Polemics & Exchanges

On Western Violence

In “The Curious Career of Billy the Kid” (Views), Gregory McNamee writes that, “For most of the 19th century, the American West was a fairly tranquil place,” adding in the same paragraph that, “In cities such as Denver, Seattle, and even Tombstone, few citizens knew how to use a firearm, owned a gun, or had need to.”  For the first assertion, he seems to credit Richard White’s It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own, but doesn’t likewise provide a source for the monumental gun ignorance of the citified populace of that age.

Let us set aside the fact that tranquility is often in the eye (or blinders) of the beholder and that, for half of the 19th century, Denver, Seattle, and Tombstone were little more than mining digs, Indian villages, or less: Since even an inner-city thug of today can somehow manage the intricacies of firearm use, how exactly does Mr. McNamee explain this inability of our 19th-century forefathers?  For assistance with his answer, perhaps he could ask—although he appears to have already—Michael Bellesiles.

        —John West
Granite Falls, WA

Mr. McNamee Replies:

Mr. West is misreading my intention, perhaps deliberately.  Bellesiles’s...

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