One of the iconic images we have of the old West is the train robbery. It is mostly a polite affair where the bad guys are either already inside the train and proceed up and down the aisle to collect the goodies from the passengers (cue the pretty lady who the bad guy allows to keep one sentimental piece of jewelry) or they block the train track so the conductor stops and the band of merry bad guys go gain, politely go confiscate goodies at gun point.

I am not saying that did not happen, but what I have seen in different papers the most is terroristic stuff like above.: Make the train derail, damned be the lives of those inside and they go pick the remains like hyenas.

Train traveling was a dangerous affair back then. Beside the robbers, you had the Tramps (Hobos) who would derail a train out of revenge for being kicked out and the just plain crazies that liked to see things break and blow.

“Fun” Fact: When a train derailed, the ones more likely to die were the engineer and the fireman and the cause of death would be crushed to death against the scorching hot boiler. Basically like bacon on a pan with the cast iron press on top.

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By Miguel.GFZ

Semi-retired like Vito Corleone before the heart attack. Consiglieri to J.Kb and AWA. I lived in a Gun Control Paradise: It sucked and got people killed. I do believe that Freedom scares the political elites.

5 thoughts on “Old News: Train Wreckers. How much of the Old West is romanticized?”
  1. Pirates have an even more famously romanticized image in popular culture, despite the reality being much more brutal and bloody.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for the genteel-but-sardonic Pirate King archetype in fiction, your Captain Hook’s and Captain Barbarossa’s. Heck, I’m even fond of the occasional bodice-ripping pirate-as-bad-boy love interest when they’re in a decently written work, like the Dread Pirate Roberts or Will Turner. It’s a fun fictional archetype…

    But the reality was pirates were floating terrorists. In fact, pretty much all of international law (indeed the very notion of international law itself) is an evolution of the agreements between Hellenistic Period states around the Mediterranean and Levant on how to deal with pirates. Piracy was basically the original “crime against humanity.”

    “Wild West” train heists were basically land piracy. Heck one of the more prevalent forms of piracy in the British Isles was “wrecking.” Create a fake navigational beacon like a lighthouse (or snuff out a real lighthouse or scuttle a buoy) in order to lure a ship into a navigational hazard, wreck it, and pick over the remains like seagulls.

  2. My mother’s father was a railroad engineer at the turn of the 19th century. He routinely carried a SAA and an 1886 Winchester in the cab with him.

  3. “How much of the Old West is romanticized?”

    All of it.

    Because most of the information in the popular culture is from badly written novelizations of the West by Northeast city dwellers who had never left.

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