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Chuckwagon, 1887

Ghost Cowboy is about real tales from the 19th-century American frontier, when the Old West was young. Most of the posts here are actual news items from the 1800s and early 1900s. We'll be adding "new" content every week. Travel with us and sign up for an account, and you'll be able to leave comments and post in our forums. Your trailmasters, Ken in Alabama and Dave in Virginia, don't get to saddle up and vacation out west as often as they'd like, so they started this site. Drop us a note.



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White Horse Rapids, 1899. The rapids, an often fatal navigational hazard on the Yukon River, disappeared under Schwatka Lake when the Whitehorse Dam was completed in 1958. View full size.

[News accounts from the Gold Rush days often lumped all of the Far North under the heading “Alaska.” The events recounted here actually took place in Canada’s Yukon Territory.]

Marshfield Times / April 21, 1899

Bud Harkin Remembers His Cousin, Dan Harkin, With the Following Interesting Letter.

HOOTLINQUA [Hootalinqua], March 28, 1899.

D. F. HARKIN, ESQ., Marshfield, Wisconsin.


Your welcome and interesting letter received and to say that I was glad to hear from you would be putting it mild indeed. After a fellow has been holed up like a bear for five or six months, a few letters are a perfect Godsend. We were frozen in on the 5th of November and from that time until March did not hear a word from the outside. But the first part of this month I packed a blanket and 33 pounds of grub on my back and started for my mail, a nice little trip on snowshoes of 150 miles. I made the trip down, 75 miles, in three and one-half days. I had to break

The Crimson Skull


Today's post is long but not that wide. The Crimson Skull, a 1921 race movie with an all-black cast, featured the rodeo star Bill Pickett, who died 10 years later after being kicked in the head by a horse, as well as Steve Reynolds, the "one-legged marvel." Click here for the entire colorful movie poster.

“Soapy” Smith a Bad Man.

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Washington Post / November 3, 1907


[From the New York Evening Post.]

Many versions of the dramatic end of “Soapy” Smith and the subsequent cleanup of his gang in Skagway have been written, but it is probable that the facts have never been brought to light in all their details. Recently, W. H. Welsh, Superintendent of the Canadian Detective Bureau, who was instrumental in cleaning up the gang, told the story this way:

The chief actor in the drama was Jeff Smith, universally known as “Soapy.” His record included almost every known brand of swindle from gold-bricking to

Scalping a Woman on the Plains

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Racine Weekly Journal / November 4, 1857

Some weeks ago, news from Carson Valley was published, which told of the almost total destruction of an emigrant train by the Indians. The woman who was one of the train was scalped and left for dead. It turns out, however, that she was not dead, and she has since recovered to tell the extraordinary story of her sufferings


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