What image comes to mind when you think of the American west? The miner, a wondering half crazed individualist with his never ending mantra that the next stream or outcropping would be his “bonanza,” or the cowboy whose flamboyant lifestyle and distinctive dress gave flare, mystique, and a spirit of adventure to an otherwise obscure life on the range.
In July, 1876, in a small railroad town in Wyoming, these two competing western images converged; the ragged, dishevel, knee booted miner, represented by hundreds of 49ers, and the mythical cowboy, represented by the gun slinging gambler, Wild Bill Hickok.
The town was Cheyenne; their destination was Deadwood, a small wild and lawless mining camp in the gold filled Black Hills of Dakota territory which had sprung up just a few months before and already had a population of over ten thousand souls, mostly miners, gamblers, hustlers and thieves, who flocked there seeking to make their fortune, either by taking gold from the ground or taking gold from those who did.
What transpired in Deadwood between these two competing western images, the miner and the cowboy, set forever how America would define its western heritage. Ask anyone in America, or the world for that matter what image comes to mind when they think of the American west, the answer will be; it’s the American cowboy.
Tomorrow, like Wild Bill Hickok did one hundred and thirty-one years ago, almost to the day, I, a true son of the west and product of the cowboy mythical image he fostered, will arrive in Cheyenne, preparing, as he did, to leave for Deadwood.