Myth of the Month 21: The Old West (Episode #171)

“Cowboys and Indians.” For most Americans, the words evoke a sinister game, representing a timeless enmity between the forces of civilization and savagery. In actual historical fact, cowboys and Indians were symbiotic trading partners, and many cowboys were Indians themselves; but the image of the cowboy as a conqueror and as the bearer of civilization into the “Wild West” has become central to the American national myth. We trace how the romantic self-image of the 19th-century buckaroos as modern-day knights gradually evolved into the iconography of gunslingers battling on the untamed frontier, from early dime novels to grand “horse operas” to Hollywood Westerns and science fiction, and finally to the new fable of the gay cowboy.

Quick Sample:


Also see Blood and Oil: The History of Tulsa

Image: Frederic Remington, “Shotgun Hospitality,” 1908

Suggested reading: Russell Martin, “Cowboy: The Enduring Myth of the Wild West”; Richard Slotkin, “The Fatal Environment” & “Gunfighter Nation.”

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