In the span of scarcely more than a half century, the West developed from a handful of scattered fur trapping enterprises predominantly inhabited by males to a region full of burgeoning rustic communities, and before the government’s official “closure” of the frontier as a lawless expanse, Western societies were essentially living apart from traditional American rule of law. What judicial structures were at work across the West were erratic, often willing to exercise extremes without evidential justification, and manipulated by major corporate interests of the day, most notably cattle.
The latter 19th century brought about both the heyday and decline of that industry, but the modernized and increasingly technology-oriented societies began to bloom while many of the legendary frontier figures were still alive. In some cases, the old and new worlds were able to coexist as the lone wolves and lawmen of the frontier became obsolete as an archetype, but still a part of folklore. Wyatt Earp was the subject of several early motion pictures and lived long enough to consult on their productions and meet actors. Iconic rodeo stars, lawmen, and notorious outlaws who made themselves famous on horseback witnessed the beginnings of the age of flight.
However, the transition from a mostly lawless region to an ordered society that more closely mirrored the East Coast could be rough for some, and perhaps nobody struggled to adapt to societal progress more than the infamous Tom Horn. At the close of the 19th century, Horn undertook virtually every form of employment available on the frontier before ending his career as a paid assassin for the cattle industry, anonymously ambushing cattle rustlers. According to an ongoing debate, he was either the perpetrator or scapegoat for the murder of a young boy in Iron Mountain, Wyoming, an ambush execution that occurred in the context of a raging feud between the cattle and sheep industries.