Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18, 2010
Started raining this morning at 7:30, just as I was getting ready to go for a walk. Not really raining, though, misting would be more like it, or as the Navajos call it: a "female rain." We're supposed to get five inches out of this weather front coming through.

Speaking of inches, I worked all weekend on a series of police line-up characters from the Old West to illustrate their towering presence. Here's a familiar figure who needs no introduction:

Hickok was tall, maybe six foot three. There is a photo of him at Fort Hays and there must be thirty or forty guys lined up and Wild Bill is at the far left. He is literally head and shoulders above the crowd.

One of the perks of this gig is being able to question the experts on just about any given subject and get the skinny. Case in point: I emailed Wild Bunch expert Dan Buck about The Tall Texan's height. Got this intriguing reply:

"I doubt if Ben Kilpatrick was called the Tall Texan for nothing. In Soule's The Tall Texan: The Story of Ben Kilpatrick (1995) he says that the records at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, which Kilpatrick entered in 1905 at age 31, indicate that he was 'roughly six feet tall.' That seems a bit vague. Maybe Art can supply a more precise answer.

"Butch Cassidy's Wyoming prison record has him at 5' 9". Per a medical record the Pinkertons uncovered, Sundance was 5' 9", but on their wanted posters, they listed him as 5' 10". Kid Curry the Pinkertons marked at 5' 7" 1/2, but I don't know the basis.

"At 5' 7" 1/2, Curry was about average for the period.

"Larger question: How do we now how tall an outlaw was? Self-reported? People (male and female) typically exaggerate their height. Measured? How? Boots on or off? (What do boots add? Two inches?) Measuring tape; guesstimate; pencil marks on the wall of the sheriff''s office? Also, outlaws cannot always be expected to cooperate with such exercises. (Both Kid Curry & the Sundance Kid reportedly squirmed their way out of having their mugshots taken.) Morning or night? People gain about 3/4 of an inch at night as their body expands and shrink the same amount during the day, as it compresses. Thus a person is tallest in the morning and shortest in the evening.

"For more general info on heights, historical trends, etc., Wikipedia is a starting place: Height of the American people

"Lots of quirks & anomalies: Apparently white males shrunk between the 19th & early 20th centuries, then began growing again. Rural born were taller than city born. Average height of 1918 white male conscripts, born ca. 1900, was 5' 7" 1/3 Black conscripts, though, were on average taller.

"An academic paper that might be useful: The Heights of Americans in Three Centuries: Some Economic and Demographic Implications

"An abstract:
"This paper discusses the potential usefulness of anthropometric measurements in exploring the contributions of nutrition to American economic growth and demographic change. It argues that although the value of height-by-age data to economic historians will ultimately be resolved in the context of investigating specific issues, the early results of the NBER Projecton Long-term Trends in Nutrition, Labor Productivity, and Labor Welfare have been encouraging. Among the most significant findings to date are: (1)that by the time of the Revolution, Americans had attained a mean final height (and net nutritional status) that was very high, one that European populations did not generally reach until the twentieth century; (2) that the variation in stature across occupational classes was much less in the U.S. than in Europe; (3) that natives of the South have been taller than those from other regions of the U.S. since the middle of the eighteenth century, and that their absolute height increased during the antebellum period while mortality was declining there; and (4) that natives of large antebellum cities were much shorter than their country men born in rural areas or in small cities. The paper also examines, in a preliminary fashion, how a newly available data set bears on the hypothesis that a cycle in U.S. final heights began during the antebellum period. The theory might continue to be sustained, but a sample of U.S. Army recruits from 1850 to 1855 does not seem to provide much support for it.

—Dan Buck

So now I'm intrigued by this sidebar tidbit. Is there such a thing as being too tall in the Old West? Was someone who was seven foot just a freak? Evidently not entirely (see comments on yesterday's post regarding an alleged seven foot lawman in Oklahoma), but it seems that there might have been an optimum height, that was still dominating and intimidating, but not too tall. Thus the Six Foot Four Club.

It certainly speaks to Western movie stars with The Duke:

The ex-football player was very commanding at six foot four and when you added the high heel boots and Stetson he supposedly approached seven foot.

And at the other end of the spectrum we have the short guys. In the Billy the Kid saga, Pat Garrett is six foot four, the Kid is five seven (average height in that era), but the leader of the Boys is the notorious Jesse Evans:

I believe his Texas prison records show him to have been five foot two. Man, that destroys his image. And now leading the New Mexican outlaws is Mickey Rooney!

“I’d feel a lot braver if I wasn’t so scared.”
—Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post your comments