Monday, August 19, 2019

Wanted: Dead Or Alive

Cowboy, Icons, Hat, Lasso, Rope, Boots We've all seen the part of the western where the bounty hunter shoots down the bad guy and then hauls him into the next town to turn in for the reward.  If you've been to the post office, you may have seen the "Most wanted list" with pictures of people complete with descriptions, aliases, crimes, etc so people can turn them in if they've seen them.  I've even seen the occasional movie supposedly in the medieval time where the sheriff puts out posters to catch someone like Robin Hood.

Did they exist way back then or are they a thing the writers did to make the story more fun.  When did wanted posters come into use?  I never really thought about it until I saw a You Tube video that matched the Young Guns movie up with Bon Jovi's song Wanted.

The answer to when depends on which branch of justice you look at.  The FBI didn't start using wanted posters until 1919 when they issued a poster for a William Bishop for desertion from the military.  Originally these posters were actually Identification Orders which included details on the person such as name, crime or crimes they were wanted for, picture, and criminal history. Sometime in the 1920's the FBI began adding fingerprints as they became available and the Identification Orders changed to Wanted posters.

In the 1930's the FBI began collecting information about people wanted from across the country so they could publish posters of fugitives wanted across the country. In 1950's the FBI started the Most Wanted Fugitives due to a request from a reporter in 1949 for information on the 10 most wanted people.  As time went on, the posted changed and eventually moved into digital form.

As for wanted posters from the Wild West, those began in a much different way.  In the 1870's and 1880's most wanted or reward posters were simply handbills or postcards sent out to lawmen without any pictures, only the descriptions.  Some lawmen kept pictures of the outlaws taken when they were in prison and scribbled information on the back of these.

Photo's didn't appear on posters until the 1900's when photography became more advanced.  Furthermore, these posters were seldom placed in public as they were intended only for use by lawmen.  Occasionally you'd find a poster with a sketch or added photo but without was much more common.

Usually when a criminal did something, posters were printed up and sent out to lawmen in surrounding areas because they didn't get very far by horse.  It's not like now when you can get into a car and speed away or hop on a plane so wanted posters never had to be circulated very far. Occasionally, lawmen had the wanted posters printed in newspapers, or sent across many states such as the one for the people who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.

The last group of wanted posters are put out by U.S. Marshals service didn't begin until 1983 with its first issue of the 15 Most Wanted.  These were usually posted at your local Post Offices and carried the usual information.

Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  Have a great day.

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