The Truth About The West

The Truth About the West

The Wild West, this amazingly dangerous and mysterious land that people of today’s society grew up hearing about. For some it was old western movies that showed us what the American west was like, for others it was stories passed down through their family. No matter how someone grew up learning about the west, one thing was always true, the west was an adventurous place with murder, robberies, and crazy Indians. Well although we like to imagine the west as this crazy place, it really was not all that bad. For example, bank robberies were thought to be a huge part of the American west. When in all honesty bank robberies really did not happen all that often, and very few were actually documented in history. Overwhelmingly large amounts of bank robberies are a false idea that has been instilled in society by old western movies and folktales over the years, when in reality they were far and few in between.

For the past century or so, America has been becoming more and more technically advanced. Also, the nation has become much more civilized over the past century. As all this time goes by, the once rural and tough way of life starts to dwindle away. Well people seem to long for these ‘good ole days,’ so over the years wonderfully detailed stories and ideas came about in order to keep the old west alive. A hundred years ago grandparents were telling stories to their grandchildren about the dangerous bank robberies that mysterious and brave outlaws were committing. Skip a few years forward, and there are kids sitting in the living room after dinner listening to fascinating tales of outlaws robbing banks on the family radio. Not to long after that entire families are sitting down and watching awesome western movies on outlaws and robberies. It seems as though that over the years, Americans have created this pattern of passing down crazy stories and myths about bank robberies. As the stories continued to be passed down through the generations, the reality of what was really going on in the American West has become long forgotten.

The idea that bank robberies happened all to often back in the old west is a completely false assumption that people have today because of the stories and legends passed down from past generations. In reality bank robberies were actually quite uncommon.

According to Kevin Nakamura’s article there has been some pretty extensive research done on bank robberies in the American West. It turns out that there are actually only eight truly recorded bank robberies. That is a pole taken from fifteen different states during a forty year time period (Nakamura).

This factual evidence turns out to be very shocking to some people, and a lot would probably just deny it. Well there are some great facts behind the truth. Back in day towns were a little different than what exists today. The towns in the west were actually quite small and most buildings were relatively close to one another. Because the buildings were so close to each other that usually meant that there was a chance for the sheriffs office and bank to be next to each other. That waived a big red flag for most criminals on the hunt for some quick cash.

Another slight problem for anyone that thought about robbing a bank is the way the buildings were built back then. The buildings were normally stacked up against each other. This meant that the back of the building would be reinforced with a heavy-duty wall, causing there to be no way to escape from the back. Now the only option a robber would have left would be to go through the front door, which could easily have a sheriff waiting on the other side (Nakamura).

After analyzing all of the details regarding the ways towns and buildings were laid out, it is pretty easy to see that banks were not designed to be easy pickings for criminals. In fact banks were designed with the complete opposite in mind. Because bank robberies were so hard to commit, that is why the few men that were able to successfully rob a bank and get away with it are so famous. They were the ultimate outlaws of their day, when most criminals stuck with robbing trains or other things that were outside of town, these men were pulling off major heists of their day. Now that it is very clear that bank robberies just were not all that common, one form of robbery back in the day that was actually a regular occurrence are train and stage coach robberies. The American Experience newspaper articles are detailed documentations of what was going on.

Whenever a train or bank robbery would take place, different groups of outlaws; like the James and Younger boys, would normally receive all pressure from the law. This is because these crimes are so hard to commit, that very few men can become famous for being successful. So because the law knows that, they focus on the men who are actually capable of robberies (American Experience).

Over the years, Americans have painted a very deceiving picture of bank robberies in the American West. From old folktales to western movies, either way Americans have found a way to keep the boring truth about bank robberies hidden, but keep the myth of bank robberies alive. If someone were to rely purely on stories and movies about western days, then it would be very easy for them to fall for the myth of bank robberies. On the other hand, if the proper time is taken to do some research and digging on what was really going on, then it turns out to be quite easy to find information stating that bank robberies were actually far and few in between. Americans over the years have done a great job trying to keep the old west alive by creating these myths and legends, but the myth of bank robberies has officially been busted.

Works Cited

“American Experience: Newspaper Accounts.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 16 Oct.

Nakamura, Kevin. “5 Ridiculous Myths Everyone Believes About the Wild West.”

   N.p., 24 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Wild West Outlaws And Lawmen.” History Net Where History Comes Alive World US

History Online. HistoryNet, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Israel, David. “10 Great Train Robberies.” Mental Floss. N.p., 20 Sept. 2010. Web. 16

Oct. 2015.


Luke Proctor

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