Although the original “Wild, Wild West” of the John Wayne-type movies never really existed in the U.S. (most of those depictions were based on the imaginations and embellishments of eastern dime-store novelists), there was a period between 1865 and 1900 in American history that has earned that Wild West name, and California was a reluctant part of that era. 

This was the first major period of western expansion and re-population that brought easterners, the telegraph, the “iron horse” (trains), and essentially the statehoods of areas of the western frontier. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado, the Dakotas, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, etc., all became legal states authorized by Congress during this period, and immigrants into those areas included some very rough characters. There were quite a few drunken murders, rapes, bank robberies, lynchings and other sorts of mayhem going down during those times, but mostly, folks just worked hard and tried to survive as long as they could. 

But while all the halcyon days of the Wild West as we’ve learned it were not true, there was a real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who robbed banks and trains, there was a Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral shoot-out, a real Wild Bill Hickok set of adventures and Calamity Jane sharp-shootings. Jesse and Frank James did rob western banks and trains. There were plenty of shoot-em ups and mayhem to go around. But since it was neither cattle country nor sheep country, virtually none of what we’ve commonly heard about the Wild West occurred in California. Make no mistake, though. California did have its own population of bandits, outlaws, and no-good scoundrels who kept police forces and constables busy.

Their offspring seem to have emerged again recently. Their new prime territory seems to be the Los Angeles district of Lincoln Heights. To add to the already vexing problem of supply-chain deliveries (as evidenced by the L.A. and Long Beach harbors), these “New Jack” pack rats have re-invented the tactic of “Let’s Rob A Train.” 

For several months, according to nearby residents, as trains loaded with packages and parcels have slowed, stopped or been delayed along the rail lines in the area, organized gangs of desperadoes have found ways to leap aboard the tops and sides of the trains and crack open the sealed boxcars full of packages meant for deliveries. They have power tools, bolt cutters and electronic saws. They quickly search through the packages-meant-for-delivery looking for the most valuable and spew the rest over the tracks, neighborhood lawns and nearby streets—and get away. They have been brazen and smooth. None have thus far been caught, but they have littered the surrounding area with parcel wrapping, smashed boxes, discarded products, and just trash. Pictures look just like the return of something from a rap video caricature of the Wild Wild West.

Union Pacific Railroad, one of the companies regularly looted, reported that they’ve already sustained at least $5 million in damages and thefts in the last few months. They further said that by their count, more than 90 railway shipping containers are looted this way every day.

We could blame it on COVID-19, as some people have had too much idle time on their hands, and this is like a real-life video game. We could also raise aloud the question—where are the authorities? The Wild Wild West days of California are supposed to be over !!

Can we get a little help over here, please ???  

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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