The annals of the Old West are replete with names of gunfighters. Men who earned their reputations by being fast with a gun and surviving shootouts. Outlaws gained their notoriety by robbing stagecoaches, banks, and trains. The lawmen who arrested or killed them were in many cases former outlaws themselves. Many operated on both sides of the law.
However, the iconic image of a dusty western town where two men approach each other from opposite ends of the street or face off in the local saloon is in many ways a fabrication. Such confrontations happened, but rarely. Cemeteries like “Boot Hill” attest to frontier violence and are the final resting places of such well known western icons as John Wesley Hardin, Ike Clanton, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and John Henry “Doc” Holiday to name but a few. But hardened men with nerves of steel and a fast draw are principally the invention of dime novelists, journalists, and early cinema; the events embellished and participants made larger than life to sell books, build newspaper circulation, and encourage attendance at movie theaters.
Certainly, most men were armed and occasional gunfights occurred. But of those, the vast majority avoided confrontations. When guns were used it was to protect livestock, property and family. And, even when an exchange of gunfire took place, gunfights without casualties weren’t all that uncommon.
Though most men carried a firearm and risked death by doing so, more often than not shots were fired wildly, triggers jerked instead of squeezed, weapons aimed to high or to low or not aimed at all, bullets whizzing by their intended targets, thudding into wooden walls or planking or plowing into the dirt. When the gun smoke cleared, the participants were often amazed to find themselves and their adversaries unscathed. – excerpt from Palo Duro.