August 24, 2005
I got this question today from the producer of the forthcoming BBC TV series on the American West: “What do Americans/ You / True West magazine / your readers normally understand to be the dates for the Wild West—the 1880s & 1890s? Or starting earlier and going on into the 20th century? 1860s to, say, 1910?”
I believe the answer to that excellent question is quite fluid. When I was growing up and reading True West, the conventional wisdom was that the classic "Old West" was from approximately 1815 to 1915. Other historians defined it as being post Civil War to the Oklahoma Land Rush and Wounded Knee, or, say, 1865-1892.
Today, there is a drifting of the end date forward to include even movies. I just got back from the Autry Museum in LA where they have an exhibition dedicated to Sergio Leone's Westerns, and there in a glass case, were artifacts—as if they were from the Lewis and Clark Expedition—of Clint Eastwood's pancho, gunbelt (weathered and historic looking of course) and gauntlet from the Dollars trilogy. The shocking thing is that they looked right at home in a museum context.
We find that our readers are responding to John Wayne anecdotes of filming The Searchers in the same league as the historic events John Ford was allegedly filming. It has been a half century since most of these movies, which ironically is how far back it was to the real Old West when I was a kid reading this magazine.
So will the Wild West of 2050 include events from 1985-1999? My guess is that it will.
And speaking of the West and Westerns:
“I was watching a John Wayne one reeler several months ago and was stunned at a line. The bad guys were all concerned that The Duke was going to figure them out. One critter ran in to see the head bad guy all worried. This scoundrel leaned back in his chair behind his desk and told the shaky cowpoke not to worry. he said...You ready for this...’I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse’. I like to spit my Arbuckles across the room. (It was real early morning) Either Mario Puzo or Francis Ford Coppola must have watched theses flicks.”
—Hugh Howard, Maniac #9
Hugh, it’s funny you should say this because last night I was watching more of that DVD Kathy got me at Target and in the flick Frontier Justice, 1936, one of the bad guys was named Hondo. Also, in Angel and the Badman, 1947, the family that takes in John Wayne’s outlaw character is Quaker and the storyline clearly seems to foreshadow High Noon, 1951, where the sheriff’s wife (Grace Kelly) is Quaker and doesn’t believe in violence.
“The truth in the present is strikingly similiar to the past. The patterns and the stories are the same. Only the names change.”
—Bob Boze Bell, cribbing from some Old Vaquero
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