Friday, January 8, 2016

How the West Was Fun?

Co. E, Frontier Battalion, Texas Rangers
Alice, Texas 1892
John Cameron (seated second from left) is my great-great uncle
Dear Readers,
I confess. I enjoy a good western, be it a novel or a movie. Maybe it is because when I was a lad, I watched a lot of John Wayne movies with my father.......most of them, I think. El Dorado and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon are my favorites. I'll be the first to admit that westerns do not present a true depiction of life on the frontier. The women characters tend to be very poorly written with minor roles. In real life, women on the west had a bit more freedom than they did in the East which is why, by the time the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, women already had the right to vote (in state and local elections) in every state west of the Mississippi. When you watch cowboy movies, notice you see very few black or Hispanic cowboys. Again, this is contrary to history. Some have estimated that one out of every four Texas cowboys was black. Naturally, the Native American characters are rarely portrayed in a positive light. Instead, they are either warriors, drunkards, or the Wise Indian stereotype. All that being said, I still enjoy watching a good western.
The genre has fallen out of favor over the past several decades, with a few exceptions such as the success of the movie Tombstone which, despite being an excellent movie, is also a bit short on historical accuracy. But I can quote every Doc Holliday line in the film! (I'm your huckleberry.) I'm not sure why I like them so much. As far as the novels go, westerns are rarely great literature but they are pretty good reads. Many of them are sort of like a male romance novel. There is a main character, who is quick with a gun and very cool. The ladies all flock to him. And he kills bad guys. They actually have a lot in common with the thriller genre too (think Steve Berry's Cotton Malone series). Fun reads, if somewhat empty of any substance.
My dream job!
Older western movies are morality plays. There are clear cut good guys (in white hats) and bad guys (in black hats). In the end, good triumphs over evil. Perhaps part of their appeal is because in real life that doesn't always happen. The bad guys win sometimes. But people don't want to pay money to see that. Movies of any genre rarely depict life as it really is but rather as some idealized version of life. Such is true with the western. Life in the west sucked. It was a rough, violent place that created hard people to deal with it. Prostitutes in these movies are usually very attractive. This is a far cry from the gonorrhea ridden ladies of the town which existed in frontier settlements. But again, we don't want to see that on film. The movies show the west as being a simpler time, and perhaps, as our world gets more complex, that is why people like watching them.
As someone who worked as a lawman in Texas myself, there is a certain bit of the west that still colors the job here. Having the title of "Deputy Marshal" was very cool, in addition to being historic. Unlike the movie marshal's who tended to smote bad guys on Main Street twice a day, I went to work each day hoping I wouldn't have to use to my gun. Then again, I didn't have to deal with armed bandidos sweeping into town to shoot up the streets. Or as the guy said in the Three Amigos "rape the horses and ride off on the women." My trusty steed was a Chevy Silverado, then a Ford Expedition, then a Dodge Charger, and then another Ford Expedition. I never rode at the head of a posse to apprehend horse thieves, but I did get to arrest some bad people nonetheless.
Sure, I know that the western genre, particularly the ones from the 30s-60s, are not politically correct by our standards. But many of them are classics and I like them anyway. I'll keep watching them because I enjoy them, not because I think it in any way reflects how life in the west really was. For me, it is good, mindless entertainment. I don't apologize for my love of these books and novels, because, in the words of Captain Brittles (John Wayne) "Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Maybe that is why Wayne was married three times? I never rode off into the sunset on my horse with a redheaded saloon girl in tow like I wanted. But I did marry a redhead. She's not a saloon girl though. Much worse. She's from Missouri.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. My aforementioned great-great uncle and I are the only two people in the family to have been in law enforcement. He died in the line of duty in 1902. And I got hurt and can't work in law enforcement anymore. Maybe it isn't the right occupation for people in my family.

1 comment:

  1. Great! Good to know you still love Westerns. Me, too!