America/United States

Harry Morse: “Bloodhound of the Far West”

Harry Morse (Henry Nicholson Morse) was an Old West lawman elected in 1863 as the sheriff of Alameda County, California. He served in that capacity from 1864 to 1878. Because of his tracking skills he became a celebrated and legendary figure partly because he found and captured some of the most notorious and infamous outlaws…

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Strange and Terrible Deaths in the 1800s

There were many strange and terrible deaths in the 1800s and among them is a story from 1879 about a poor woman roasted alive in her carriage. It all began when Mrs. Honora Lacy left her home in Chester County. She was traveling to Wilmington, Delaware to buy a large quantity of cotton, straw, and…

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The Cowboy: An American West Icon

The word cowboy did not begin to come into wide usage until the 1870s. In the nineteenth century, George Parsons, a licensed attorney turned banker lived in Arizona Territory in Tombstone and kept a detailed diary of what it was like to live in the Old West. He described the cowboy in this fashion:

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John Webster: Harvard Lecturer and Convicted Murderer

John Webster was born on 20 May 1793 and was from a well-connected family where his grandfather achieved success as a merchant. Indulged as a child and pampered in his youth, he enjoyed the best education and graduated from Harvard College. However, for all his advantages he learned nothing about money or how to be…

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Mary Rogers: A Sensational 1841 Murder

Mary Rogers was a noted American beauty whose body was found in the Hudson River in 1841. Her death was cloaked in mystery and much publicized by the press. There were some people who believed she committed suicide, others who thought she was an object of gang violence, and those who claimed she was victim…

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Vanderbilt Ball of 26 March 1883: A Spectacular Affair

The Vanderbilt ball was an extravagant event held on 26 March 1883 by Alva Vanderbilt and her husband, William Kissam Vanderbilt. It was held as a housewarming at their newly built home located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-second Street in New York. Attendees noted that it was one of the most brilliant…

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Soapy Smith and His Frontier Scams

Con artist Jefferson Randolph Smith II, aka Soapy Smith, gained notoriety with his “prize soap racket.” Under a gasoline flare he would sell bars of soap at night. However, to increase sales, he hid $5.00, $10.00, and $50.00 bills in some of the soap packages as prospective customers watched. Like other con men, the soap…

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Jailhouse Romance of August Spies and Nina Van Zandt

A jailhouse romance between the convicted August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, an attractive, well-educated 24-year-old, made front page news in the 1880s. Spies was one of the anarchists found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder after a bombing attack happened on 4 May 1886 at Chicago’s Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois. The event became…

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Ether: Early Anesthesia and Its First Uses

By the late 1830s, public gatherings referred to as “ether frolics” were being held by wandering lecturers. These gatherings involved audience members inhaling diethyl ether, who then entertained audience members by demonstrating the mind-altering properties of these agents. The idea of “ether frolics” originated with Humphry Davy, who had experimented with an ether like substance…

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Canada Bill: William Jones Confidence Artist

Chances are you even if you’ve heard of Wild Bill Hickok or Buffalo Bill, you haven’t heard of Canada Bill. He wasn’t famous like either of those Bills rather he was infamous because he was considered king of the confidence artists in the 1800s. Canada Bill operated in Canada and the U.S. and was described…

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