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Billy the Kid (15 September 1859–14 July 1881), western outlaw and legendary figure in international folklore, was born Henry McCarty, probably in Brooklyn, New York, probably on the date given, and probably of Irish immigrants; all aspects of his origins, however, remain controversial. In 1873 his mother, Catherine, was remarried, to William Henry Antrim, whereupon the boy took his stepfather’s name and became Henry Antrim. Later, for reasons that are obscure, he adopted the sobriquet William H. Bonney. In adolescence he was called simply Kid, but not until the final few months of his life was he known as Billy the Kid....

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Daniel Boone. Oil on pieced canvas, 1820, by Chester Harding. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Boone, Daniel (02 November 1734–26 September 1820), pioneer and early settler of Kentucky, was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, on what was then the western perimeter of English colonial settlement in America, the son of Sarah Morgan and Squire Boone, a weaver, land speculator, and farmer. Daniel Boone’s formal education is a much-disputed matter. He always insisted to his children that he never went to school a day in his life. A tale survives, however, that has young Daniel spiking his schoolteacher’s hidden bottle of whiskey with a potent tartar emetic. His older brother Samuel’s wife, Sarah Day, is said to have taught him the rudiments of the three R’s, but a glance at his letters confirms that he never mastered grammar and spelling. In 1750 Squire Boone moved his large family to the wild frontier country along the Yadkin River in North Carolina, and five years later Daniel, an accomplished backwoodsman, enlisted as a volunteer in the American militia to aid General ...

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Burroughs, Stephen (01 January 1765?–28 January 1840), rogue, imposter, and author, was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, the son of Eden Burroughs, a Presbyterian minister, and Abigail Davis Burroughs. Burroughs recalled in his autobiography that he was “the terror of the people where I lived, and all were unanimous in declaring, that Stephen Burroughs was the worst boy in town, and those who could get him whipped were most worthy of esteem.” When not perpetrating pranks on his neighbors, Burroughs spent his time reading novels and daydreaming, and at the age of fourteen he ran away from home to enlist in the Continental army. His father derailed his plan to enlist, but in characteristic fashion Burroughs tried again and again, eventually succeeding. After taking part in several skirmishes, however, Burroughs's military ardor cooled, and his father managed to obtain his son's discharge....

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Calamity Jane Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95040).

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Calamity Jane (01 May 1852–01 August 1903), legendary western woman, was born Martha Cannary in Princeton, Missouri, the daughter of Robert Cannary (also spelled Canary). Her mother’s identity is unknown. In 1865, enticed by news from the Montana gold fields, her father moved the family to Virginia City, Montana. After her mother died in 1866, the family settled in Salt Lake City. Following her father’s death in 1867, an adolescent but determined Calamity Jane traveled to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. From there she embarked upon the transient existence that would characterize her life in the West, especially in the Black Hills mining camps of South Dakota and Wyoming....

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Kit Carson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107570).

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Carson, Kit (24 December 1809–23 May 1868), mountain man, army officer, and Indian agent, was born Christopher Houston Carson in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Lindsey Carson, a farmer and revolutionary war veteran, and Rebecca Robinson. In 1811 Lindsey Carson moved his family to Howard County, Missouri, to find “elbow room.” He died in 1818, hit by a falling limb while clearing timber from his land. Christopher enjoyed no schooling and never learned to read or write, other than signing his name to documents. In 1825 his mother and stepfather apprenticed him to David Workman, a Franklin, Missouri, saddler whom Kit described as a kind and good man. Nevertheless, he ran away because he found saddlemaking tedious and distasteful work and yearned to travel. Following in the footsteps of a brother and a half-brother who were in the Santa Fe trade, Carson joined a caravan as a “cavvy boy” (an assistant to the wrangler in charge of the horse and mule herd). Though not unsympathetic, Workman was obliged by law to advertise for his runaway. But he misleadingly suggested to readers of the ...

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Chapman, John (26 September 1774–10 March 1845), pioneer nurseryman and folk hero, known as “Johnny Appleseed,” was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Chapman, a farmer and carpenter, and Elizabeth Simons (or Simonds). No authenticated account of Chapman’s childhood has come to light. It is likely, however, that he began to develop his remarkable woodsman’s skills during his childhood and youth along the Connecticut River near Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to which the family had moved following his father’s remarriage. As a young man, Chapman established an appletree nursery along the Allegheny Valley (1797–1798) in northwestern Pennsylvania. From there he gradually extended his operations into central and northwestern Ohio and then into eastern Indiana....

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Buffalo Bill Cody. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111880).

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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Cortez Lira, Gregorio (22 June 1875–28 February 1916), cowboy and Mexican-American folk hero, was born in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the U.S.–Mexico border, the son of Roman Cortez Garza, a rancher, and Rosalia Lira Cortinas. In 1887 his family moved to Manor, Texas, near Austin. Two years later Cortez joined his older brother, Romaldo Cortez, in finding seasonal employment on the farms and ranches of South Texas. Some time in this period, Cortez married Leonor Díaz; they had four children. After eleven years as vaqueros, or cowboys, and farmhands, Cortez and his brother settled on a farm in Karnes County, Texas, renting land from a local rancher. Cortez and his first wife divorced in 1903, and in 1905 he married Estéfana Garza. They had no children and later separated....

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David Crockett. Engraving after a portrait by John Gadsby Chapman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93521).

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Crockett, Davy (17 August 1786–06 March 1836), frontiersman, Tennessee and U.S. congressman, and folk hero, was born David Crockett in Greene County, East Tennessee, the son of John Crockett, a magistrate, unsuccessful land speculator, and tavern owner, and Rebecca Hawkins. John Crockett hired his son out to Jacob Siler in 1798 to help on a cattle drive to Rockbridge County, Virginia, and Siler tried forcibly to detain young Crockett after the completion of the job. The boy ran away at night, however, and arrived home in late 1798 or early 1799. Preferring to play hooky rather than attend school, he ran away from home to escape his father’s wrath. His “strategic withdrawal,” as he called it, lasted about thirty months while he worked at odd jobs and as a laborer and a wagon driver. When he returned home in 1802, he had grown so much that his family at first did not recognize him. He soon found that all was forgiven and reciprocated their generosity by working for a year to settle the debts that his father had incurred....

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Dooly, John (1744–1780), Georgia Revolutionary War leader and folk hero, was likely born in Ireland or Pennsylvania, the son of the frontier farmers Patrick and Ann Dooly. In the late 1760s John became a frontier South Carolina merchant, surveyor, and land developer. He had a son from a first marriage (wife unknown) and at least one daughter and two sons by Dianna Mitchell. In January 1772 he mortgaged 2,050 acres of his lands to finance a major investment in neighboring frontier Georgia, where he became a surveyor and took over a five‐hundred acre plantation on the Savannah River. He borrowed heavily to make improvements on the property....

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Fink, Mike (1770–1823), scout, keelboatman, and trapper, was born at Fort Pitt, part of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His ancestry was probably Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania German. It is hard to separate fact from fiction concerning Mike Fink. Early in his life he was an expert marksman with his Kentucky rifle. While still a teenager, he was probably a hunter who sold meat to Pittsburgh butchers and was surely a scout who gathered information for the settlements about Indian activities beyond the western frontier. The battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, followed by the Treaty of Greenville a year later, guaranteed the security of the Northwest frontier and established a boundary in the Northwest Territory between Indian lands and areas open to further white settlement. So Fink moved into his second career, that of a keelboatman....

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Geiger, Emily (1763–1793), revolutionary courier and folk heroine, was probably born in Upcountry South Carolina among German‐speaking Swiss who began settling in the so‐called Dutch Fork between the Broad and Saluda rivers in the 1730s. Early Geiger grants were in Saxegotha Township. Some traditions name her parents as John and Barbara Zanger Geiger....

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Jones, Casey (14 March 1863–30 April 1900), railroad engineer and folk hero, was born John Luther Jones in southwest Missouri, the son of Frank Jones, a schoolteacher, and Ann Nolen Jones. He was the oldest of five children. In 1876 the family moved to Cayce, Kentucky, the town that would be the origin of his nickname and where he was first exposed to railroading. Jones married Jane Brady on 25 November 1886; they had three children....

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McCrea, Jane (?1752–27 July 1777), folk heroine, was born in Somerset County, New Jersey, the daughter of James McCrea, a Presbyterian minister, and Mary Graham. The family name is variously spelled as M’Crea, M’Kray, and MacCrea. Within a year of her birth her mother died, and her father soon remarried. Following the death of her father in 1769 she moved with her brother John McCrea, a lawyer and Princeton graduate, to Argyle, in Washington County, New York. When the Revolution came the family was divided in its loyalties with John becoming a colonel in the Continental army....

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Murieta, Joaquín (1829?–1853), folk hero in Hispanic and California popular culture, was born most probably in Sonora, Mexico. The story of Murieta has been told in many versions, all based on John Rollin Ridge’s 1854 account, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta...