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Questions about bounty hunters in the Old US West

 
 
Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2017 05:47 pm
Hi everyone! I'm a fledgling screenwriter who is working on a story set in and around Phoenix in 1891. My main character is a bounty hunter. I want to make sure that I get the historical stuff correct, so I was hoping that any experts out there could help me.

1) If a "dead or alive" bounty is set in one state, but the bounty hunter kills the criminal in another state, how does the bounty hunter receive his money? Especially in the case when the bounty is "dead"?

2) How long did it take for a bounty hunter to get his money in hand after confirming a capture or kill?

3) Did bounty hunters who traveled around use banks? How did they manage their money?

That's it for now. Thanks for your help!

Don
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jespah
 
  2  
Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2017 08:13 pm
@donchalant,
Hi Don,

Good luck with your screenplay. I'm mainly bumping your topic. However, I imagine a person traveling around would not use a bank much at all unless they had someone in a fixed location to help them.

Why? Because up until pretty recently (as in, I'm in my 50s and I remember this), you couldn't really effectively bank across state lines. Hence I suspect your traveling bounty hunter would take his/her pay in something like gold or silver or would send the payment draft to the home base of operations. This payment draft (a bank draft) is basically what we would call a cashier's check. See: http://www.accountingtools.com/definition-bank-draft

Or they could, I suppose, be paid in a deed to land. But using a bank in Tennessee would probably be hard to do if you were in Michigan. Even if the banks communicated and worked together well, the post still took several days and could be subject to theft.
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edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Mon 6 Mar, 2017 08:28 pm
There were some pretty broad spaces in those days. I doubt that most bounty hunters crossed many state lines as a matter of course, unless lead by a fugitive. (Scalp hunters were often called bounty hunters, also).
Hard to say if any of them used banks, but could if they were in a big enough town to make their living inside the county.
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oralloy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Mar, 2017 05:28 am
@donchalant,
donchalant wrote:
Hi everyone! I'm a fledgling screenwriter who is working on a story set in and around Phoenix in 1891. My main character is a bounty hunter. I want to make sure that I get the historical stuff correct, so I was hoping that any experts out there could help me.

Keep in mind that the open range cowboy era was over at that point:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1886%E2%80%9387

Most of the violence from Native Americans had been stamped out as well.

Also, by 1890 land in the old west was starting to get filled in with settlers, beginning to resembling regular civilization more than a frontier.

There was still a lot of violence between rival cattle barons in that era however:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_American_Old_West


donchalant wrote:
1) If a "dead or alive" bounty is set in one state, but the bounty hunter kills the criminal in another state, how does the bounty hunter receive his money? Especially in the case when the bounty is "dead"?

I don't have a historical answer, but the way it is portrayed in westerns is, the bounty hunter has to transport the corpse back to the place that is offering the bounty. The bounty hunter would have some sort of official paperwork on him to confirm his right to do this.
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jespah
 
  2  
Reply Tue 7 Mar, 2017 07:46 am
Keep in mind, also, that your choices for transportation are:
  • human walking - no one would be running a four-minute mile, particularly as the shoes aren't optimal and they are carrying stuff.
  • ship on the ocean, boat on a lake - speed is pretty good but of course the open range area would not have this.
  • single horse - no faster than almost 55 mph and that is at the absolute fastest. These aren't thoroughbreds; they are not built for speed although they may be built for distance. Even so, you aren't regularly riding your horse more than 10 hours per day on the outside, as horses were expensive and you would shorten their lives if you did that.
  • stage coach or horse relay (like the Pony Express) - still slower than 55 mph although you would be able to switch out horses and thereby ride longer.
  • railroad - speed is very good but of course you're limited to where the tracks are.


Oh and the US is 1650 miles at the most from north to south when you are only counting the contiguous 48 states, and it is a little over 3 million square miles.
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donchalant
 
  2  
Reply Tue 7 Mar, 2017 10:17 am
Wow! What a great bunch of responses. Thank you all VERY MUCH for all your info. I think I get the details now. I wanted to make sure that the details of the situation are as correct as possible... I don't want some fairy tale Hollywood "the plot's more important than the truth" turning point that wouldn't ring true.

Don
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McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Mar, 2017 10:24 am
Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" is probably a somewhat accurate look at what a bounty hunter might be like.
oralloy
 
  0  
Reply Tue 7 Mar, 2017 05:13 pm
@McGentrix,
The bounty hunters in Unforgiven operated outside the law. They were hired by a private party and the law was their enemy.

There were also bounty hunters who were hired by the government, who would carry legal papers showing their right to capture/kill their target.
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