Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life In 1881 Tombstone Was Very Civilized

Dear Readers,

A few of you have sent me on a quest to find out how life really was in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881 during the year of the famous shoot-out. Was it a hell on wheels rough and tumble place? Or really, was it more civilized and sedate than most really know?

So how was life really like in Tombstone Arizona in 1881? Just how many murders were there at the time? And really, was the town really a hot bed of violence as Hollywood movies make it out to be? Were there restaurants and shops, and were there other "social" events back then other than sitting in the saloon drinking and gambling? Considering there was the famous killings at a lot near the OK Corral, and since there were roughly 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dance halls and brothels, those are the questions that I asked when researching Tombstone Arizona the year of the gunfight at the OK Corral.

In the late spring of 1879, when Ed Schieffelin was at Camp Huachuca when he announced that he'd be heading East to prospect alone in Indian country. It was then and there that everyone told him he would never make it out alive.

Ed Schieffelin was briefly a scout for the U. S. Army headquartered at Camp Huachuca. And before someone writes to correct me regarding Camp Huachuca, it was re-designated a Fort in 1882. Supposedly Ed Schieffelin frequently searched the wilderness looking for valuable ore samples but never found much. But, that would change.

At the Santa Rita mines in nearby Santa Cruz Valley, three superintendents had been killed by Indians. When friend and fellow Army Scout Al Sieber learned what Schieffelin had planned, Sieber is quoted as telling him, "The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone." Another account reported Schieffelin's friends told him, "Better take your coffin with you; you will find your tombstone there, and nothing else."

Schieffelin tapped into what was one of the greatest mineral bonanzas thus far discovered in the United States. Within just a few months of filing his claim with the help of his brother, a small town began to grow at "Goose Flats". It was soon moved a few miles to Tombstone.

The number of people coming into Tombstone was so great that newcomers had to live in their covered wagons, or in large canvas tents, until they could find a lot and have a house built. That shouldn't be too surprising really, especially when we consider the town swelled to well over 10,000 people by the beginning of 1882. And think about this, their population was said to be the largest at the time between St Louis and San Francisco.

When we also consider that Tombstone was literally in the middle of nowhere, and that all supplies, and everything for what was considered civilized living at the time, we should remember that everything had to be brought in from Benson which was the nearest rail-head.

The town was growing fast. And like most other towns in the West, they used wood to build it. Of course, like other towns including Deadwood, fire was a constant concern. Take for example, the poor building practices and poor fire protection common to boom-town construction at the time. It's no wonder that Tombstone was hit by two major fires.

On June 22nd, 1881, the first fire destroyed 66 businesses making up the Eastern half of the business district. The fire began when a lit cigar ignited a barrel of whiskey in the Arcade Saloon. During that fire, a large bucket brigade helped save a few buildings from total destruction. Another fire on May 26th, 1882, would destroy much of what didn't get hit a year before.

As for food, and what was available? Well, while beef was plentiful thanks to ranchers, and especially the Cowboy faction who routinely stole cattle from across the Mexican border, there was no shortage of beef. The same cannot be said about fresh fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables were almost non-existent, and frankly there was no way the average person living in Tombstone could afford to pay for "imported" produce. Remember that irrigation had not yet come in, so subsequently produce was scarce. In its place was the basic meal of meat and potatoes. And yes, the potatoes were shipped in.

Of course by 1881, many people were in fact already experimenting on ways to serve hamburger meat between two pieces of bread with ketchup, mustard, and grilled onions. Later, in 1883, there were places in Texas serving what had become known as a "Hamburger Sandwich."

In Tombstone, one could find steaks of any cut of beef they wanted. But it didn't stop there. One could also buy seafood, oysters, lobster, clam chowder, bacon, sausage, and even some "exotic" game such as elk, venison, and pheasant. Of course being the Southwest, one could also get fresh Mexican tamales and tequila. But people there could also find Champagnes and wines from France, Spain, and Italy. As for storing food, they did have canned goods of all sorts. And yes, along with the lead poisoning that came along with those early canning processes.

Since Tombstone had more than one bakery, they had pies, breads, biscuits, cookies, and cakes. "Hard Tack" biscuits were a common source of food for miners and travelers. When I was a kid, we used to call them "Saloon Crackers" -- in fact they are what were called "Hard Tack".

For the average person that was about all there was, but just as today -- those with money could get about anything money could buy. Those with money could buy fruit shipped in, such as grapefruit, pears, oranges, bananas, lemons, and even limes.

On the average, did people in Tombstone have to worry about food and its availability? No, they really didn't. Fact is, within a year of establishing Tombstone, there was an assortment of restaurants to chose from. It has been reported that there were actually two Italian and one French restaurant, several Chinese restaurants, a number of Mexican restaurants, and many restaurants that specialized in "home cooking comfort food" to chose from. Also, for those who had money, there were even several upscale "Continental" restaurants.

As for more "modern" conveniences, Tombstone had all sorts of conveniences. By mid-1881, there were also Vogan's Bowling Alley, a school, the Schieffelin Hall opera house, two banks, three newspapers, an ice house, and an ice cream parlor, alongside 110 saloons, and 14 gambling halls.

For those who wonder what products were around back then that are still around today, you should be comforted to know that one could find Heinz ketchup and vinegar (1876), Philadelphia Cream Cheese (1880), Tabasco Sauce (1868), Fleischmann's Yeast (1868), Campbell’s Soups (1868), A-1 Steak Sauce (1873), Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (1838), Underwood Deviled Ham (1822), Saltines (1876), Pillsbury Flour (1872), Graham Crackers (1829), Schweppes Tonic Water (1783), Angostura Bitters (1824), among other things that are still around today.

I put the dates of when those products first went into production just so we can see how many things we have today that were already available back then.

If I were back in Tombstone in 1881, I could have purchased a bottle of Tonic Water, a bottle of Gordon's Gin, cut up a lime, to have a Gin & Tonic over ice from the local ice house while talking with City Marshal Virgil Earp in one of the many saloons. For me, forget Wyatt -- the real lawman in the Earp family was Virgil. And honestly, that's who I would have loved to be able to talk with.

Now as for wages and working conditions in Tombstone?

Years ago, I was pretty surprised to find out why Tombstone was called by the nickname "Helldorado." I assumed it was because of its violence but I was wrong. The nickname for Tombstone was a variation of the Spanish term "El Dorado" which means "the golden one."

Believe it or not, it was actually created by a disgruntled miner who wrote a letter in July of 1881 to the Tombstone Nugget newspaper complaining about trying to find his fortune and ending up washing dishes. So yes my friends, that's what I get for assuming the wicked term "Helldorado" meant something more than just a complaint from a disgruntled miner who fell on hard times.

Fact is, during the day, people either slept after getting off work at the mines, or were themselves working. There were no such things as Welfare, Social Security, or even "retirement" for Americans in those days. Subsequently, people had to work or starve. Those loafers and shirkers, those drifters, and the unemployed that we see in movies hanging around saloons weren't as common as people think. There was not such a thing as "unemployment" or "disability" compensations. So people took any work they could find, especially after the mining booms went bust as they did time and time again around the West. Also, by the mid-1880s, cowboys were losing their jobs as the cattle boom was starting to wain down as well. So those without work either moved on, or found whatever could be had at whatever wage there was.

As for wages, a cowhand or rancher at the time made about $30 a month. It's said the term "cowboy" was a derogatory term in 1881 Tombstone. As with today where a relatively small group can give a larger group a bad name, the term "cowboy" in that area denoted someone underhanded who associated with the criminal element in those parts.

Capitalists from the northeastern United States bought many of the leading mining operations. The miners who worked them were mostly immigrants from Europe, chiefly Cornwall England, Ireland, Germany and Poland. Chinese and Mexican labor provided services including laundry, construction, restaurants, hotels, and more.

The mines and stamping mills ran three shifts. Miners were paid union wages of $4.00 per day, and that was working six 10-hour shifts per week. Friends, $4 in the year 1851 is worth $119.36 in 2014. The approximately 6,000 men working in Tombstone generated more than $168,000 a week which totals approximately $4,252,200 in today's income.

The one position that could possibly make one rich was that of County Sheriff. The reason was that the County Sheriff was also the Tax Collector, and was paid 10% to 12% of all the taxes he collected. In reality, he could make $40,000 a year very easily. That means that the Cochise County Sheriff would stand to make nearly $950,000 a year in today's dollars.

Yes, I believe that this is why Wyatt Earp wanted to be the County Sheriff when he first arrived in Tombstone. And as for others, well the mostly young, single, male population spent their hard-earned cash on Allen Street, the major commercial center, which like the mine operations was a 24 hours a day operation.

To entertain this young crowd, as I stated a couple of time earlier, Tombstone had 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dance halls and brothels. The prostitutes worked the saloons on the south side and in the southeast quarter of the town. That location was as far as possible from the "proper" residential section north of Fremont Street. Of course besides what was termed "bawdy entertainment", believe it or not, Tombstone had a gym, a bowling alley, a baseball team, and several billiard parlors. They also had a wholesale liquor distributor, and even a few cigar shops.

There was also a large bookstore where one could find fairly recent copies of the latest newspapers from all over the country. It was of interest to people living in Tombstone to see what newspapers in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco reported as the kept tabs on their town.

The men had their choice of several barbers and bath-houses. A bath-house was definitely just a bath-house in 1881. One went to a bath-house to bathe, if one were a man. If one were a woman, you were regulated to hauling water into the house if they had a well, or pumping it if they were lucky to have a kitchen pump.

Woman worked harder than men back then as they probably do today. But back then they had to boil the water, bring in the metal bath tub, and "cower" in the kitchen as they bathed. Then, after the last of the children had all used the same bath water, mom would then throw it out -- most likely into the gardens.

Because the water would be so dirt after all of the baths, it was possible to throw out the last child in the tub if they were lost in the dirty water. That's where we get the term "don't throw the baby out with the bath water" when one talks about getting rid of something bad -- it might have something good in it as well.

While folks there had a Telegraph Office, the Arizona Telephone Company began installing poles and lines for city's first telephone service on March 15th, 1881. Tombstone also had a few hospitals and a list of physicians in town. Believe it or not, more than just one.

In fact, Tombstone had some of the finest medical services available at that time. Dr. Goodfellow performed one of the first recorded facial reconstructions. He is recognized as rebuilding George Parson’s severely injured nose and mouth with no scars. By the time Parsons had healed, his post-surgical features were almost identical to photographs taken before the injury.

In the late winter of 1882 there was a small-pox scare in town. Everyone there was vaccinated -- with no exceptions. Because of the legality of various opiates, a person living in Tombstone who was suffering from late-stage bone cancer had better pain control with more options than a person does today. There was a number of pharmacies available.

Besides the Chinese restaurants, Tombstone, like many mining camps in the Southwest, had a large Chinese population. They brought with them several laundries, ready-made household labor, Americanized-Chinese dishes like "chow mien," and drugs for both medical and recreational uses. Tombstone's "Chinatown" was located between Fremont and Allen from the south side of 1st to 3rd.

As for men's fashions, Tombstone lived to the standards of dress of the Victorian Era. They had everything from catalog clothing to clothing shops and even imported dresses and such.

Men, especially business men, dressed in three piece suits, "ditto suits" and "sack suits", consisting of a sack coat with matching vests and trousers continued as an informal alternative to the contrasting frock coat, waistcoat and trousers. The majority of working class men, even shepherds adopted jackets and vests in fustian and corduroy with corduroy trousers.

Ranchers and cow-hands dressed in colorful western attire including brightly colored shirts, handmade boots, dusters, or frock coats, and of course Stetson Boss-Of-The-Plains cowboy hats.

For you folks who have a vision of the Old West as everyone wearing Stetsons or some other wide brimmed hat, you are not going to like the fact that the bowler (aka derby), and not the cowboy hat or sombrero, was the most popular hat in the American West. It was so much so that it prompted Lucius Beebe to call it "the hat that won the West".

Believe it or not, besides railroad workers, labors, shopkeepers, and all sort of others -- even a few cowboys wore the bowler to be fashionable. In reality, it was also worn by both lawmen and outlaws, including Bat Masterson, Virgil Earp, Butch Cassidy, Black Bart, and Billy the Kid.

In America, the bowler hat became commonly known as the "derby", and in fact one Old West outlaw named Marion Hedgepeth was commonly referred to as "the Derby Kid".

As for women, they had to endure the Victorian dress come what may. Emphasis remained on covering up unless it was an evening gown where sleeveless and low-necked, except for matrons, were worn with long over the elbow or shoulder length gloves of fine kid leather or suede. Choker necklaces and jeweled collars were fashionable under the influence of Alexandra, Princess of Wales, who wore this fashion to disguise a scar on her neck.

Today’s temperatures in Tombstone are no different than they were years ago. Can you imagine wearing stockings, lace-up shoes, long drawers, a petticoat, a corset, and then a skirt on top of that? No wonder women went around fainting. Even in summer, when you went outside you wore long sleeves, gloves, a hat, carried your cute little parasol.

Perhaps it is because of the completely inaccurate accounts of the lives of the Earp women. Clara Brown in her articles to the San Diego papers wasn’t very glowing in her description of women's lives. Because of that Historians have come to the false conclusion women had very miserable lives there in Tombstone.

The problem with basing women's lives on the Earp women is the fact that the Earp women were basically socially unacceptable. Let's be frank here, the Earps were indeed pimps and their women were prostitutes. And as in most places during that time period, Tombstone did have several social classes.

A "respectable" woman had the usual chores to do such as shopping, getting the kids off to school, home work such as milking a cow or churning butter, and of course having lunch ready for her family at noon. Noon was the big meal of the day back then. As the old saying goes, "Men may work from sun to sun, but women's work is never done."

Back then, receptions for everyone and everything was popular, and the comings and goings of all sorts of people of every social status was talked about and noted in diaries and newspapers. Card parties were quite popular, as well as women’s groups of each of Tombstone’s four congregations: Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopalian. All were always working on a project with weekly meetings.

There were shops and stores for shopping. And like most places back in the day, one had catalogs to shop from. There was a book store and a woman’s reading club. There were sewing circles. There were ice cream socials, Church bazaars, Christmas pageants, Easter egg hunts, and dances.

You went to morning church service, afternoon Sunday school, then evening service. Afterwards, you either had guests over, or you stopped by to visit a friend. George Parsons used the Sunday services for "dates".

There were birthday parties, engagement parties, weddings, and new baby parties to attend. You could also join the theatrics group and take part in a play. There were several musical groups in town.

Churches needed choirs. Choirs practiced several evenings a week. There were parties for that. You were always dining out at someone’s home at least once a week, with someone dining at your home another day of the week.

Life for a “respectable” woman was good. And if your husband struck "pay-dirt" in business or in mining, that is "struck it rich", you may have even had a servant or two. Your clothes may even have gone to a laundry. As with everywhere during any time period, life has its hardships.

Babies were born and babies died. Hardly a family was untouched, including that of Dr. George Goodfellow himself. Some of the childhood illnesses that we take for granted today were killers in their time. If a child lived to his or her first birthday, that was seen as a miracle of sorts.

In Tombstone, there is hot days and cold nights. The wind almost always blows sand and dust. If you lived in a wooden house you were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. If you were lucky enough to have an adobe, you were probably much more comfortable all year. Of course it was not unusual for a rattler to find a cool place under a house, or a tarantulas crawling through open windows and doors. It was always smart to shake out your boots and shoes before putting them on in case some scorpion decided to use them to hide in.

In the Old West, fire was always a danger. In Arizona, the Apache threat was constant. As for the violence, movies and Hollywood has inflated how violent it was to unrealistic proportions.

Dime novelist called Tombstone the town to tough to die and the days there "wild and woolly." But frankly, I believe that was really far from the truth. The murder rate in 1881 is what stands out the most when looking at the town of Tombstone, it simply wasn't what I expected to find.

In stark contrast to movies and Hollywood's imagination, the so-called "town too tough to die" was a very quiet non-violent place. The town's website has a picture of Allen Street, then says, "Allen Street today. One of the most notorious streets in the old west is alive and well in Tombstone.

Throughout the past 140 years it has survived two major fires, the loss of the mining industry, and countless violent encounters. Each year many thousands of visitors walk where old west heroes and villains lived, worked and fought. From boomtown to bust this little city earned its nickname, 'The Town Too Tough To Die'".

In actuality, looking at Tombstone, one doesn't find Cowboys doing quick-draws at high noon every other day with bodies piling up at Boothill. In fact, in 1881, if records are correct, then there were 6 "homicides" in Tombstone. That's it, six. And out of them, four were considered "justifiable homicides". And honestly, from what I can ascertain, that was the most murders that any Old West town saw in any one year in the post-Civil War West.

As for my contention that Tombstone didn't even come close to some other Boom towns? It certainly didn't compare to rough and tumble town of Mokelumne Hill, California, where years earlier in 1851 in that gold rush town during its boom year. For Mokelumne Hill, also known as "Moke Hill," in 1851 was reported, "Death by violence seems to be the rule. For seventeen successive weeks ... a man was killed between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Five men were once killed within a week."

Compare that to 1881 Tombstone where besides justified killings such as Luke Short killing Charlie Storm in self-defense after being attacked, and the three men who were shot dead at the lot adjacent to the OK Corral during a law enforcement situation, murders were actually very rare. In fact, other than the incidents mentions, earlier in the year one man was killed when someone hit him in the head with a rock. Another man that year was killed with an ax.

Even looking at the early days of Tombstone, things there was relatively calm. It is said that between 1879 and 1884, about 300 people died in Tombstone. It is recorded that 121 died from old age, natural causes, 2 died in childbirth, 5 died committing suicide, 7 were killed by Apaches, 10 were hanged, 8 legally and 2 were lynched, 5 died by drowning, another 16 died of other types of accidents, 21 died from some sort of disease which includes 10 infants or young children, and in the years 1879 to 1884 there were a total of 52 people who died by gunshot, knife, or some sort of blunt instrument. If we take a look at a 20 year period from 1881 to 1901 of the entire Cochise County, Arizona Territory, we find a total of 474 deaths on record. The vast majority were self-defense of something other than murder.

Of that 20 year period, from 1881 to 1901, there were only a total of 210 gunshot wounds reported by the County Coroner. Of that 210 gunshot wounds, there were 130 instances of murders and self-defense, 18 people were killed by accidental gunshot wounds, 16 were from pistols, 16 were from law enforcement, 15 gunshot wounds were from Indian attacks, and 15 were self-inflicted gunshot wounds "with suicidal intent."

Of course, you were more apt to die from a number of other ways other than being shot. In that 20 year period, besides those 210 gunshot wounds, there were 57 listed as "unusual deaths", 51 listed as being from "medical procedures", 47 from suicides, train accidents killed 41, mine accidents killed a total of 35, drowning accounted for 33 deaths, five people died in a fire, and 33 died of unknown causes.

Some of the "unusual deaths" were quite varied. For example, one man got a kick in the groin and died, another was hit on the head with a rock, one man fell into a well, another was thrown from buckboard trying to control unmanageable team of horses, another was poisoned from being bit by a Gila Monster, one man fell from cliff while under the influence of liquor, another man broke his neck in a fight when he was hit by another man's fist. And yes, one woman was killed during a rape.

As for the train accidents, one was an attempt to couple cars while in motion, another was a scalding from a defective flue in the engine, another man was run over by engine while asleep on railroad tracks, a train wreck killed a group of folks, one bandit was shot dead attempting to hold up a train, and another bandit was run over attempting to board a train while in motion from his horse. Yes, unlike the movies, boarding a train from a horse was not that easy!

As for mine accidents, they were commonly results of poor work conditions or carelessness, a fall into a chute, an explosion of giant powder, a car loaded with coal overturned was called "death by coal", a blow from falling rock in a cave-in and suffocation by poisonous gas would kill many back in the day. Like today, people got hurt on the job through their own carelessness or tough working conditions.

As for suicides, there have always been people who have killed themselves. Some coroner reports list their deaths as "a fato de se" or "fate itself." In reality, some men and women poisoned themselves with chloroform, overdose of morphine, chloral hydrate, laudanum, opium, or “alcoholic stimulants.

A few died from self-inflicted stabs or cuts by knife or razor. One died from a deliberate drowning and one hanged himself. Another died from an injury to his head, believe it or not, ruled as being "caused by his own hand." Suicides by gunshot were included in the statistics for gunshot deaths.

Yes, if we look at Cochise County, it sounds like any place. The violence between the Earps and the Cowboys ended with the deaths of 3 men in an alley near the OK Corral. In all of 1881, besides the three killed at the hands of the Earps and Holliday, only 3 others were killed in homicides that entire year. And out of those six, four were deemed self-defense.

So, after reading this, you ask why Tombstone got the reputation that it had of being such a violent place. Simple, fiction writers lie. That's what fiction writers do. They tell lies. Fiction is made-up stories.

We have to remember that fiction writers in the Old West, or back East as far as that goes since some who wrote about the West never left New York City, wanted to make a dollar and they understood what sells. Dime Novelists knew they would never sell books with titles such as "The Quiet Streets of Arizona" or "Go West To Be Safe." They understood human nature and sensationalism. Yes, they lied.

It is a safe bet to say that we live in a much more violent society today than in comparison to that which they did in the Old West.  I believe it was due to more of an emphasis on the Golden Rule, and it had to do with more guns in the hands of citizens who knew better than to put all of their trust and security in the hands of others.

The fact is back then most people carried guns, even in towns like Tombstone where carrying a gun became illegal. Gun sales statistics, the numbers of guns sold and what kinds of guns were sold, shows us that small hideaway guns out-sold bigger harder to conceal gun almost 4 to 1.

Knowing that your opponent might be armed and a force to be reckoned with, people were friendlier than they were back East where guns were outlawed and few people carried them and crime was much higher than in the West. Yes, an armed society makes for a friendlier society.

And frankly, that's the case even in rough and ready towns like Mokelumne Hill where tunnels were dug under the town so that people didn't have to cross the street in the open where they'd be preyed upon. Sooner or later, armed citizens end up reestablishing law and order.

Yes, because of armed citizens and code of conduct, if we compare what went on in all of 1881 in Tombstone to the senseless killings and drive-by shootings that took place just a few weeks ago in the city of Sacramento where 12 people were killed in just two days, it's easy to see why Tombstone Arizona in 1881 was safer than Sacramento California is today.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

 Tom Correa


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  2. But...From what I have read, killing a Mexican or an indian or a black was not considered murder. Were those even reported as crimes? Would that not undermine your statistics?

    1. Hello Kimit, I don't know where you got that from. But frankly, that is incorrect. It is just plain wrong. Homicides were homicides just as they are today. Back then, newspapers reported the killings of Mexicans, Indians, and Blacks just as they reported the killings of Chinese, Jews, Catholics, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Chileans, Slavs, Polynesians, and others. Please remember that Boom Towns, gold and silver strikes, all attracted people from all over the world and not just one ethnic group as the movies portray. Because so many people flooded in from around the world into areas were, say Gold or Silver Was discovered, the Old West was much more ethnically diverse than most think. And yes, the law took them into account just the same as we do today. Records and newspapers all prove that's just fact. Also, I believe that one of the homicides that took place in 1881 was a Mexican and the killer was Mexican as well. So please, go with common sense. If it doesn't sound right -- don't accept it at face value and research it further which is the same thing that I do. Thanks for visiting my site.

    2. Hi Tom, Thanks for the revealing truth about Tombstone. I am fascinated with the old west and always wondered what it would be like living there in 1881. When visiting John Wayne old west studio near Tuscan a man working there told me that even though it sounds romantic, a person would not like it much after being there a while. Garbage and the smell of muddy streets and horses manure mixed together was not real pleasing. Again Thanks

      Roger H

  3. I will always love Tombstone, just left there 2 or 3 days ago. I heard they needed to have more visitors, to keep it alive!

  4. If you love spicy food, there is no better place than the Mexican and Indian restaurants in the country to order some amazing delicacies. phoenix pizza restaurant

  5. I find the information you provide very interesting to me. You, sir, do an excellent job! Thank you!

  6. I think this is your best piece yet Tom! I once read that in Dodge City, during their worst year, they had nine killings, and some of those were deemed justifiable. Hardly the image that ole Matt Dillon would have us believe. I also read once that the vast majority of people carried shotguns or rifles, and much fewer owned handguns. That made sense to me, since a long-gun would be more useful to a farmer, rancher or pioneer for hunting or self-defense. And as you alluded to, the newspapers and dime novelists lied notoriously. Much like today's fake news we live with.


Thank you for your comment.