“Wanted – Dead or Alive”

A journalist was in touch with me recently, asking about the legal and specifically Constitutional status of “wanted-dead or alive” in 19th century frontier days.  I don’t know anything about this, particularly as a historical Constitutional question, and propose to open it for knowledgeable responses from readers.

  • First, to what extent was this actually a historical practice, or is it really just a creation of Hollywood westerns- any scholarship on this, or actual examples?
  • Second, from the standpoint of the law in force in that period, on what basis was this kind of “dead or alive” language used?
  • Third, what was the relevant Constitutional doctrine of that day and did it have a role to play?  Why or why not?

I am looking to pass knowledgeable responses along to the journalist, so please only substantive and knowledgeable answers; I will delete others, as I want to be able to forward the comment thread to the journalist in question.  I’d certainly ask Co-Conspirators to respond as well.  Thanks.