Thursday, April 10, 2014

The economy of six-gun experts in the Old West

The Six-Shooter Marketplace: 19th-Century Gunfighting as Violence Expertise
Jonathan Obert (2014).
Studies in American Political Development, Volume 28, Issue01, April 2014 pp 49-79

Abstract: How are new forms of violence expertise organized and exploited? Most scholars view this as primarily a question of state-building; that is, violence experts use their skills in an attempt to regulate economic transactions or to extract and redistribute resources via protection rents either for themselves or at the behest of political elites. In an alternative view, this article demonstrates that historical gunfighters active in the late 19th-century American Southwest were actually market actors—the possessors of valuable skills cultivated through participation in the Civil War and diffused through gunfighting and reputation building in key market entrepôts. Neither solely state-builders nor state-resisters, as they have traditionally been interpreted, gunfighters composed a professional class that emerged in the 1870s and 1880s and who moved frequently between wage-paying jobs, seizing economic opportunities on both sides of the law and often serving at the behest of powerful economic, rather than political, actors. I establish this claim by examining a dataset of over 250 individuals active in the “gunfighting system” of the post-bellum West, demonstrating that the social connections forged through fighting, and diffused through social networks, helped generate a form of organized violence that helped bring “law and order” to the frontier but as a byproduct of market formation rather than as state-building.

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