Writing Seminar: Summary
07 February 2013
Summary of “The Myth of Violence in the Old West”
In his article, “The Myth of Violence in the Old West,” Roger D. McGrath attempts to rebut the common myth of the old west being plagued by high crime rate. Although McGrath agreed that the old west was violent, he maintained how the violence at that time was dissimilar from todays. To help illustrate his point, he compared today’s crime rate for burglary, robbery, and murder in major cities, with that of Bodie. While being one of the most notorious towns of the old west, Bodies crime rate didn’t seem to disturb the old, young, weak, or women as they have done so in major cities today. Over a five year period, McGrath stated, a ratio of 84 Robberies per 100,000 inhabitants per year occurred during the flourishing years of 1878-1882, while the United States as a whole was 243. He mentioned that the crime rate of burglary and robbery was deterred by the fact that most citizens, in Bodie, where always armed and without hesitation of shooting the would-be robber. One area of crime Bodie far surpassed that of the 1980’s major cities was murder. While the murder rate of Bodie was 116, compared to the national average in 1980 of 10.2, the people involved were the young, adventurous, single males who would adhere to a code of conduct that quit frequently required them to fight, even if, of perhaps especially if, it could mean death (Par 14). Even with an astronomically high murder rate, Bodie only convicted one man of murder. McGrath openly lays out robust arguments to contradict the typical myth of the old west being this lawless, crime rampant fragment of our history a number of us have come to believe.
McGrath, Robert. “The Myth of Violence in the Old West,” Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier. Regents of the U of California, 1984.