Wild West Livelihood

This Job Would Be Right Down My Alley

By Jeff Salter

Asked by Tuesday Fox Joselyn Vaughn what our livelihood would have been if we’d lived in the old American West, I had to re-calibrate. I was raised on TV and Hollywood westerns, so naturally, I’d want a horse and a Colt .45. But I wouldn’t want the isolation and hardship of an actual “cowboy.” And enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry would be a no-go, because of terrible pay, lousy conditions, and constant danger.

I don’t figure I would’ve been lucky enough to have been born a Cartwright, so I doubt I’d reside in that sumptuous cabin on the Ponderosa. And I certainly would NOT fare well in a sod hut out on the desolate prairie.

So, I’d pretty much need to live in town. But not the strenuous stuff like blacksmithing or running a stable.

My town job would need to be indoors… in relative comfort, with conveniences like roof, walls, and floors — and a kitchen. I’d want a real bed and a place to wash up. I know there were few (if any) indoor toilets in those days, but I’d at least want my own private outhouse — couldn’t stand to use the “public” privy behind the saloon.

Sheriff and Gunfighter

My former first choice, sheriff, would be too much risk for too little pay — and poor prospects for longevity. Wouldn’t want to be a gunfighter anymore either – though that WAS a childhood fantasy – because they have even less income and shorter life expectancy.

Office Work

As I was considering this topic, I thought maybe I’d work in a bank or a claims office. Then I got to thinking I’d probably get stuck with a rotten boss who’d spend more time in the saloon pestering Miss Kitty than he’d be productive inside our office… but he’d make me work 12 hours a day by lantern light. I’d likely go blind before I went crazy.

Store Owner

Next I considered the general mercantile business. Pretty sweet deal owning the store where everybody bought their hardware, dry goods, and food staples. Then I realized I’d need (1) a lot of investment capital to purchase the store and acquire the inventory, (2) to ensure I had a reliable delivery channel for regular re-supply, and (3) enough flexibility in my overhead to absorb the losses from those hard-luck settlers who couldn’t pay a dime on their store tab. Hmmm.


Well that cogitation led me to the livelihood you’ve already guessed from the featured photo — I’d be the publisher and editor of the town newspaper! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I worked in journalism – as editor or photo-journalist – full-time for over four years and part-time for perhaps another year… not counting part-time and un-paid experience with other papers elsewhere. I’m well suited for a job writing and reporting and editing.

But newspapering is hard work, so I’d need somebody to set the type and run the press… and I’d want a pretty office manager to handle book-keeping and advertising and messages. [Her name is Inga and she has a cute Scandinavian accent.] That would leave me free to report on territorial politics, local matters like crime and civic improvement, and loftier issues such as whether our corner of the newly civilized world ought to seek statehood. And I’d still get to ride a horse and shoot a revolver, because (after all), it’s the Wild West.

And I think I’d like to write a regular column concerning the comings and goings of people around town, plus my own observations and experiences and insights about other matters large and small.

You’ve possibly already guessed the name of my newspaper — Possum Trot Tribune.


What about you? What would your livelihood be if you were living in the old American West?

[JLS # 337]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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15 Responses to Wild West Livelihood

  1. I would have been a singer and given Jenny Lind a run for her money!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That job would be perfect for you. I love reading your posts on Facebook and can imagine how wonderfully informative, entertaining, and insightful your articles would be in the Wild West.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Angie. Unless I made the rich rancher or the local gunslinger angry by my coverage, maybe I could have entertained and enlightened some of the Wild West populace.


  3. Joselyn says:

    I think the running the newspaper would be perfect for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jbrayweber says:

    Hmmm… Realistically, I probably would be found on a homestead, running the place, maybe as a cattle baron. I’m known for my leadership qualities, though some might say I have control issues. LOL! But on the flip side, I might be a dancing saloon girl, author of dime novels, a traveling actress, or a trick horseback rider in a Wild West show.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent! It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a newspaperman moved in as soon as there was anything that resembled a town, even in the WILD West. Great choice. I will bring this up to my granddaughters, whose opinion I garnished yesterday for tomorrow’s post. I am sure that they will love it, since they put out family newspapers upon occasion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I can’t put my hands on it this moment, but I possess a book, given to me by my late M-I-L, called “newspapering in the Old West” or something similar. I need to find it and re-read it.


  6. Patricia Kiyono says:

    You would make an excellent newspaper editor! But you’re right, setting up the press and actually printing the issues would be tedious. Sometimes I’m amazed that I survived ten years of college without a computer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      yeah, the days of the old hand-set type, block press were primitive beyond belief.
      Not only labor intensive, but horribly messy. And to approximate a photo, you had to ink a woodcut …


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