her sleeves during a match and bared her forearms.

However, it was Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920’s who took women’s sportwear to a whole new level. Her calf-length cotton dresses were considered indecent since she wore neither corset nor petticoat. And instead of a hat, she wore a silk bandeau around her head to help keep her hair out of her eyes. But it was her grace and skill on the court that made her a sporting heroine and inspired women everywhere to give up the shakles of fashion to embrace functionality when it came to sport apparel.

Can you imagine trying to play tennis or any serious sport while trussed up in a corset? I don’t know how they did it. But if it weren’t for those early competive females like Maude Watson who started taking small revolutionary steps, the women’s movement might not have gained the momentum it did at the turn of the century.

Are any of you tennis fans? Want to strap on a corset and long skirt and join me for a reenactment match?


I’m shocked. Truly shocked.

Cheryl St.John: Sporting Competition in the Old West

1866 Cycler
1866 Cycler

Is anyone else feeling at a bit of a loss this week after seventeen days of Olympic competition have ended? I confess I’m an Olympic junkie—summer or winter. I enjoy most everything, but especially ice skating, snowboarding, curling and gymnastics, and volleyball. I got to thinking about the origins of so many of the sports that originated in other countries and caught on globally. Of course athletic competitions go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but what about the years we read and write about? What about sports in the old west?

Well, there were plenty of them. Seems through the ages men—and later women—couldn’t get enough of racing and swinging and throwing and jumping, and they wanted to do it better than the next person. Like Solomon said, there’s nothing new under the sun.

1894 Golf
1894 Golf

The earliest ice skating was done in Finland and later Denmark, but our American ancestors did their share of ice skating as well. There were even special skirts for the ladies so the blades of their skates didn’t catch their hems.

Bare knuckle boxing began in ancient Greece, and was recorded taking place in England in the early 1700s. Remember Tom Cruise in Far and Away? Boxing was a popular sport among the American settlers and spread to the western regions. Susan Cahn in Coming on Strong, Gender and Equality in 20th Century Sport notes a match between Nell Saunders and Rose Harland in 1876 at Hills Theater in NYC. They supposedly fought for a silver butter dish. This was considered the first women’s match in the United States.

base ballThe earliest known reference to baseball is in a 1744 British publication by John Newbery. It contains a rhymed description of base-ball and a woodcut that shows a field somewhat similar to the modern game, though in a triangular rather than diamond configuration, and with posts instead of ground-level bases. English lawyer William Bray recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey.

In the mid-1850s the baseball craze hit the New York metropolitan area. By 1856 local journals were referring to baseball as the national pastime. A year later sixteen area clubs formed the sport’s first governing body, the National Association of Base Ball Players. In 1869 the first professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed and went undefeated against a schedule of semipro and amateur teams. The first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, lasted from 1871 to 1875. Baseball teams formed all over the United States.

1891tennisThe oldest piece of paper to bear the word croquet with a description of the modern game is the set of rules registered in November 1856 with the Stationers’ Company in London.

Croquet became popular as a social pastime for English ladies and gentleman during the 1860s. By 1867 there were 65,000 copies of the laws and regulations of the game in print. It quickly spread to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. No doubt one of the attractions was that the game could be played by both men and women.
Croquet was soon eclipsed by a new game. Tennis began in the UK in the1870s.

I included Independence Day activities in a book I’m currently finishing up, and my research turned up newspaper articles listing the events during actual Fourth of July events. Here are activities I discovered listed on the programs and in the newspaper accounts: Croquet, foot ball, base ball, skiffs (I’m guessing these are regatta-type races with dinghies), blindfold wheelbarrow races, climbing a greased pole for a $5 bill, sack races, foot races, horse races, fastest trotting mile race, slowest trotting mule race, and a fat man’s race.

1876 Ice Skating
1876 Ice Skating

I would add to these other competitions such as arm wrestling and driving a spike, eating and drinking contests and chasing greased pigs. We are a competitive species, aren’t we?

So are you missing the Olympics or glad it’s over so you can get to bed earlier at night?