History

Study Notes

Problems of Law and Order

Level:
GCSE
Board:
Edexcel

Cow Towns - Abilene

Initially, the new towns that were created along the railroad were lawless. The cow towns were particularly troublesome. In Abilene, a cow town in Kansas, there were gunfights, murders, gambling, and prostitution. In 1870, Thomas Smith became town marshal and issued a strict ban on carrying guns. It was met with some success, but by November 1870 he was murdered. Abilene was once again lawless, and it was not until the end of 1871 that order was restored. This was achieved by banning cowboys from entering the town.

 

Cow Towns - Abilene

 

Initially, the new towns that were created along the railroad were lawless. The cow towns were particularly troublesome. In Abilene, a cow town in Kansas, there were gunfights, murders, gambling, and prostitution. In 1870, Thomas Smith became town marshal and issued a strict ban on carrying guns. It was met with some success, but by November 1870 he was murdered. Abilene was once again lawless, and it was not until the end of 1871 that order was restored. This was achieved by banning cowboys from entering the town.

 

Train robbery

 

The first train robbery took place in 1866. It was conducted by the Reno gang, who escaped with $16,000. Train robbery was rife in the 1870’s and railroad companies were forced to take action. They made express cars entirely out of steel and placed armed guards in them. It was not until the 1900’s that train robberies began to decline.

 

Causes of Lawlessness

  There were lots of causes of lawlessness in the west. Firstly, the sheer size of the area made it difficult to police. The rapid increase of population caused by the Gold Rush of 1848, and later the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, made it almost impossible for systems of law and order to increase at the same speed. There were also social causes. For example, there were lots of racist crimes as white Americans, African-Americans, Plains Indians, and Chinese immigrants all lived closely together. There was also conflict between ex-Confederate and ex-Union soldiers even after the war had ended. Economic rivalry also caused conflict as different economic groups, such as homesteader and ranchers, clashed. Finally, almost everyone in the west was armed with guns, making violent crime more likely. 

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