Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting Wild

One history fact from today that stands out in the imaginations of many is the first ever documented Old West Gunfight that actually fits the now accepted description, between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt.

While the event may have sparked the Wild West era of US history, especially in the minds of Hollywood producers and novelists, it would seem to me that the even stranger tale of Palisade, Nevada, is what seared it into our collective consciousness.

Today it is a ghost town on the edge of Palisade Canyon, and supposedly well worth a visit for the view. It now only boasts a couple of dozen people living scattered through the area. The old town itself consists of the cemetery, two still standing wooden structures, and lots of foundations. Once the nearby Onondaga and Zenoli Silver Mines played out in 1917 and the railroad quit stopping there, it was only a matter of time.

Palisade lives on, though, in that it typified what most people now think of when they think of the Old West. In fact, it may have even partially defined it. It gained that reputation, though, through one of the wildest true tales of the Wild West.

While the movies and television would have us believing there were gunfights weekly in every town, along with bank robberies, Indian raids, and general mayhem, the fact it is was all quite the exception rather than the rule. It happened, but it made the news when it did occur. Most town were more Little House than Gunsmoke.

Enter Palisade. As the era was winding down, the people of Palisade decided to preserve the image in the best way they could -- by staging the mayhem, for over 3 years in the 1880's.

Apparently a conductor on the railroad suggested to a citizen of the town that since so many Easterners were traveling west looking for The Old West, the town should give it to them. That sparked a conversation, which brought up more ideas, and the town ran with it.

Alvin "Dandy" Kittleby, a popular, deeply religious man, who just so happened to look like a typical Old West villain, was cast to play the bad guy. Frank West, handsome and tall, a local cowhand, was the good guy. A week after the conversation, they pulled off their first fake gunfight. The train pulled in, and Kittleby headed toward the saloon. West came out from behind the nearby corral and yelled, "There ya are, ya low-down polecat! Ah been waitin' fer ya. Ah'm goin' to kill ya b'cause of what ya did to mah sister. Mah poor, poor little sister!" West drew and fired over Kittleby's head, and Kittleby fell to the ground screaming as if shot. Every passenger on the train dove for cover and several fainted.

The passengers were convinced they had gotten their Old West experience, and the town was hooked. Over the next several years the town earned a reputation as the most dangerous Old West town ever by staging more than 1.000 shootouts, bank robberies, and Indian raids. Shoshone Indians who lived nearby played their roles, and everyone in town was either an actor or cranked out the hundreds of blank rounds used, or helped by collecting and storing beef blood from the nearby slaughterhouse.

The railroad workers thought it was a hoot, and believed it helped sell more train tickets. Almost every person within a 100 mile radius was in on the joke. The passengers almost all believed they had, in fact, witnessed real Western Gunslingers in action.

The tales carried back by the passengers led editors of big city newspapers to decry the "slaughter" and demand the Army take over the town and restore order. The Army, however, was in on the joke.

During this time, Palisade was so peaceful it didn't even have a sheriff.

So the toughest town in the Old West earned the reputation in a Wild West story that even Hollywood can't improve upon.

Today is

Birthday of Aten -- Ancient Egyptian Calendar

Calgary Folk Music Festival -- Calgary, AB, Canada (through the 24th)

Comic-Con -- San Diego, CA, US (through the 24th)

Feast of Damo (keeper of secrets of philosophy; daughter of Greek sages, Pythagoras and Theano, date approximate)

Independence Day / National Day -- Belgium

Kazanskaya -- Russia (Feast of Our Lady of Kazan)

Lacuria -- Ancient Roman Calendar ("Feast of Clearings", with prayers said as land was cleared for planting)

Liberation Day -- Guam

National Junk Food Day

National Tug-Of-War Tournament Day -- if you have a problem with someone today, solve it with an old fashioned tug-of-war!

Racial Harmony Day -- Singapore

Sapporo Summer Festival -- Odori Park, Sapporo, Japan (through Aug. 20, the park becomes a beer garden)

Schoelcher Day -- French West Indies; Martinique (Schoelcher worked for abolition)

St. Lawrence of Brindisi's Day

St. Praxedes' Day

Birthdays Today

Hatty Jones, 1988
Josh Hartnett, 1978
Jon Lovitz, 1957
Michael Connelly, 1956
Robin Williams, 1951
Cat Stevens, 1948
Kenneth Starr, 1946
Norman Jewison, 1926
Don Knotts, 1924
Kay Starr, 1922
Isaac Stern, 1920
Marshall McLuhan, 1911
Ernest Hemingway, 1899

Today in History

Herostratus sets fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, BCE 356
A tsunami devastates the city of Alexandria, Egypt, 365
The first landing of French troops on the coast during the French invasion of the Isle of Wight, 1545
Twenty-four-year-old Scottish physician and explorer Mungo Park became the first European to see the Niger River, the third longest river in Africa, 1796
In the market square of Springfield, Missouri, Wild Bill Hickok shoots and kills Davis Tutt in what is regarded as the first true western showdown, 1865
At Adair, Iowa, Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang pull off the first successful train robbery in the American Old West, 1873
Louis Rigolly, a Frenchman, becomes the first man to break the 100 mph (161 km/h) barrier on land, driving a 15-liter Gobron-Brille in Ostend, Belgium, 1904
In Dayton, Tennessee, high school biology teacher John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching evolution in class and fined $100, 1925
Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin become the first men to walk on the Moon, during the Apollo 11 mission, 1969
After 11 years of construction, the Aswan High Dam in Egypt is completed, 1970
The world's lowest temperature is recorded at Vostok Station, Antarctica at -82.9*C (-129*F), 1983
The fully restored USS Constitution (aka "Old Ironsides") celebrates her 200th birthday by setting sail for the first time in 116 years, 1997


  1. Interesting stuff. Let me guess - you're a History major. :)

  2. Yep. Along with English and Religious Studies. Just call me Bookworm.


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