True West Magazine

Actual Unseen Wild West Photos Revealed After 130 Years

By: | Last updated: Jan 13, 2022

Actual Unseen Wild West Photos Revealed After 130 Years

While the Wild West is best noted for Cowboys and Indian standoffs, railroad wars, battles of lands and lawmen who frequently took things into their own hands, not much is known about the average citizen’s life during this time.

There were farmers, homesteaders, laborers and hardworking housewives to name a few that are hardly noted. Click NEXT to see rare photos of what civilian life was like in Wild West.

The Real Cowboy

Considered one of the most realistic photographs depicting a real cowboy, this image taken by miner John C.H. Grabill is iconic for the cooling cloth neck wrap and leather chaps he wears.

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John C. H. Grabill/Wikipedia

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A Game Called Faro

Most people take what they see in western films as truth. When it came to saloon card games, cowboys didn’t actually play poker but rather a game called Faro, a which was created outside the US.

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Faro (Card Game)/Wikipedia

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Rose of Cimarron

Rose Dunn’s (aka Rose of Cimarron) fascinating story lives on in this photo. She was introduced to what would become her husband, George “Bittercreek” Newcomb, by her brothers. Ironically, those same brothers killed George in 1895 fulfilling bounty hunter duties.

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Eleanor Noelle Little / Pinterest

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O.K. Corral Gun Fight

This iconic photograph depicts the legendary Wyatt Earp with his friend Bat Masterson. He’s best known for his participation in the O.K. Corral gun fight along with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and friend Doc Holiday boldly took on four outlaws.

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Greatest Indian Fighter

General George Crook is considered to be one of the greatest Indian fighters in the midst of the Indian Wars. In this 1886 photograph, he appears with his mule Apache and two of scouts Alchesay and Dutchy.

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General Crook and Apache Scouts/ True West Magazine

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America's Best Known Frontiersmen

One of America’s best known frontiersmen, Kit Christopher Carson played a leading role in the development of California. Kit was illiterate, and it’s likely his embarrassment about that led him to spend more time with Natives.

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Apic/Getty Images

In total, Kit fathered 10 children with three different wives, two Natives, and one Mexican.

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Confederate Bushwacker

Outlaw Jesse James transitioned from a Confederate Bushwhacker into one of the most recognized outlaws to this day. Unfortunately, a bounty was put on his head resulting in his murder by another member of his own gang.

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Jesse James / Wikipedia

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

This striking image depicts the majestic Canyon de Chelly Nation Monument. Currently, it sits amid the Navajo Nation and is one of the United States most visited national treasure.

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Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, USA / Wikipedia

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Buffalo Bill’s and His Performers

This image features of group of Buffalo Bill’s cowboy performers for his gun re-enactments. These gentlemen were likely to be the best sharpshooters in the nation at the time, as getting hired wasn’t easy. 

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Buyenlarge/Getty Images

However, one getting in, they enjoyed the generous payment for participating in the sow.

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Kraemer’s Saloon

This image is of Kraemer’s Saloon in Michigan. What makes this photo so relevant even today is the fact that it shows that bars today are still relatively the same as the saloons 150 years ago.

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Surveying the Lands

This fascinating photo was captured by Timothy O’Sullivan and portrays Lt. George Wheeler along with his crew as they surveyed the lands around the Black Canyon and Colorado River.

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Battle of Little Big Horn

Prior to being defeated during the Battle of Little Big Horn, Lt. Colonel George Custer searched the Black Hills of South Dakota with his crew to search for an ideal fort location.

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The Largest Reservation in The US

The Navajo Nation may be the largest reservation in the US, but times weren’t easy for them getting there. This pic shows a Navajo family taking a ride across the Canyon de Chelly in the late 1800’s.

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A Hero

Apache Geronimo is largely considered a hero for leading numerous combined tribes into battle with their Mexican and American foes.

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The Whistleblower

Not only did Charlie Siringo work as a detective at the Pinkerton Detective Agency, he became a whistleblower sharing the agencies darkest secrets. 

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His book “A Cowboy Detective” was a successful and engaging tell-all even though the agency went above and beyond trying to stop him.

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Native American Weavers

The colonists were drawn to the lovely weaving of the Native Americans, so they started making rugs and blankets to exchange for goods. Previously, only the tribe had access to such quality weaving.

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Pauite Tribe

This photograph of peoples of the Paiute tribe best depicts the noticeable results of American colonization had on their lives. Here they are seen wearing a combination of Native clothing and western garb.

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The Most Famous Photographer

Cameras were not commonplace in the Old West, and Timothy H. O’Sullivan ultimately became the most famous photographer of the era. Here, we see his mobile darkroom wagon in the Carson Sink led by mules. 

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His camera and darkroom were the keys to his success along with his keen eye for interesting subject matter.

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Extreme Temperatures

Even though the temperatures often exceeded 130 degrees in Death Valley, California, businessmen would willingly travel there. Why? Because there were large amounts of borax there that they could mine and sell for big profits.

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Deadwood

Situated in Dakota Territory, Deadwood hosted a huge celebration as captured in this photo by John Grabill after the completion of the city’s streetcar project and the Deadwood Central Railroad.

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Wild West Cowboy

If you’ve ever wondered what a true Wild West cowboy looked like, this depiction of Charlie Nebo is extremely accurate. He was known as a true frontiersman amid his peers.

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Bloody Bill

There was gang involvement during the Civil War, and Bloody Bill was known as the savage leader of Quantrill’s Raiders. As a Confederate, he and his gang would take out as many Union soldiers as possible when given an opportunity.

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He and his gang reportedly took out more than 100 soldiers in one engagement.

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Ambrotype Photography

A decade before tintype photography people used ambrotype, which is done on glass. This image is a pristine example of early ambrotype photography.

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Unidentified Tribe

In this tintype photograph from 1870, we see an unidentified member of the Cherokee tribe who are one of the Five Civilized Tribes that were relocated onto Indian Territory. Here we see a man holding a golden hued knife and donning the clothing only typical at that time of the ‘civilized’ white man.

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Born William Cody, Buffalo Bill created a highly popular entertainment program known as the “Wild West Show.” It began in 1883 and went on successfully for many decades as the show toured the states and wowing them with gun fight re-enactments and other acts. This image shows a group of his performers who traveled with show.

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The Most Dangerous Trail

As seen in the photo of a group traversing the steep and dangerous Sierra Nevada Mountain Trail, travel wasn’t easy for all early settlers. In fact, the wealthy would hire an armed group to protect themselves and their valuables on risky routes such as this one.

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Tibercio Vasquez

Tibercio Vasquez was a hispanic outlaw that went on a 20 year crime spree without getting caught. His luck ran out in 1875 when authorities caught him and had him hung.

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Chasing Money

Chasing money was vital in the wild west, and gold was the most prized metal that people would chase and mine. This Timothy O’Sullivan photo shows an Illinois railway track that transported their finds out of the mines, saving the men a lot of time and hard work.

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The Pacific Railroad

Taking six years to create during the Civil War, The Pacific Railroad connecting San Francisco to Iowa laid the foundations for a transcontinental railroad to foster transportation.

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Female Stagecoach Robber

Pearl Hart wasn’t a woman to be messed with in the wild west, and she gain notoriety due to her proclivities as a female stagecoach robber.

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She often passed for a man, as she had short hair, dressed in men’s clothing and carried a big gun. Ultimately, she was sentenced to prison for five years for her crimes.

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Bandits of the Wild West

It’s unknown who the men are in this photo, as there were numerous gangs amid the wild west. What is known is that they are one of those gangs, so experts suggest that the man in the center is John Kinney. 

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If this is true, this photo would depict members of the John Kinney Gang.

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Buffalo Bill’s Grass Dancers

Another popular attraction at Buffalo Bill’s show were watching the grass dancers. These two Oglala Lakota Natives traveled the world wearing their native bells and shells to entertain show-goers. This photo is of dancers know as Elk and Black Elk.

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Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers were founded in 1836, and even though they were protectors of the people they had to purchase their own weapons and ammunition to get the job done. Rather than receiving money as payment, they were granted property.

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Wild Bill Hickock

Known for being an excellent shot with the fastest holster to hand speed, Wild Bill Hickock is rumored to have taken the lives of more than 100 individuals. 

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However, it is believed that he only actually killed less than a dozen men.

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Dangerous Job

Here, we see a group of men in front of a cave-like entrance in the late 1800s. Their goal was to mine for gold, copper or silver in hopes of reaping big payouts in addition to the mine owners when they found the goods.

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This was a dangerous job, but these men were willing to take the risk.

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Early Texas Rangers

Many people don’t know that the early Texas Rangers were not Texans nor were they outlaws—they were Comanches. In this image from 1868 we see John J. Haynes on the right and James Thomas Bird on the left. Interestingly, their attire resembles that of Civil War guerrillas, which severely contrasts with the cowboy attire of latter Texas Rangers.

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John Grabill, Wild West Photographer

Known for his stunning photography of Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota during their development, here we see wild west photographer John Grabill. 

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He also shot pictures of the plights of the Native Americans post colonization.

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White Settlers

Once white settlers came in and European colonization took hold, Native life as they knew it ended. Native’s were forced off their lands so settlers could have it, sending the earliest peoples away to the west to live in paltry conditions on makeshift reservations.

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Buffalo Soldier

Black American’s who opted to serve in the US Army were dubbed Buffalo Soldiers by Native Americans. The term was popularized by reggae legend Bob Marley. In 2005, the last living Buffalo Soldier passed away at the incredible age of 111.

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Fugitive On the Run

This double image is the initial wanted dead or alive poster seeking fugitive Bill Doolin. Next to it, we see the man’s dead body once bounty hunter Marshal Heck Thomas caught up to him and killed him with 20 buckshot wounds. 

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While it wouldn’t be acceptable today, bounty hunters often took such photos to prove they had done the job.

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The Dalton Gang

Once respected lawmen who were tired of not getting compensated for their work, the Dalton brothers formed their own gang and turned to the ‘bad’ side of the law. Best known for robbing banks and trains, they finally ran out of luck in 1892 during a bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas. 

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Two brothers died when their scheme went amiss, but the brother Emmett took 23 bullets and miraculously managed to survive only to serve 14 years in prison.

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Chinese Immigrants

Chinese immigrants were often put into concentration camps and later forced into cheap free labor to build railroads. Not only did they make less than half the wages of white workers, they were forced to buy their own food and transport their camps when non-Chinese workers had these necessities supplied for them. Here, we see a group of Chinese laborers.

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Settling Utah

This is a panoramic image by Timothy O’Sullivan showing the growth of the community of Little Cottonwood, Utah. In the wild west, these settlements made life much easier and safer than being on the frontier.

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Holding Their Catch

In this 1887 photo, we see five extremely pleased cowboys holding onto their catch: a gray wolf. These animals were considered predators due to their proclivity to kill cattle, so capturing one was considered a brag-worthy accomplishment.

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Another Cowboy Posing

This cowboy seems eager to pose for this solo picture, and it is rumored that most cowboys were eager to have their image captured on film. Likely, this is why the cowboy here is in full regalia replete with his chaps, hat, and gun.

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Warrior and Chief

Quanah Parker was a highly respected warrior and chief of the Comanche tribe. Best noted for his high level of aggressiveness and bravery, he became a leader at a young age. Here, he proudly wears a full headdress and holds a bottom-up lance.

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General Custer

While General Custer is best known for his defeat in the Battle of Little Big Horn, he was notably a great soldier who served in many wars. The image here was taken just prior to his passing.

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Ned Christie

Cherokee statesman Ned Christie had a reputation for taking on the lawmen in the Americas. So much so that these engagements were dubbed as ‘Ned Christie’s War.’ He was accused of many crimes wrongfully and put on trial. 

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Even though he was proven innocent in a trial, his home was destroyed by fire by incited law men in 1892. Three years later, the lawmen revisited Ned Christie and killed him.

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Terry’s Texas Rangers

Formed in 1861, Terry’s Texas Rangers were a highly respected and successful calvary regiment fighting for the Confederates during the Civil War. At least 275 engagements called them to battle, and the group was dissolved in 1865.

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Bathing in the Wild Wild West

It simply wasn’t feasible to bathe daily in this era, and there were actually wives tales that claimed sickness was due to taking a bath! While men often stopped at water pools such as the one we see in the image, women often took pitchers of water and a cloth to clean up.

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Female Gaining Fame

Another female who gained fame for being a female outlaw was Belle Star. Born Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Star, she could often be seen riding sidesaddle and toting two pistols. She was murdered in 1889 by an unknown party.

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Spotted Elk Found

This haunting image of Spotted Elk is a rare find. He was a Lakota Sioux also known as Big Foot, and he was killed by Union soldiers in 1890 at the Wounded Knee Massacre. Unfortunately he was only one of 153 Native casualties in the battle.

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