Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

The counterfeit bad man, in so far as he has a place in literature, was largely produced by Western consumptives for Eastern consumption. Sometimes he was in person manufactured in the East and sent West. It is easy to see the philosophical difference between the actual bad man of the West and the imitation article. The bad man was an evolution; the imitation bad man was an instantaneous creation, a supply arising full panoplied to fill a popular demand.

Silently there arose, partly in the West and partly in the East, men who gravely and calmly proceeded to look the part. After looking the part for a time, to their own satisfaction at least, and after taking themselves seriously as befitted the situation, they, in very many instances, faded away and disappeared in that Nowhere whence they came. Some of them took themselves too seriously for their own good. Of course, there existed for some years certain possibilities that any one of these bad men might run against the real thing.

There always existed in the real, sober, level-headed West a contempt for the West-struck man who was not really bad, but who wanted to seem "bad." Singularly enough, men of this type were not so frequently local products as immigrants. The "bootblack bad man" was a character recognized on the frontier--the city tough gone West with ambitions to achieve a bad eminence. Some of these men were partially bad for a while. Some of them, no doubt, even left behind them, after their sudden funerals, the impression that they had been wholly bad. You cannot detect all the counterfeit currency in the world, severe as the test for counterfeits was in the old West. There is, of course, no great amount of difference between the West and the East. All America, as well as the West, demanded of its citizens nothing so much as genuineness. Yet the Western phrase, to "stand the acid," was not surpassed in graphic descriptiveness. When an imitation bad man came into a town of the old frontier, he had to "stand the acid" or get out. His hand would be called by some one. "My friend," said old Bob Bobo, the famous Mississippi bear hunter, to a man who was doing some pretty loud talking, "I have always noticed that when a man goes out hunting for trouble in these bottoms, he almost always finds it." Two weeks later, this same loud talker threatened a calm man in simple jeans pants, who took a shotgun and slew him impulsively. Now, the West got its hot blood largely from the South, and the dogma of the Southern town was the same in the Western mining town or cow camp--the bad man or the would-be bad man had to declare himself before long, and the acid bottle was always close at hand.

That there were grades in counterfeit bad men was accepted as a truth on the frontier. A man might be known as dangerous, as a murderer at heart, and yet be despised. The imitation bad man discovered that it is comparatively easy to terrify a good part of the population of a community. Sometimes a base imitation of a desperado is exalted in the public eye as the real article. A few years ago four misled hoodlums of Chicago held up a street-car barn, killed two men, stole a sum of money, killed a policeman and another man, and took refuge in a dugout in the sand hills below the city, comporting themselves according to the most accepted dime-novel standards. Clumsily arrested by one hundred men or so, instead of being tidily killed by three or four, as would have been the case on the frontier, they were put in jail, given columns of newspaper notice, and worshiped by large crowds of maudlin individuals. These men probably died in the belief that they were "bad." They were not bad men, but imitations, counterfeit, and, indeed, nothing more than cheap and dirty little murderers.