Friday, July 20, 2018

5 Little-Known Facts About the Old Wild West

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.
I often uncover little-known historical facts while researching my novels. The Montana Gold western historical romance series was no exception Some of the quaintest tidbits hail from the Old Wild West, an era that unfolded like a wrinkled tablecloth in a back-country saloon. Below you will find research discoveries that changed my view of the American West.

5 Little-Known Facts About the Old Wild West

1. Buffalo Weren’t Buffalo

American Bison
An American Bison
The hump-backed horned creatures who grazed the western prairies were actually bison, a different animal altogether. Early pioneers incorrectly dubbed them ‘buffalo’ because of their resemblance to both the African cape buffalo and Asian water buffalo.

2. The Stetson Lost Out to the Bowler (Derby) Hat

Stetson Hat
Move Over, Stetson
The Stetson is a western icon, but it actually wasn’t the most popular hat worn back in the day. That title belongs to the bowler. Peruse period photos, and you will see what I mean. The Stetson was well-made of quality fur-felt but expensive. Bowlers cost little and stayed on in the wind. Even cowboys wore them. The bowler was so popular that American author Lucius Beebe named it “the hat that won the West.”

3. You Could Go All the Way to Northern Montana by Riverboat

Riverboat travelers faced many perils.

A prospector in a hurry to stake a claim could land sooner in the Montana gold fields by riverboat, provided he arrived at all. Riverboat travel was hazardous, but many took their chances anyway. They could ride as far north as Montana’s Fort Benton, the last fur trading fort on the Upper Missouri. To find out more about this, read my previous post, Riverboat Travel in the Old Wild West.

4. Not Every Wagon Train Carried Guns

Wagon Train
The wagon train needed help...
During my research of Bannack, a town in Montana Territory, an original historical record described the murder of several members of the local tribe by drunken townsmen. In the aftermath, tensions arose amid fear of retaliation. Volunteers from Bannack rode out by night to escort a wagon train encamped nearby into town. This became necessary as the wagon train had no guns. The record doesn’t elaborate. I’ve often wondered who they were. Perhaps Quakers, a religious sect devoted to peace.

5. Dance Hall Girls Weren’t Always Ladies of Ill-Repute

Some dance hall girls  only danced.
Young women from Germany played the hurdy-gurdy (a stringed instrument) and danced in order to sell brooms and fly-whisks. This drew the attention of potential customers. Their fame grew, and drew a contingent determined to make a profit. The girls were persuaded to forsake their homeland for America. Hoping the girls would find a better life in America, many of their parents allowed them to go. To help their impoverished families, the girls signed contracts to entertain miners in goldrush towns. Some of the girls had hard lives and fell into prostitution, but others simply danced with the miners for a fee. The untold story of the hurdy-gurdy girls is the basis for Stagecoach to Liberty (Montana Gold, book 3), which releases in December 2018. To be notified when this book goes on presale, join the Creative Worlds of Janalyn Voigt.

  About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres.

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

Explore Janalyn Voigt's interactive website.


  1. Thanks for the post! It's always good to debunk some of our history myths!

  2. Hi, Connie! You're welcome. I agree. It's fun to figure out what actually happened in history.

  3. Thanx for sharing your research!!! I knew some of your items, but not all.

  4. Great post, Janalyn. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Janalyn, thank you for this very interesting post. It certainly cleared up some myths.
    Blessings, Tina

  6. Janalyn, this is interesting information. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. What a fun post, Janalyn! Funny the things we take for granted that we think we know.