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Americans On Violence: A 150-year Anthology

June 2024
2min read

“All government originates in families, and if neglected there, it will hardly exist in society; but the want of it must be supplied by the rod in school, the penal laws of the state, and the terrors of divine wrath from the pulpit.”

“Many human beings, like dogs, are mere followers. They lack the disposition to lead. They imitate. Such men are Christians, pagans, or devils according to their surroundings. Step by step, they go one way or the other.”

“We are thousands of miles from home, and comfort ourselves by thinking that a knowledge of our indulgence in vice will never reach them. Here, there is no parents [ sic ] eye to guide, no wife to warn, no sister to entreat, no church, no sabbath ... in short, all the animal and vicious passions are let loose, and free to indulgence [ sic ] without any legal or social restraint.”

“In the spring of 50 I had about a thousand dollars . . . and went to dam the river (and by the way I have damd it often) where everybody thought we would make a pile that summer and go home in the fall but we spent all we had & five months hard labour & never got one dollar & when we settled I owed $155.00 and had but seven dollars in my pocket—one of the company took a razor & cut his throat the same night.”

“It was a driving, vigorous, restless population in those days. ... an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men . . . the very pick and choice of the world’s glorious ones. . . . And where are they now? Scattered to the ends of the earth—or prematurely aged and decrepit—or shot or stabbed in street affrays—or dead of disappointed hopes and broken hearts—all gone, or nearly all—victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf.”

“The two noted characters of the town Coyote Smith and Poker Smith. My attention was first drawn to Coyote Smith. While he was engaged in a quarrel with two carpenters who were working lumber in front of a saloon, he being drunk made much disturbance and at the same time vowing to whip the two carpenters whereupon one of them gave him a kick in the hip. This set him wild. He snarled for a revolver swearing to kill the two. A revolver he could not procure. Midway up the street entered into a second altercation with Poker Smith and seizing a carving knife from the counter of a restaurant he made a stroke . . . to sever the jugular vein for Poker Smith but missing his aim the knife struck the collar bone broke and his hand running down the blade he received a horrible wound cutting his hand from the hollow between the thumb and forefinger nearly to the wrist. Blood flowed freely from both parties but neither was fatally injured. There were no arrests made.”

“The best place in all the world to study human nature is on the frontier.”

“Cow-punchers do not live long enough to get old.”

“I was really dangerous. A kid is more dangerous than a man because he’s so sensitive about his personal courage. He’s just itching to shoot somebody in order to prove himself. I did shoot a man once. I was only sixteen, and drunk. A bunch of us left town on a dead run, shooting at the gas lamps. I was in the lead and the town marshal was right in front of me with his gun in his hand calling, ‘Halt! Halt! Throw ‘em up!’ And I throwed ‘em up all right, right in his face.”

“F___ that factory rap, we going to sell some dope and get paid. Then we’ll go into the studio and make our rap record and be stars. . . . All I want to do is get paid and show all them suckers at school that school ain’t s___. Me and the boys getting paid and we ain’t wasting our time doing no lame-ass factory gig.”

“Ain’t no fun just sittin’ here. Anybody can just sit around, just drink, smoke a little Thai. But that ain’t fun like shootin’ guns and stabbin’ people. That’s fun. Like, see . . . people you kill. . . . Okay, look, I’m so high and killin’ somebody, that make me higher. ‘Cause you got enough heart to kill somebody, then, like you got the heart to destroy. Make you tall.”

“Being city people, they knew how young peoples is automatically. They knew it don’t make sense to make friends with us because a young person ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of trouble.”

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