Hollywood and the Lazy Cowboy

“I created ‘The Westerner’ because of anger – anger at never-miss sheriffs, always-right marshalls, whitewashed gunfighters … anger at TV’s quick-draw tin gods who stand behind a tin star or ten cents’ worth of righteous anger and justify their skill and slaughter with a self-conscious grin or a minute’s worth of bad philosophy.”
Sam Peckinpah

Hollywood and the Lazy Cowboy

Think for a moment of all the cowboy movies you have seen. It is easy to think about because there were a lot of them. Henry Fonda, Kevin Costner, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Mitchum, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, James Arness and, how about John Wayne. My point is that there are a ton of movies about the Old West. They are labeled as Old West in the description.

There are some good stories too. The gunfighter and the shoot outs and the rustlers and train robberies. Big cattle drives and more, all telling the epic grand story of America. We love it.

We know that the Winchester Rifle was invented and made for the Civil War using new ideas of mass production. Same with the Colt revolver. Because of the exact sameness of all of these guns, bullets could now be made and sold in boxes.

The Civil War was between 1861 and 1865. So, unless the movie is specifically about the Civil War, if you watch a movie with a Winchester or see crossed belts on a bandolero then the time period is about from 1870 to 1885.

Can it be that narrow? Yes. All of those cowboy movies that we know and love fit in a small fifteen year time period. If you see a gun belt with loops for bullets, it is in that time.

I’d like to rename the entire genre and call it The Late West instead of The Old West. Just because Hollywood repeats itself with a good thing doesn’t mean that there was not a lot more to tell.

Pick a decade. How about the 1830. Missouri is a brand new state thanks to the Louisiana Purchase and that means St. Louis. Now imagine over one hundred paddle boats in the dock on the Mississippi River. Hollywood could have told hundreds of stories about the steamboats and the riverboat gamblers and the thrill of riding down the river. That has potential for a lot of action.

How about this from Wikipedia?
“The annual rendezvous was often held at Horse Creek on the Green River, now called the Upper Green River Rendezvous Site, near present-day Pinedale, Wyoming. Another popular site in the same general area was Pierre’s Hole. By the mid-1830s, it attracted 450-500 men annually, essentially all the American trappers and traders working in the Rockies, as well as numerous Native Americans.

Wouldn’t you like to see a movie about 500 trappers meeting at the same place? Tons of drama! It would also dispel the romantic myth of the independent Mountain Man, so many of them were working for the Hudson Bay Trading Company.

So anyways, Hollywood. There are a lot more stories to tell than about a heroic gunfight. That is too easy. A fifteen year span that is our Old West doesn’t cut it for me. I’ll call it the Late West.

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