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Law and order in Buffalo Bill's country: Crime and criminal justice in Lincoln County, Nebraska: 1868--1910

Mark Robert Ellis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Buffalo Bill Cody called Lincoln County, Nebraska, home for much of his adult life. It was while living in Lincoln County that he began his career as a western showman. His wild west shows helped perpetuate many of the myths centered on frontier America, particularly the idea of a lawless and violent American West. This dissertation addresses the theme of western lawlessness by examining the introduction and development of the criminal justice system in Lincoln County, Nebraska. ^ This study is divided into two sections. Section one is comprised of five chapters and looks at Great Plains legal institutions. Specific chapters are devoted to courts, attorneys, county law enforcement, municipal and corporate law enforcers, and jails. Section two addresses felony crime and the criminal class. These chapters reveal that Lincoln County never experienced the types of crime or the volumes of crime commonly associated with the American West. Violence, for example, did not plague nineteenth-century Lincoln County. The county witnessed only twenty homicides and sent only sixteen men to the state penitentiary for violent crimes over a forty-two year period. If the county suffered from any type of crime it was those committed against property. As a prominent Great Plains commercial center, Lincoln County offered much to steal. ^ This case study indicates that the central Great Plains was anything but lawless and crime ridden. Immediately after Lincoln County organized, a system of courts and law enforcement appeared to handle criminal matters, and like other Great Plains commercial centers, the county attracted skilled attorneys. These legal institutions promoted a stable and law abiding society that witnessed little violence. This same society prosecuted property crimes with vigor. The legal world of Lincoln County, Nebraska, indicates that nineteenth-century Great Plains settlers understood and applied the criminal law effectively. Implementing legal institutions and an effective criminal justice system was one way to ensure that law and order prevailed in Buffalo Bill's country. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Law|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Ellis, Mark Robert, "Law and order in Buffalo Bill's country: Crime and criminal justice in Lincoln County, Nebraska: 1868--1910" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9942121.