Learn How The Wild West Happened First In Downtown Los Angeles on Today's Historic Downtown LA Walking Tour!
This Labor Day, Monday September 5th, THE LAST BOOKSTORES’s Tours of Historic Downtown LA presents its latest guided walking tour - “How Los Angeles Invented the Wild West (and why no one knows it!)” from 11:00 AM - 1:15 PM and again from 1:30 PM until 3:45 PM. Call 213-804-8396 for more information or reservations. And each tour is still only $15 per person.
WILD WEST TOUR
This Monday you will discover that long before the famed Western cowtowns and mining camps Tombstone, Dodge City, and Deadwood existed, Los Angeles was the first town where all the trappings of the Wild West were created. You will also discover LA was a far ‘wilder’ town than any Western town that followed after it. Tours, led by Brady Westwater, will begin at the 10,000 square foot THE LAST BOOKSTORE - 453 S. Spring Street. Call 213-804-8396 for reservations.
Description of what WILD WEST TOUR will cover.
Besides ‘inventing’ the original Wild West, Los Angeles also remained part of the Wild West for far longer than other place (from 25 years to over 90 years - depending upon the definition of the term - compared to the average period of 3 or 4 years to 10 years of other towns) and LA was also one of the few towns built upon both cattle and mining.
It started in the 1820’s when Los Angeles (founded in 1781) became the end of the Old Spanish Trail and the Western end of the Santé Fe Trail. During that time LA was regularly visited by many of the early West’s leading mountain Men and fur trappers and a number of these early pioneers ended up settling down in Los Angeles. Los Angeles was also home to the first Western gold rush in 1843 - five years before gold was discovered by John Marshall (who also spent time in Los Angeles) at Sutter’s Mill.
As the largest city in California, Los Angeles was also involved in multiple revolutions and insurrections during both the Spanish and Mexican eras and the exporting of hides from San Pedro starting in the 1820’s made LA the first major cowtown west of the Rockies. And after the Gold Rush started, Los Angeles rancho owners made cattle drives to Northern California gold camps, a full fifteen years before the first cattle drives left Texas.
The money from those cattle started Los Angeles’s first boom and immediately made LA a magnet for gamblers, bandits and get rich quick artists. And many of them were the most hardened criminals who were run out of the gold camps by vigilantes.
That’s possibly why when one historian states that from 1870 to 1885, the five Kansas cowtowns of Abilene, Caldwell, Dodge City, Ellsworth and Wichita had a total of 45 homicides during fifteen years, about of three per year per town - in contrast, Los Angeles, when it’s Wild West days were just getting started in 1850, had 31 homicides in a one year - more than all five major Kansas cowtowns had - combined - over 15 years.
And on a per capita basis LA’s murder comes to 1,240 homicides per 100,000 while the national rate even in the lawless 1990’s was… 9 per 100,000.
So LA didn’t just have the highest murder rate in the old West doing the 1850’s - frontier Los Angeles had the highest homicide rate in all of American history. And even those statistics were likely surpassed in the middle and late 1850’s when it was commonly said - and only partly in jest - that LA had close to a murder a day every day of the year.
So LA’s secret Wild West history isn't just that LA was the wildest town in the history of the Wild West - - but that LA was single-handedly practically as wild as the entire rest of the West put together.
But that is the only the start. Besides murders, frontier Los Angeles was also home to stage robberies, multiple vigilante or rangers organizations (the first one in 1836), far grander saloons and gambling halls than any other cowtown, countless posses that regularly rode over multiple counties, jail breaks, lynchings (including one led by the Mayor), far more gun fights than any other Western town, some of largest man hunts in Western history, bandit gangs that dwarfed those that terrorized other cowtowns, a 10 year two family blood feud that began with two murders and ended up in the ‘Shootout at the Bella Union Hotel’ and more sheriffs, marshals, deputies and police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty than in any other town, including one marshal who was killed his own deputy.
And almost all of this happened 10 years before Dodge City existed, 15 years before Deadwood was founded and 20 years before Tombstone dug its first mine.
But even during the comparatively quiet 1870’s - after its peak years - when the rest of the West was just… beginning its heyday… this ‘quieter’ and the always entertaining stage robberies of Dick Fellows. And LA’s Wild West history continued on until continued on with a final train robbery in the 1890’s in the San Fernando Valley in the 1890’s and Wyatt Earp being hired for special assignments by the LAPD in the 1900’s and 1910s.
This makes LA the only place in the West with an uninterrupted Wild West history that ran uninterrupted for almost 100 years - from Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson and Peg Leg Smith in the mid-to late 1820's to Wyatt Earp in the late 1910’s.
That’s why it’s not surprising many famous characters of the Old West began their careers in Los Angeles. Wyatt Earp worked here as a teamster or stage driver when he was in his teens, Judge Roy Bean - later to be famed as the law West of the Pecos (and played by Paul Newman) - was head of the Los Angeles Rangers in LA before there was even anything West of the Pecos, the lost Dutchman of the Lost Dutchman mine began his mining career here, Outlaw Belle Starr's outlaw son was born here and Kit Carson and Jon C. Fremont both visited here several times before fighting here during the Mexican War.
And that’s only the start of how LA invented the Wild West.
Because after rest of the West died down elsewhere, many of the leading characters of the era moved - or returned to - LA from the 1880’s to the 1920’s, which is one reason why much of early Downtown was built by mining and cattle money. Many of them then also helped reinvent the Wild West in one more way. But this time in was for the Hollywood Western films that told the all stories of all the now famous Cowtowns and Mining camps of the Wild West - all of them with just one exception.
Los Angeles. The place where the Wild West started - and where it ended.
And, again, for reservations or more information - call 213-804-8396.