American West

Topics: BusinessIndustry

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Last updated: November 11, 2019

The reasons that there was such a high level of lawlessness in the west can be split into five main factors: Geographical factors, political factors, social factors, economic factors and the values and attitudes of people in the west. The main geographical factor is the sheer vastness of the west. It was a large and mostly empty area and travelling was a difficult and time consuming process. Not only was the west mostly vast and empty, but at the time transport methods were slow so any judges or hired officials could take months to reach a town in the west.However, not only did the geography of the west hinder any forms of law enforcement, but it also helped criminals. Gangs of bandits who knew the countryside well could commit a crime in any given town then disappear from it without any risk of being tracked down by vigilantes or government officials. When the west was first being settled, large numbers of cow and mining towns were quickly established. This boom of new towns meant that the government was simply overwhelmed with the demand for law enforcement.

There was a distinct lack of officers already in the west and because of the overwhelming demand the government simply didn’t send any officers or any money with which to train new ones. This is because politicians simply didn’t see the west as an issue worth spending money despite the high rates of lawlessness. Settlers didn’t just go to the west from all over the country, but from all over the world. This caused conflicts between the large amounts of ethnic groups. There was also the fact that settlers followed a don’t trust anyone philosophy because they didn’t know anyone and didn’t feel safe.This meant that there many potential sources of conflict.

On top of this, following the civil war soldiers returned home with no idea of how to function in regular life again. So instead they decided to put their ‘skills’ to use and take to a life of crime. Another issue concerning lawlessness in the west were the conflicts between the different economic groups.

A lot of this conflict surrounded the cattle industry. There were disputes between ranchers and homesteaders who argued over land. There was the same conflict between sheep herders and cattle ranchers.There were also internal conflicts between ranchers. Arguments over cattle stealing, or rustling, could result in bloodshed. There were also arguments between the powerful cattle ‘barons’ and small ranchers, in some of these cases the cattle barons were willing to get rid of their competitors in anyway possible. The values and attitudes of people in the west also contributed towards the high levels of lawlessness.

Almost every man in the west carried a gun and even in the rare cases where there was law enforcement available, people chose to solve problems themselves.With there being high rates of drinking, gambling and prostitution in the west, arguments could break out easily and quickly evolve into violence. With it being legal to shoot a man if he had a gun claiming it was self defence, gunfights were all too common. In conclusion I think that that the combination of lack of law enforcement and the large amount of people that carried, and were willing to use, guns, are the main reasons for the high lawlessness in the west.

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