Gunslinger and gunfighter historically refers to men in the American Old West who had gained a reputation of being dangerous with a gun and had participated in gunfights and shootouts.
Gunfighters range from different occupations including lawman, outlaw, cowboy, exhibitionists and duelist, but are more commonly synonymous to a hired gun who made a living with his weapons in the Old West. Here are the top 10 real-life deadly gunslingers from the wild west era.
- Tom Horn Jr.
was a scout, cowboy, soldier, range detective, and Pinkerton agent in the 19th-century American Old West. Believed to have committed 17 killings as a hired gunman throughout the West.
Horn allegedly killed his first man in a duel — a second lieutenant in the Mexican Army, whom he killed as a result of a dispute with a prostitute.
Horn was convicted in 1902 of the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell near Iron Mountain, Wyoming.
Later in life Horn quickly developed a reputation as a killer-for-hire, and is said to have been responsible for as many as 50 murders in his 43 years of life.
- Billy the Kid
was an American Old West gunfighter who participated in the New Mexico Territory’s Lincoln County War of 1878. He is known to have killed eight men.
He was portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, history shows that he actually entered a life of crime out of necessity, not meanness.
According to historians people who knew him called him brave, resourceful, loyal, and possessing a remarkable sense of humor.
He became a well-known figure in the region when he joined the Regulators and took part in the Lincoln County War. In April 1878, the Regulators killed three men, including Lincoln County Sheriff William J. Brady and one of his deputies.
Billy was killed in 1881 by the equally famous, Sheriff Pat Garrett. All told, Billy the Kid is said to have killed a total of 21 men, one for each year of his life.
- Wyatt Earp
was an American Old West gambler, a deputy sheriff in Pima County, and deputy town marshal in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, who took part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which lawmen killed three outlaw cowboys. Considered one of the most famous lawman of all time and an accomplished gunslinger.
Wyatt Earp is known for leading his ‘Vendetta Ride’. After one of his brothers was shot dead, Earp and his good friend Doc Holliday led a group of gun fighters and were responsible for hosing down at least 30 men connected to the murder.
- Doc Holliday
was an American gambler, gunfighter, and dentist, and a good friend of Wyatt Earp. He is best known for his role as a temporary deputy marshal in the events leading up to and following the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
After being diagnosed with tuberculosis at age 15, he took up gambling and acquired a reputation as a deadly gunman. He rode with Wyatt Earp during the infamous ‘Vendetta Ride’, and is known to have killed no less than 10 men.
- Dan Bogan
Bogan seemed to have a quick temper, and he was always on the lookout for a fight, which earned him a reputation as a troublemaker. It is believed that by 1886 this cowboy had taken the lives of three men. What’s more, Bogan’s rabblerousing didn’t end there, and on January 15, 1887 he murdered Constable Charles S. Gunn, shooting the onetime Texas Ranger with a revolver. Before he could get away, though, Bogan was himself shot in the shoulder and then captured – although he managed to make a getaway in the midst of a raging blizzard. While Bogan is not as well known as some of his contemporaries, author Robert K. DeArment considers him among the Old West’s most underestimated gunslingers.
- “Wild Bill” Hickock
was a folk hero of the American Old West known for his work across the frontier as a drover, wagon master, soldier, spy, scout, lawman, gunfighter, gambler, showman, and actor. Also, considered most skilled gunfighter of his time.
Hickok gained a reputation for being handy with a gun after he killed outlaw David McCanles with a single bullet from 75 yards away. More accurately called a “shootist,” Hickok was one of the very few gunslingers who participated in actual, out-in-the-street “Western-style” quick-draw duels.
- Butch Cassidy
was a notorious American train robber and bank robber, and the leader of a gang of criminal outlaws known as the “Wild Bunch” in the American Old West.
His last name, Cassidy, was a tribute to his friend and mentor Mike Cassidy who taught him how to shoot.
- Harry Alonzo Longabaugh AKA “The Sundance Kid”
was an outlaw and member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch in the American Old West. He likely met Butch Cassidy after Parker was released from prison around 1896. Together with the other members of “The Wild Bunch” gang, they performed the longest string of successful train and bank robberies in American history.
Despite his reputation as a gunfighter, he is not certain to have actually killed anyone.
- Jesse James
was an American outlaw, bank and train robber, guerrilla, and leader of the James–Younger Gang.
Despite popular portrayals of James as an embodiment of Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, there is no evidence that he and his gang shared any loot from their robberies. Scholars and historians have characterized James as one of many criminals inspired by the regional insurgencies of ex-Confederates following the Civil War, rather than as a manifestation of alleged economic justice or of frontier lawlessness.
- Curly Bill Brocius
was a gunman, rustler and an outlaw Cowboy in the Cochise County area of the Arizona Territory during the early 1880s.
Brocius had a number of conflicts with the lawmen of the Earp family, and he was named as one of the individuals who participated in Morgan Earp’s assassination. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and a group of deputies including his brother Warren Earp pursued those they believed responsible for Morgan’s death. The Earp posse unexpectedly encountered Curly Bill and other Cowboys on March 24, 1882, at Iron Springs (present day Mescal Springs). Wyatt killed Curly Bill during the shootout.
- Jim “Killer” Miller
was an American outlaw and assassin of the American Old West said to have killed 12 people during gunfights – perhaps the most of his era.
Miller was referred to by the alias Deacon Jim by some because he regularly attended the Methodist Church and he did not smoke or drink. He was lynched by a mob of angry citizens because of his assassination of a former deputy U.S. marshal.
What other gunslingers did we not mention?