The Wild (and Tranquil) WestnAmerican intellectuals have spentnmuch of this century blaming thenfrontier experience for everythingnfrom cultural poverty (John CrowenRansom) to “our lawless heritage”n(James “Iruslow Adams). The highnrates of violent crime in modernncities, they insist, cannot be causednby anything we are doing now—nthat is, hamstringing the law enforcementnsystem, handing out sixmonthnsentences for rape, and eternallynjustifying criminal behavior asnthe result of economic and racialndiscrimination. In the minds of academics,nour violent ways are inheritednfrom the social anarchy ofnfrontier towns, where we acquirednour fascination with firearms. Thisnargument, the stock-in-trade ofngun-control fanatics, will haventrouble surviving the scrutiny ofnRoger McGrath in Gunfighters,nHighwaymen & Vigilantes: Violencenon the Frontier (University ofnCalifornia; Berkeley).nTo get a sense of the level ofnviolent crime in the West, Mc­nGrath looked at the records of twonminmg towns in the Sierra Nevadas,nAurora and Bodie, whichnhad dismal reputations for lawlessness.nThe “Badmen of Bodie” becamenso proverbial throughout Californianthat crimes all over the Westnwere attributed (usually falsely) tonits former inhabitants. There wasncrime, to be sure, in the miningntowns and badmen aplenty. Thentales of their exploits alone arenenough to make the book entertaining.nBut was the frontier morencrime-ridden than New York ornChicago? The robbery rate in Bodienis computed at 84 per 100,000 inhabitantsn(on the FBI scale) as opposednto the 1980 rates in NewnYork—1,140, Miami—995, andnChicago—294. In fact, the rate fornthe entire U.S. including ruralnareas was 243. For burglaries, Bodie’snrate of 6.4 compares favorablynwith Miami’s 3,282, New York’sn2,661, and—the lowest-rated citynREVISIONSnin the U.S.—Grand Forks’ 587.nThe rate of theft in the U.S. (1980)nis 17 times that of Bodie. It is hardernto compare the data on rape, sincenBodie and Aurora offer no recordedncases. Still, the national rate inn1980 was at least 10 times the calculatednrate for Boston 1880-82.n’I’he real question, then, is whynwas the Old West so peaceful andncrime-free? For one thing, the minersnand young toughs brought withnthem a code of manners and decencynwhich made distinctions. Thenmining towns had few women, andnmost of them prostitutes, but a decentnwoman was safe not just fromnoutrage but from insult. It was anman’s world—not even prostitutesnwent into the saloons—but thenmen respected innocence and honestynwhen they saw it. They did notnworry too much about crimesnagainst property, because—as Mc­nGrath points out repeatedly—theynwere all armed. A thief thinks twicenbefore making an attempt upon anman as armed and dangerous asnhimself Of course, a few stagecoachesnwere robbed, but not whennthey were carrying large shipmentsnof gold: those were too wellguarded.nCapital punishment maynnot deter crime, but a shotgunnrammed under your nose will do itnevery time.nThe one violent crime in whichnthe miners definitely excelled wasnnnhomicide. The homicide rate in thenU.S. today is one-sixth that of Auroranand one-eleventh that ofnBodie. And yet there is a difference.nThe overwhelming number of killingsnin the mining towns was “betweennconsenting adults.” Thenkiller—who might be better describednas the survivor—was almostnalways acquitted on the grounds ofnself-defense. Men and women whondid not hang out in saloons lookingnfor trouble could sleep safely inntheir beds. In the very few cases innwhich an innocent or harmlessnman was killed, the reaction of thencommunity was swift and certain:nthe killers were tried and hanged innan orderly fashion by the localnConmiittee of Vigilance. The vigilantesnexplained their actions as insurancenagainst a breakdown in duenprocess. However, if we can judgenfrom parallel cases in other societies,nthese “lynchings” were also anneffective means of expressing communitynsentiment. They made it allntoo clear that, while they were willingnto tolerate nearly any level ofndueling, brawling, and consensualnhomicide, real murder was a kindnof sacrilege against the social bond.nMen live more by myths thannfacts and the legends of the OldnWest are one of the main battlegroundsnin the struggle for thenAmerican soul. For good or ill, thisnhas been a nation of individualistsnand of community associations thatnmanaged to function reasonablynwell without too much attentionnfrom the State. Our life on thenfrontier was not anarchic or evennlibertarian. We lived according to ancode. When that code was violated,nmen typically helped themselves tonjustice. Such a system has its perils,nbut it cannot be blamed for thencontemporary dissolution of lawnand order in American cities. Tlicnreal and true myth of the West is ofnAmericans who had intimations ofnright and wrong and could deliver,neven informally, a quality of justicenwhich our vast judicial apparatusnseems unable to manage. ocnMARCH 1985/33n