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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

The Deadly Dozen

Updated: May 4, 2023

Most of the famous gunslingers of the West lived short, fiery lives. But their fame blazes on.

The West’s most deadly gunfighters? Folks have been arguing about it....well... since the gunslingers were living and shooting and killing. It was a favorite pastime in saloons, discussing who deserved the dubious honors of having killed the most men, who was the best shot, and, most of all, who was the fastest. And the stories got more and more grandiose until fact and fiction were mixed forever together in a big messy gumbo of gobbledygook... but it was fascinating—and gory—gobbledygook.

It’s also interesting to note that many gunslingers lived and killed on both sides of the law. The western frontier’s brand of justice was a wild thing that often had little to nothing to do with justice or right and wrong, but who had the fastest guns, the most guns, or the most power. Vigilantism and vengeance were the main operating principles of the West. Sometimes notorious gunslingers were hired by towns to become sheriffs, a practice that had predictable results.

And sometimes gunslingers generally thought of as “good guys” used their power and killing expertise for nefarious purposes. There were simply no black-and-white, clear-cut perimeters for good and evil, good guys and bad guys.

Above is a photo gallery of “The Deadly Dozen,” men often considered the most dangerous gun fighters in the history of the West. Most of these guys—not surprisingly—died young and violently. Billy the Kid died at age 21. According to legend, he killed one man for every year of his life. “Curly Bill” Brocius died at age 36 when Wyatt Earp killed him in a shootout. John Wesley Hardin killed 27 men before he died at age 42, killed by another outlaw-turned-constable. “Wild Bill” Longley was hung at age 27 after claiming to have killed 32 people, which he did with two .44 Dance revolvers and could shoot expertly with either hand.

“Kid Curry” Logan rode with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and allegedly killed nine men before he killed himself at age 37 during a gunfight with the law in Parachute, Colorado, rather than be taken prisoner. Dallas Stoudenmire died at age 36 as a U.S. Marshall of El Paso, Texas when he was killed in a shootout with the Manning brother outlaws. And Wild Bill Hickok died at age 39 when he was shot in the back during a poker game in a Deadwood saloon. “Pistol Pete” Eaton, however, beat the odds. He lived to a ripe old age and later in life became a cowboy poet!

You can read more about several of these guys—Pistol Pete, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Billy the Kid—in the posts listed below.

-Pistol Pete: The Greatest Gunfighter?

-Wild Bill Hickok

-Billy the Kid

-Billy the Kid Unearthed

-Shootout at O.K. Corral


"The Deadly Dozen" was first published on FB and NotesfromtheFrontier.com on April 29, 2020.

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© 2021 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER

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3 Comments


Enviro Geologist
Enviro Geologist
Mar 10, 2021

Deborah I dont read any blogs but yours - as its not just fascinating, but always of substance and well researched. I truly enjoyed this article.


I will share this. As an environmental geologist, I spend a lot of time in some pretty bad places. My work often involves looking for meth lab dump sites and similar things which result in the contamination of soil and/or ground water. I work mostly in distressed communities - both urban and rural. I frequently run into members of drug cartels, meth cookers, meth users, gang members, white supremacists and people who are frightened, paranoid and well armed. Although my primary weapon is being able to anticipate and avoid trouble -followed by reall…


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Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
Mar 10, 2021
Replying to

Dear Enviro Geologist,

What a wonderful message! Thank you so much for sharing your very personal story and the symbolism of cowboys and gunslingers even today's culture. Your story is so very fascinating, especially because I worked in "the hood" in Milwaukee for nearly seven years for a large nonprofit that serves poor and at-risk inner-city families. I worked in the one of the most violent and poorest zip codes in the U.S. with the highest rate of gun violence. I was the development director of our nonprofit and raised about $5 million a year for our programs.

I interacted a lot with the kids and families we served and some kids would matter-of-factly show me their gunsho…


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dougstrickland60
dougstrickland60
Apr 29, 2020

I very much enjoy this site. I have found it to be dead-on accurate, and very well researched. This particular report on the Tombstone shoot-out is documented, proven and masterfully written. I attended the mockery as presented by the group in Tombstone in 2017; I was beyond insulted! Prior to the beginning of tr re-enactment, one of the presenters approached the attendees and ENCOURAGED US TO BE A PART OF THE PROGRAM! This consisted of: booing and hissing when the "bad guys" came out; cheering and clapping when the "good guys" came out. Vaudeville anyone?? The audience/spectators were seated in a large seating area made of pipe and wooden seating, much like stadium seating. It was an insult to th…

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook

 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  

 

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

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