Friday, September 09, 2016

Historical Accuracy In Westerns: "John Wayne Couldn't Ride A Horse Worth A Damn"?

September 9, 2016
   It wasn't a surprise to me that a whole bunch of people are passionate about historical accuracy in Westerns. But, the absolutely stunning part to me is the fact that a whole bunch of people bring so many different nitpicks to the genre. Based on the response to my recent post, it isn't just the hats and the gear (my basic prejudice) that upsets fans, it's also the riding (or, lack of it) and the cooking utensils, the false movie locations and even the horse gender that burn people up. Here's just a taste of the historical nitpicking I've received, so far:

The Duke "Tearing Up Their Mouths"

Pale Rider vs. A Poor Rider
"John Wayne couldn't ride a horse worth a damn," claims David John Madden on Facebook. This, of course is blasphemy to the many lovers of the Duke. When someone defended Wayne and mentioned the Duke did okay in his younger days, but he merely got tired in later years and too often grabbed the saddle horn, David John Madden is not amused: "It wasn't grabbing the horn that bothers me—for starters it was the way he jerked their heads around, tearing up their mouths. He made a lot of films with Ben Johnson, he should've paid attention." Okay, I will be watching for the "jerking the heads around" the next time I see The Shootist.

Dutch Oven Travesty
   Lisa Gaunky says she loves Lonesome Dove, but "it always makes me cringe when Gus lifts the lid off his Dutch oven and you see those biscuits in there. That's just not what they should look like. I've made biscuits in a Dutch oven over (and under) the coals."

Saddle Sores
   Catherine Peterson gets bugged about actors in general and their "horrible riding," and she also hates "unlikely, random horse whinnies and nickers." Timothy Brazzil is bugged by "visible Blevins buckles on stirrup leathers. They weren't invented until after WWII."

Blevins Stirrup Buckles, as advertised in True West magazine in February 1953, and at right in March 2006.

Praise for Ride With The Devil
   Randy Kramer, who rides with Phil Spangenberger, hates bad gear and adds, "I believe Ride With The Devil is about as close to the real thing there is, right down to the McClellen saddles and the period dress."

Stud Watch
   Sloan Rodgers Tejas thinks Tommy Lee's "Hell Bitch" "looks pretty good for a gelding." So, are we looking at horse genitalia now? Apparently so, according to my artist compadre and horsewoman, Amy Wilmoth Watts:"Yes, it always bothered me that Hell Bitch had a visible weinie."

"Personally, I hate green cowboy hats in Westerns." —Squibe Nish

  Location Crazy
   Terry burns hates wrong location settings, like "seeing Monument Valley scenes for a movie supposedly set in Texas.

Cringe Worthy Hair
   Chris Hill cringes "when I see a gal with her hair down, or the inappropriate wearing of bangs. That one little thing can ruin a movie for me."

Double Dating Hate
   A fellow artist has a suggestion for me:

"Maybe you and Merrill could have movie night and spoil it for each other."
—Jeanne Mahaffey


  1. My mother was a big "Gunsmoke" fan, but always commented that the plains of Kansas look nothing like Chatsworth California, to wit: hills and live oak trees.

  2. Anonymous3:39 PM

    John wayne did not saw and jaw and jerk mouths when he rode a horse.I have even seen him plow rein around a horse that neck reins.He was easy on the mouth.He grabbed the horn in his sixties for balance and he had one lung.Weight can play a factor in balance but he was a fine horseman who learned from yak canutt.The shot where duke charges the village at the end of the searchers.That big sorrel horse is on a dead I mean full gallop with a man pushing fifty years.Show me the actor pushing fifty other than steve in tom horn that ever rode that fast at that age.Not cooper,scott,mccrea,murphy or any A list actor from kirk douglas,burt lancaster,richard widmark,robert mitchum.Including eastwood,selleck and elliott.I am not saying duke loved horses.I am saying he did not abuse them.This gets my dander up and I could defend him a long time but I am not alone in that belief.Others will agree with me.He held reins loose and relaxed.He was a fine horseman.

  3. A.D. Hopkins4:41 PM

    Bothers me when I see buscadero holsters, such as the guy in the green hat is wearing, because they were not made until twentieth century. And everybody in Westerns seems to use a stock saddle, even if they're not in a profession involved in working livestock. Why would a person intentionally put a heavy stock saddle on his mount if he were not going to be roping anything? I also find it amusing when some]non-cowpoke like Jack Paladin just happens to have a lasso on his saddle horn when he unexpectedly needs a rope. And when these characters hit the trail they rarely have a packhorse or especially bulgy saddlebags, yet when they make camp a two-gallon coffeepot materializes from somewhere.

  4. Jim Swanson6:05 AM

    I love westerns and I love True West. My issue with a lot of westerns is when lone riders with no saddle bags stop for the night and all of a sudden have coffee pots, cups, dishes, food, blankets, extra coats and a change of clothes. Wow, must have a wagon following them.

  5. My biggest matter what the historical accuracy, THEY DON'T make enough of them anymore.

  6. Anonymous6:16 PM

    Out of period firearms are like nails on a chalk board to me. I don't let it ruin the movie, or I would not enjoy westerns at all. The worst offender is the Winchester model 92. And then there is the gun leather. In the golden age of westerns, fast draw rigs were the norm. You just have to grin and bear it. The westerns of Tom Selleck go a great deal towards correcting gear and guns.

  7. Anonymous6:45 PM

    What about the gunbelts? Or the lack of cow ponies?

  8. One can only hope these nit pickers won't get to see The Wizard Of Oz or any Harry Potter movie ? (Spoiler alert !!! Some of the scenes contain entertaining, if a tad unrealistic, material that may be contrary to actual life).
    Imagine .... holding the saddle horn - like it was meant for that !! We're lucky he didn't get on backwards ?

  9. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Mine is when a book or movie state their wearing a Stetson when the book or movie is set in a time period prior to them being made!

  10. Angela Cassidy7:53 PM

    In Lonesome Dove, I don't think they would have had white pigs with pink skins. In those days, the only hogs available were feral, and they would have been mixed colors, all black, or tan. Pink pigs can get very sunburned and wouldn't do well in full Texas sun.

  11. Dance hall girls...half naked would have been arrested in real history. Yeah, as an historical seamstress I could complain about the lack of bustles, bustles where they don't belong, zippers in the back of dresses. But I known costume/ movie nazi's. They take all of fun out of it, huffing and puffing about what they know, OK, you know some history, so do I. But we do not have the right to talk thru out a movie to others about whats period and whats not. Its rude. It's rude to do so, while acting at cowboy faires as well. I watch for the story. If the story is a good one, and well acted, I can look past that. Life is to short.

    I notice no one said a word about seeing only whiskey at the bar...^^}

  12. You can't change what's already been done. And I don't see any improvement down the road. If looking for accuracy is so important, I would look to well written histories. For movie fun, my choices are the early Wayne movies, Jimmy Stewart and Joel McCrea movies and Breakheart Pass. I can watch those movies over and over and not get bored.

  13. Edward Durham10:49 PM

    My biggest gripe about TV and movie westerns. They just leave the GUNS laying around after a Gunfight. Just leave those guns laying around so the children can play with them. I am a gun owner and I believe It is my right to own guns. All gun owners must be responsible. Yet in almost every western I see the characters just leave loaded guns laying around the street.

  14. Anonymous10:56 PM

    yea that grey gelding bothered me surely their was a grey mare in texas

  15. everything about the John Wayne post is true.That always bothered me if he was such a great horseman.I was just thinking about all that last night while watching him in an early western.I still love to watch his movies but the horse skills are not good and as a horseman myself it bothers me.

  16. Anonymous4:51 AM

    opinions vary..we love our heroes..

  17. The Texas Big Bend is probably the location they try to duplicate by using Monument Valley. Though its not a match geographically, it works pretty good for me.

  18. Hey, it's a movie - jeez, take a chill pill

  19. Anonymous2:06 PM

    all the eye makeup etc and that hair flowing in the wind

  20. Anonymous4:10 PM

    Late entry in the Duke horsemanship controversy - remember that in the latter part of his career, if the horse was doing anything more than walking, it usually wasn't Duke. There was a guy who doubled almost all his riding, at the studio's insistence. The issue was age, not ability, though. And in his earliest days, Yakima Canutt doubled his really fast riding for him. In "The Hollywood Posse", it's stated the real-life cowboys who worked as stunt men in westerns over time came to accept and admire Wayne because he wasn't raised with horses and cowboy culture, but he was respectful and more than willing to learn.

  21. Anonymous3:47 AM

    Mine is when a book or movie state their wearing a Stetson when the book or movie is set in a time period prior to them being made! .. . .

  22. Does anyone know why they didn't use model 73 Winchesters in movies instead of model 92? It seems like such an unforced error. They usually chose Colt model 1873 for side arms, so why not the Winchester?

    1. There simply weren't enough replica '73s to be found in the earlier films. The 73 colts were often originals and took a horrible beating. Companies like Uberti in Italy have solved a lot of those issues. Funny how the speghetti westerns had the most historically accurate western guns, but the stage had to be set somewhere.

    2. I enjoy western movies so much that when I see inconsistencies, I don't care, get on with the ENTERTAINMENT!!!!


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