Barbed Wire, Windmills, & Sixguns

A Book of Trivia, Fact, and Folklore About Westerns and The American West

By Donald K. Kirk

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“A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.” —Louis L’Amour

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“Humor is a great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.” —Mark Twain 


Barbed Wire, Windmills, & Sixguns: A Book of Trivia, Fact, and Folklore about Westerns & the American West by Donald K. Kirk.

I love to collect things, especially those related to the American West: movie posters, antiques, handbills, books, music, films, costumes, etc. I have traveled the West taking photographs of Victorian architecture, western scenery, ghost towns, mines, homesteads, wagons, windmills, forts... But this book really began with an 1880’s gunfight group in the mid-seventies called the “Salado Creek Gang” when I needed to know the language, historic names, and events of the Old West for writing humorous plays we could perform on the dusty streets of an Old West amusement attraction. Then in 1993, my scribbled notes on scraps of paper were turned into useful “content” for an Old West web site, and as more trivia piled up in cardboard boxes, I used it for writing a book on staging gunfights and a proposal for an Old West resort town. But the information was scattered and hard to refer to—it was time to turn it into a book. I added photos and sketches from my travels, and wa-lah, a book of lists for western movie buffs, fans, writers, re-enactors, and those who want to understand the link between the Hollywood Western and the American West, not only the folklore, but the real people, places, and things that have created the legend that has become a fabric of the American experience. The West, lasting less than 100 years, is part of our very being; we carry with it the values we cherish—like freedom, independence, self-worth, and self-reliance. Without that frontier experience, we would not be the nation we are today. My apologies: I have tried to include the humorous footnotes of history in preference to serious points of fact. If I’ve stepped on any toes, one’s sensitivities, or riled the staunch historians, well, so be it. I leave it to historians to ferret out the truth, or re-write history as they see fit, but facts about the American West of the nineteenth century have become so intertwined with folklore that the truth may never be known, in part, because few desire it so. Remember the quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Two versions of the 6x9 book are available:

HARDBACK: $34.95, 742 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9654341-1-9

Purchase a HARDBACK EDITION Here at

SOFTBOUND: $24.95, 742 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9801743-5-9

 Sample Pages From The Book;

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Would the Old West have existed or evolved as we know it without the invention of the REVOLVER (a rapid firing weapon that could be worn on the waistbelt) or the introduction of the WINDMILL to the plains (finding water where there was none) or BARBED WIRE that eventually fenced in the West and ended the frontier? These three inventions probably did more to settle the West than any other creation of man. They caused dramatic and even traumatic results that led to a revolution in independence and democracy.

1. The Revolver. The Colt “Peacemaker”—the gun that won the West—shaped the behavior of men. It led to violence and justice . . . and peace. Many manufacturers developed revolvers including Smith and Wesson, Starr, and Remington, but it was the Colt’s—with their extensive national advertising—that catapulted into the minds and hearts of the westerner. The Colt Model 1873 “Peacemaker” was the first lightweight, well balanced revolver that allowed fast drawing and reliability, creating legendary stories about pistols... and men.

2. The Windmill. The Great American Desert, now known as the Great Plains—now with millions of acres of fertile farm land—would never have developed if there had not been a means of getting at the water hidden below ground. Windmills provided the power to bring the vital water to the surface.  Many windmills were prefabricated kits shipped by rail to the well sites where they were then erected. This strange, squeaking contraption allowed the settlers to conquer and possess the land.

3. Barbed Wire. Timbers or stones were used to build fences in the East, but in the plains a substitute for wood had to be found to keep livestock from running off. Hundreds of patents and thousands of miles of wire—some of very strange designs—began to fence in the West starting in the mid 1860’s. In 1874 a farmer named Joseph F. Glidden devised an efficient method of twisting two pieces of wire together to hold pointed barbs and “bobwar” quickly closed off the public lands of the West, drastically changing the economics and social structure of the westerner. Free-ranging cattle herds—and men—shared the land originally, but this came to an end along with the wild frontier we’ve come to know as the “Old West.” By 1890, the open range was nearly all fenced in. The “thorny fence” kept the cows in, but it led to other less popular uses: the claiming of public land, the blocking of important access trails, and the fencing off of scarce water.

So, in the end, the West was really about conflict. Eventually though, fenced land helped ranchers control the breeding of their stock and the farmers also prospered, encouraging settlement, town after town. The railroad crisscrossed the West hauling cows and crops to eastern markets while carrying immigrants by the thousands to the new American West. The rest, they say is history.

—Don Kirk    Email:">     Email:

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