the Myth and Reality of the American West

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AP American History
 
The Myth and Reality of the American West
We have all heard the stories about the old west.  There are the infamous gunfights, the cowboys that steal all of the women’s hearts, and the many stagecoach robberies.  But how can we tell fact from fiction?  Where is the line drawn between the reality of the American west and the myth portrayed in the numerous books and movies?  Everything may not have been as adventurous as we believe, or as glamorous.  But the real question is: what is true and what is not?   ​It is shocking how many misconceptions are made about the old west.  I for one, definitely picture what most people probably do.  Cowboys are always the first that come to mind.  Everyone loved a rustic, rugged, handsome cowboy.  They saved the day on all occasions a nd at the end of the day, went and swept the woman off her feet and they rode off into the sunset on horseback together.  The cowboys were the “good guys” who wore the cowboy hat and boots and fought the “bad guys” in gunfights right outside of the bat-wing door saloons.  A mental picture is drawn of two men with their backs to each other taking ten paces in opposite direction, only to draw guns and fight “fairly” after turning around.  Cowboys were the ultimate white, southern gentlemen who always won the lady’s heart.  There are, of course, many other myths about the old west.  For instance, the legal system; there is the town sheriff with the star badge and uniform worn at all times, who just happens to show up whenever there is trouble.  The sheriff settles disputes that break out amongst townspeople and always makes the right decision, in putting the bad guy in jail to bring the ever-so unpredictable outcome of a “happy ending”.   ​The popular song, “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the country music group the Dixie Chicks, reinforces almost all concepts of the myth of the American west.  The chorus is: “Cowboy take me away. Fly this girl as high as you can into the wild blue....
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