Conflict over land was a somewhat common occurrence in the development of the American West but was particularly prevalent during the late 1800s and early 1900s when large portions of the west were being settled by Americans for the first time. It is a period which historian Richard Maxwell Brown has called the “Western Civil War of Incorporation”.
This is some fascinating history, and it reminds me a lot of the pre-Treaty of Westphalia stuff I like to delve into. During this time period in the West, famous and infamous characters started popping up. Specifically, guys like Tom Horn, Frederick Russell Burnham, or even my favorite MoH recipient, William Cody. And all of these guys were involved with some kind of warfare back then, to include range warfare.
Back then, conflict over land was very common, and cattleman did all sorts of things to protect their land and cattle. Primarily because the law back then was not very strong or capable. The west was a treacherous war zone, with Indians, grizzlies and criminals, and most had to take matters into their own hands in order to protect themselves. The law or the military could not be everywhere and at all times, and self sufficiency was key to survival. Back then, security contractors were highly sought after and very busy. Range detectives, civilian scouts, bounty hunters, contract lawman, stage coach drivers, Pony Express, Pinkertons, etc., there was all sorts of opportunities for skilled security specialists. And those that did this kind of stuff, were either veterans or adventurous types who wanted a taste of the wild west. Of course the pay was probably a draw too, because security was a premium during the development of the west.
Going back to the main theme I wanted to present. These were wars, and they were mostly fought between cattle companies trying to protect land or cattle from the other guy who was trying to gain more land and cattle. You could go back several hundred years in the history of warfare, and it would be very hard to distinguish between the wars between PMC’s or what these guys were doing in the wild west. This stuff was PMC versus PMC, and it was happening right here in America. It was also pretty brutal, as you will see below with all of the wars I posted.
I also wanted to make a quick mention of the Range Detective concept. The last known use of range detectives in the modern sense, was in Rhodesia during their war. Cattleman were paying detectives to rid their lands of cattle rustlers/insurgents there, because it was a massive problem during the conflict. Low and behold, they probably got the idea from Tom Horn and the American west’s use of Range Detectives. Hell, men like Tom were paid upwards of around $600 dollars for every rustler they killed or captured. In Rhodesia, they paid $750 Rhodesian dollars for every rustler a Range Detective was able to stop. I am sure there are other examples of individuals working in range wars in modern times, but I figured I would bring up this modern history as a documented example.
Definitely check out the Frederick Burnham story in the Pleasant Valley War I posted. I was shocked and then laughed at his luck. Not to mention his exploits in Africa which were also extremely lucky. He gets badass of the week in my opinion. lol
Now Tom Horn gets badass of the year, if we really want to get detailed. He did it all, from being a civilian scout during the Indian Wars (and finding Geronimo none the less), to working for the Pinkertons, to bounty hunting or contract law enforcement, all the way to fighting as a contract soldier in the range wars. Tom also served as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American war. He was a quite the controversial character, and to some a hero and others a criminal. He was also quoted as saying “Killing men is my specialty, I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.” He was also hung for a shooting that was deemed a murder, and that ended his prolific and intense life. Tom Horn was also portrayed by Steve McQueen in a movie called Tom Horn, and some groups even celebrate Tom Horn every year in Wyoming. Crazy.
All of it is extremely interesting, and noticing the trends back then, it seems that the guys who were good at tracking and had cut their teeth in the Indian Wars or Civil War were probably the most sought after individuals for range warfare. They knew the land, they knew how to track and kill humans, they we able to recruit others, they knew how to use weapons and they knew how to get the job done. They were fearless and skilled, and these are exactly the kind of traits that made PMC’s during the pre-Treaty of Westphalia days so valuable and sought after. Let me know what you think and check it out. –Matt
The Pleasant Valley War (also sometimes called the Tonto Basin Feud or Tonto Basin War) was an Arizona range war between two feuding families, the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys. Although Pleasant Valley is physically located in Gila County, Arizona, many of the events in the feud took place in Apache County, Arizona, and in Navajo County, Arizona. The feud itself lasted for almost a decade, with its most deadly incidents between 1886 and 1887, with the last known killing occurring in 1892. At one stage, outsider and known assassin Tom Horn was known to have taken part as a killer for hire, but it is unknown as to which side employed him, and both sides suffered several murders to which no suspect was ever identified. Of all the feuds that have taken place throughout American history, the Pleasant Valley War was the most costly, resulting in an almost complete annihilation of the two families involved.