From the Wild West to the Prohibition Era

The American Museum in Britain brings together two key periods in American history: the Wild West, the period from the mid-1860s to the late 1880s, and the years between 1920 and the early 1930s, known as the Depression or Prohibition era. Each chapter had its notorious heroes and villains such as the McLaury brothers, Billy Clanton, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and the lawless Bonnie and Clyde whose exploits are recalled in the exhibition.

Exhibits have been selected from the Americana Collection and Hollywood Archive of David Gainsborough Roberts.

Draw: The Greatest Gunfights of the American West
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How Popular Culture Presented Fiction as Fact

In the early days of film the appetite for 'real life' western adventure films was insatiable and Gangsters & Gunslingers demonstrates how popular culture transformed fiction into perceived fact.

Life was tough and workers sought escape from unregulated factories, workshops and offices. Newspapers, cheap novels, pulp fiction and the emerging film industry helped immortalise key characters such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, John Herbert Dillinger, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The walls of the exhibition space are covered with reproductions of movie posters, and the display also features historical newsreels loaned by British Pathé.

Chief Gall's War Club

The Battle of Little Big Horn

Chief Gall's War Club
Credit: David Gainsborough Roberts Collection, American Museum in Britain

Gangsters & Gunslingers of the Wild West

Gangsters & Gunslingers features weapons used in the Battle of Little Big Horn (25th/26th June 1876) such as Chief Gall's war club. Chief Gall was one of the commanders at this battle and it was mainly because of his planning skills that General Custer was killed and his battallion was defeated.

Also on show are Wyatt Earp’s Gambling Dice and Secret Card Feeder. Tombstone was one of the last frontier boomtowns in America's wild west. In a period of just seven years from about 1877 the town's population increased from 100 to approximately 14,000 because of the rich pickings to be had in the town's silver mines. With such rapid population increase there were bound to be tensions under the surface and frequent conflicts. One such conflict, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1881) saw Billy Clanton and brothers Tom and Frank McLaury fight it out with Wyatt Earp and his friends.  The battle, regularly re-enacted, and immortalised by Hollywood, lasted barely 30 seconds!

Wyatt Earp's Gambling Dice and Secret Card Feeder

Wyatt Earp's Gambling Dice and Secret Card Feeder
Credit: David Gainsborough Roberts Collection, American Museum in Britain

Gangsters & Gunslingers of the Prohibition Era

The Infamous Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow need no introduction. They, and their gang, murdered civilians and lawmen, robbed banks and terrorised small stores and gas stations. The exhibition features Clyde's bullet-proof vest bearing puncture holes and the watch he was wearing when he was gunned down in 1934. The watch strap was partially destroyed when Clyde's hand was shot off in the shoot out.

Clyde Barrow's Bullet-proof Vest

Clyde Barrow's Bullet-proof Vest
Credit: David Gainsborough Roberts Collection, American Museum in Britain

Clyde Barrow's Watch

Watch Worn by Clyde Barrow When He Was Gun Downed in 1934
Credit: David Gainsborough Roberts Collection, American Museum in Britain

Bonnie Parker's Poetry Digitised

The exhibition also features a collection of poems written in a bank book.  Bonnie Parker wrote down the poems she composed herself together with a number of traditional poems and folk ballads. Bonnie was imprisoned in Kauffman County Jail, Texas, for several months in 1932. After being treated kindly by jailer J. W. Tidwell and his wife she gave them the book. The book has been digitised so that you can virtually thumb through and read the poetry.

Poems Composed by Bonnie Parker

Poems Composed by Bonnie Parker
Credit: David Gainsborough Roberts Collection

Visit the Exhibition

Gansters & Gunslingers - The Good, the Bad & and the Memorabilia will be on show from 23rd March to 3rd November 2013. Tickets and further information can be obtained from The American Museum in Britain.


The American Musum in Britain

Bonnie & Clyde's Death


Icons of the Wild West