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Homicide in the Trans-Mississippi West: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska

Clare V. McKanna, Jr.

Bud McKanna is the author of a number of studies of homicide, race, and criminal justice in the Trans-Mississippi West. Using a variety of sources, especially court records and coroner's inquests, McKanna has found that homicide rates were extremely high in the West in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were high not only in frontier communities, but in communities that had been settled for decades. The cause of the "high levels of lethal violence" was, in McKanna's opinion, "the rapid convergence of diverse cultures, industrialization, and differing social systems." (McKanna 1997: 155) The criminal justice system may have contributed to the problem by exonerating the majority of white homicide defendants, but the chances of conviction for African American, Native American, and Hispanic American defendants "were very high, regardless of the race of the victim or the cause of the killing." Nearly 80% of minority homicide defendants were found guilty, and only 30% to 40% of European American defendants. (McKanna 1997: 158)

Bud has contributed the data from three of his studies:

Data Set 1: McKanna, Clare V. (1997) Homicide, Race, and Justice in the American West, 1880-1920. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. A study of homicide and criminal justice in three counties whose histories and ethnic compositions varied widely. Douglas County (Omaha), Nebraska, was an urban, industrial county with a large African American population. Las Animas County (Trinidad), Colorado, was a ranching and coal mining county with a diverse ethnic population that included Hispanics, Italians, Greeks, Serbs, Czechs, African Americans, and others. It was the home of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the site of considerable labor violence, including the infamous Ludlow Massacre. Gila County (Globe), Arizona, was a ranching and copper mining county. It was home to a large Apache population, which lived on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

Data Set 2: McKanna, Clare V. (2002) Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California. Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press. A study of homicide and criminal justice in seven California counties, 1850-1900: Calaveras, Sacramento, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Tuolomne. Collectively, the counties were ethnically diverse and included substantial populations of Chinese, Hispanic, and Native Americans. The inhabitants of these counties engaged in a variety of economic pursuits: trade, farming, ranching, mining, etc.

Data Set 3: McKanna, Clare V. (2003) "Black Enclaves of Violence: Race and Homicide in Great Plains Cities, 1890-1920," Great Plains Quarterly 23: 147-59. A study of five counties in Kansas with substantial African American populations: Cherokee, Labette, Leavenworth, Mongtomery, and Shawnee.

The codebooks and county population totals for each study are currently available in WORD. The data are described in the codebooks and in the studies from which the data are drawn. The data are currently available in spreadsheets for SPSS (.sav). The spreadsheets include data from inquests, indictments, and prison records.

The data are in the form that Bud McKanna gathered and entered them. Newspapers are available for most of the counties during most of the years that McKanna has studied, and many of the case files and inquests from which the data are drawn include testimony. When these sources are exploited fully, it will be possible to estimate the actual number of homicides that occurred in these counties and to classify the homicides that occurred in a variety of ways, particularly where motives and relationships between victims and perpetrators are concerned. Bud hopes that someone will take on those tasks. He has moved on to other projects.

Data Set 1: Nebraska, Colorado, and Arizona, 1880-1920

Text files in WORD

Data files in SPSS (.sav)

Data Set 2: California, 1850-1900

Text files in WORD

Data files in SPSS

Data Set 3: Kansas, 1890-1920

Text files in WORD

Data files in SPSS

Note: Criminal indictments are not available for Leavenworth County, so coroner's inquests are used instead.

[doc] - Some links on this page are to Microsoft .doc files requiring the use of Microsoft Word. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

[sav] - Some links on this page are to .sav files requiring the use of a database program. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.