The American Old West: Myth Versus Reality

Topics: American Old West, Cowboy, Wyatt Earp Pages: 9 (2895 words) Published: October 15, 2012

Miss Dae Selcer


22 December, 2011

The American Old West: Myth versus Reality

Western, a genre of short stories that are set in the American west, primarily in the late of the 19th century (“Western” 598), and still being told until today by films, televisions, radio, and other art works. The major of moving to the west was because of the Homestead Act, 1862 (“U.S. Statues at Large” 392) which would give lands to people who stayed there for five years. This lead to a huge wave of immigrants moved to the West, and they had to face to many hardships and conflicts such as Indian attacks, tornadoes, blizzards, and illnesses.

Yet the portrayal of westerns is always very romanticized compared to the real Old West. This paper is the battle of myth and reality, showing how important of westerns to American culture, facts about the American West, and subsequently analyze how was western romanticized in the books: Shane, The Tall Tales, and the movie Tombstone.


Every place has its own culture. Japan has Samurais, Europe has Knights, and America has Cowboys. These classes all are heroic men, symbols of their own countries in a specific time of history, and are romanticized in literature. Noticeably, cowboys differ from the rest; they are not soldiers. But why are they compared to those military nobilities? As a young country likes the U.S., western is unique in its own way that makes cowboys became an important part of the American culture. As far as I’m concerned, Americans don’t have any original art except western movies and jazz (Eastwood). Since the history of the U.S. is only 300 years, it can be seen as one of the youngest countries. It also is a country of multiculturalism so that the Americans do not have many original art except like the other countries. This is why Americans romanticized cowboy as legends and the western stories are still being told over, over, and over again.


What are the images of westerns come to mind when people think about westerns? Throughout over a century, it has been amazing to see how consistent these lists are: cowboys, Indians, outlaws, lawmen, gunfights, saloons, desert, covered wagons, gold prospectors, ghost towns, etc. Cowboys driving cattle over open range. Outlaws and lawmen facing one another on a dusty main street. Indian hunters racing through buffalo herds on horseback (Sonneborn 5). These images, so familiar from books and movies, are what come to mind when many people think of the American West (5). These images are not completely romanticized; the real old west was different a little bit from this typical portrayal. Cowboys, Outlaws, Lawmen, and Indians truly existed. Gunfights, Robberies, or Covered Wagon attacks were not daily events.

Thinking of westerns, we have to talk about cowboys. The images of cowboys have been romanticized by Hollywood as the ideal men, whites, dangerous, mysterious, well skilled in handling cattle and guns, and mind their own business. However, after taking a little time to do a research about the U.S. History, it becomes clear that the real cowboys were different from the cowboys in the books, and movies.

A cowboy was just a bowlegged man who sleeps in his underwear, he might spend two or three months in the saddle, moving twenty-five hundred head of longhorn cattle over a thousand of miles of rough land covered with mesquite and roving coyotes. A long cattle drive would start in Texas and end in one of the Kansas cow towns of Abilene, Wichita, or Dodge City (Douglass).

The cowboys were just regular people that worked hard and earned little. They were not dangerous as many people thought; the cowboys carry guns to protect them from wild animals during the long days of cattle drive.

Many people usually think of cowboys as white males, however, there were also cowgirls and black...
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