Eighinger: Both Illinois and Missouri boast their fair share of western heroes and villains


Tombstone (1993), Hollywood Pictures

It’s no secret that I have always been fascinated by the wild, wild west.

From a long love affair with classic western TV programming — “Gunsmoke,” “Cheyenne,” “Bat Masterson” and “Wagon Train,” to name a few — to the research of real-life cowboys and cowgirls, that shoot ’em-up era of America history has intrigued me since I was young. I should note, however, I have never, ever wished I had been born in the 1800s. As much as I enjoy watching and reading about the likes of outlaws, famous lawmen, gunfights, etc., I much prefer the period I have grown up and grown old in.

There is no way I would ever want to trade by satellite TV, internet or baseball cards for a stagecoach and a once-a-month bath. With all of that in mind, today I’d like to offer my five favorite old-west types from both Illinois and Missouri. I tried to put together a diverse top five for each state, which may have meant dropping a name or two that may have been more “famous” for a character I thought to be a little more interesting. Hope you enjoy …


1. Wyatt Earp: One of America’s most famous lawmen, Earp, a native of Monmouth, Ill., is best known for the 1881 shootout at the O.K. Corral in Arizona. The confrontation, with a group headed by old nemesis Ike Clanton, also included brothers Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp. Virgil Earp, plus a fourth brother, James Earp, fought for Illinois in the Civil War.

2. Bat Masterson: The famous gambler — and lawman — who gained some of his fame as a marshal in Dodge City, grew up in different areas of Illinois, including Belleville. I’ve always had a soft spot for the historical figure whose actual name was William Barclay Masterson, largely because he eventually became a well-respected journalist. The old “Bat Masterson” TV series starred Gene Barry and, in my mind, is one of the top five westerns ever to appear on the small screen. It was well ahead of its time with Barry’s tongue-in-cheek humor providing a nice addition to all of the gunslinging.

3. Wild Bill Hickok: Where Hickok was born near Troy Grove in LaSalle County is a considered an historic site in Illinois. Along with his reputation as a gunfighter, Wild Bill also served as a solider, scout, lawman, gambler, showman and actor before his death in 1876 at age 39. He was eventually killed while playing poker in the Dakota Territory of Deadwood. The hand of cards he allegedly held at the time of his death has become known as the dead man’s hand — two pairs, black aces and eights.

4. Charley Reynolds: Born in Warren County, Reynolds was one of Gen. George Custer’s top scouts who lost his life at the infamous battle at Little Bighorn in 1876. Ironically, many historians have blamed that military blunder on Gen. Marcus Reno — a native of Carrollton, Ill.

5. Benjamin Grierson: A Jacksonville, native, Grierson commanded Black cavalry troops dubbed the “Buffalo Soldiers” who fought across the west. The “Buffalo Soldiers” have been immortalized in both verse and film throughout the years. 

Also…A special thanks to Dr. Walter Bishop of Litchfield, a noted western history scholar, and Tom Emery, a freelance writer and researcher from Carlinville, for some of this information.


1. Jesse James: Arguably the best-known outlaw in U.S. history, the native of Kearney, Mo., was the leader of the James-Younger gang. Along with the traditional robbing and killing that grew his legend as an outlaw, James, a strong Confederate loyalist, James was also part of guerilla raids that committed a wide range of atrocities against Union soldiers and civilian abolitionists. James was killed by a shot to the head in 1882 at age 34 in St. Joseph, Mo.

2. Calamity Jane: “Famed for her sharpshooting, cross-dressing and whiskey-swilling habits, Calamity Jane brought uproar everywhere she went,” according to Missouri Life magazine. Born Martha Jane Canary and a native of Princeton, Mo., her best-known relationship was with Wild Bill Hickok. Her addiction to liquor was evident throughout her life, and eventually led to her death at age 51. Once, while in Cheyenne, Wyo., Jane rented a horse and buggy for a one-mile joyride to a nearby town, but she was so drunk she wound up in Laramie — about 90 miles away.

3. “Bloody Bill” Anderson: Anderson is a Missourian with an asterisk. His family moved to the Show-Me State when he was young. He became one of the deadliest and most notorious Confederate guerrilla leaders in the Civil War. Anderson led a band of volunteer raiders — including Jesse James — who targeted Union loyalists and federal soldiers in the states of Missouri and Kansas. Some historians depict him as “sadistic and psychopathic.” He was eventually killed by Union soldiers in Albany., Mo. He was only 24 years old.

Personal note: This included the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which would be considered a pardonable offense today by J. Robert Gough and Matt Schuckman. MIZ! JRG ZOU! MATT

4. Big Nose Kate: She was the longtime love interest of the infamous Doc Holliday and had roots in St. Louis, where she was a member of the Ursuline Convent as a young girl. She later became better known for her drinking, cursing, temper and outlaw life with Holliday, who she actually hooked up with in St. Louis about 1877. Big Nose Kate worked as a prostitute for a few years in Kansas prior to teaming up with Holliday.

5. Belle Starr: Once described as “mean-mouthed” and “hatchet-faced,” Starr became known as the “Petticoated Terror of the Plains.” The native of Carthage, Mo., wore two pearl-handled pistols strapped to her waist and a black velvet had adorned with floppy ostrich plumes. Two days before her 41st birthday, Starr was killed on horseback — shot in the face and back.

If I Had My Way …
If my wife and I were planning to add to our family — which we aren’t, by the way — here would be my five favorite names for a boy and girl in today’s brave new world:


1. Kai

2. Kolton

3. Rio

4. Wyatt

5. Bat


1. Karson

2. Steoff (Steoffanie)

3. Brooklyn

4. Kiki, or Keke (pronounced (Kee-Kee)

5. Honor

Top 5 Ever wonder who the all-time money winners are on “Jeopardy!”? Here you go:

1. Brad Rutter, $4,938,436. (This includes tournaments.)

 2. Ken Jennings,  $4,370,700  (He may be No. 2, but he’s still the G.O.A.T.)

 3. James Holzhauer, $2,962,216.

4. David Madden, $773,733.

5. LaRissa Kelly, $655,930.

Flying high with that nickname

The most popular nickname for high school sports teams in the nation? According to Max Preps, it’s Eagles. Here are the top 10:

1. Eagles, 1,756

2. Tigers, 1,440 (Publisher’s note: This is the correct answer. J. Robert Gough, Mark Twain Tiger, Class of ’85 AND Missouri Tiger, Class of ’89)

3. Bulldogs, 1,237

4. Panthers, 1,193

5. Wildcats, 1,085

6. Warriors, 1,012

7. Indians, 857

8. Lions, 786

9. Cougars, 682

10. Knights, 668

Steve Eighinger is the self-proclaimed Minister of Culture for Muddy River News. His work appears daily.

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