Crime Rates in the Old West vs the New West

Crime Rates in the Old West vs the New West


Dodge City, Kansas, 1800sFor my first blog post, I thought I’d take a look at the crime rates for the city I live in  (Missoula, Montana) and compare it to a city in the old west, in this case, Dodge City, Kansas. The reason for this is two-fold.

I’m researching my second book which will take place in the old west and I want this blog to not only tie in with the books I’m writing (or have written), but I also really like crime, mysteries, thrillers, and history. This blog is a way of delving into some of that.

It might surprise you that the wild west wasn’t as wild as books and movies would have us believe. According to the Ohio State University’s Criminal Justice Research Center, crime rates were actually relatively low. When survival was a struggle, complicating things by committing crimes against your fellow humans was a really bad idea. Not only that, but homesteaders and wagon trains often instilled their laws, or in the very least, codes of conduct. Breaking these codes could mean ostracization or, worse, banishment. 

Let’s narrow it down and take a look at Dodge City, Kansas. Wikipedia states that “the town of Dodge City can trace its origins to 1871, when rancher Henry J. Sitler built a sod house west of Fort Dodge to oversee his cattle operations…[his] house quickly became a stopping point for travelers.”

Between 1876 and 1885, the homicide rate was estimated to be 165 per 100,000 adults per year, according to the Ohio State Justice Center. That means that 0.165% of the population was murdered each year. Or, if you look at it another way: an adult who lived in Dodge City between those years had a 1 in 61 chance of being murdered.

Missoula, Montana, todayNow let’s compare that to modern day Missoula’s murder rates. City-data.com reports that between 2005 and 2015, there were 16.1 murders per 100,000 people. That means that .016% of the population was murdered each year. Compared to Dodge City, Missoula faces a relatively low number of murders. The troubling thing is, however, that those numbers have increased steadily. In 2005, there were only 1.6 murders for every 100,000 people. Ten years later, there were 5.7.

Crime Rates, Missoula, Montana

These numbers aren’t exact. The math mistakes are mine and mine alone, but it goes to show you that while the Wild West might not have been as wild as we think, it was still more violent than a small city in modern day.

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