Law & Order - The Early Stages

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Law & Order - The Early Stages

  • The first settlers in the American West found it extremely tough to hold boundaries personally and physically. Marking territory was difficult as there was no law enforcement. 
  • At first, newly-occupied land on the Plains was federal territory (it belonged to the US government) and was administered by a governor, three judges and a US marshal.
  • When the area reached a population of 5,000, it became a territory, with - in addition - locally elected sheriffs, who could deal with local criminals. New territories were notoriously lawless.
  • Miners in the mining towns set up miners' courts, which settled local matters such as disputed claims, but were powerless to stop gangs of outlaws or rustlers.
  • In many areas, local citizens set up vigilante groups, who dished out summary justice to people suspected of crimes.
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Law & Order - The Early Stages

  • When the population reached 60,000, the territory became a state, with its own laws, government and finances, although there was still a US marshal with responsibility for criminals who broke federal laws. Slowly, helped by improved communications (for instance the telegraph), law and order was established.
  • Among the lawmen who helped achieve this were Pat Garrett (who shot Billy the Kid) and Wyatt Earp (famous for his shoot-out with the Clanton gang at the OK Corral).
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Nine Problems Of Law And Order In The West

  1. Distance (difficult to cover the large areas and isolated communities of the West)
  2. Poverty and harsh conditions (people were prepared to resort to desperate measures)
  3. More men than women (no calming influence; prostitution)
  4. Different races (differences of language and culture led to there being little sense of a united community)
  5. Culture of violence (everyone carried guns, and sorted out problems by using violence)
  6. Land claims and gold (arguments over land ownership; greed, gamblers, criminals)
  7. Cattle barons (fear of reprisal; 'respectable' citizens were scared to speak out; juries could be bribed and were often biased)
  8. Poor court system (judges often had poor knowledge of law; courts often gave unfair verdicts; lack of convictions)
  9. Vigilantes (often as much a problem as the criminals)
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