1876: Year of the Gun

The Year Bat, Wyatt, Custer, Jesse, and the Two Bills (Buffalo and Wild) Created the Wild West, and Why It's Still with Us

Steve Wiegand

Veteran journalist and historian Steve Wiegand takes readers across the post-Civil War Wild West. Wiegand introduces—or re-introduces—us to lawmen such as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp and outlaws such as the Younger and James Brothers, as well as larger-than-life figures such as Buffalo Bill and George Custer. He details the stories of these real-life legends, the aftermath and legacies they left behind, and the innumerable myths frequently attributed to them. Juxtaposing their real lives with the often-outlandish accounts of their exploits, 1876 swings from lighthearted humor to cliff-hanger suspense. It also portrays how the Wild West’s initial, tantalizing promise of fame and glamour often disintegrated. But 1876 also offers readers a unique element noticeably absent from most Wild West books: historical context. Wiegand expands his contemporary spotlight on America’s 100th birthday year to encompass what was going on in the rest of the country. On the very same day George Armstrong Custer was dying on a parched hill in southeastern Montana and immortalizing himself as both hero and villain, Alexander Graham Bell was at America’s first World’s Fair in Philadelphia, demonstrating his new invention—the telephone. At the same time Wyatt Earp was moseying into Dodge City to join the town’s police force, Albert Goodwill Spalding was on a pitcher’s mound in Chicago, establishing baseball as the national pastime and creating a sporting goods empire. And even as the James Boys and Younger Brothers were robbing banks, Democrats and Republicans were conspiring to steal the White House from the American voter. This book brings them all together in one place. Fueled by the author’s childhood interest in cowboys, train and bank robberies, and high noon shootouts, and their portrayal in iconic TV shows, 1876 is a delightful homage to famous Wild West figures who, with media help, helped shape the American character.