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Jan 21, 2013

What do Clint Eastwood - John Wayne and Paul Newman have to do with America's gun-loving trigger-happy culture? Heck - George Zimmerman may have even had that cowboy streak - believing that he was the lone ranger - armed and ready to defend his town from enemy drifters. The trouble is - The Wild West was a myth, as is the lore around the cowboy.

A black-and-white photograph of a cowboy posing on a horse with a lasso and rifle visible attached to the saddle
The cowboy, the quintessential symbol of the American frontier, circa 1888 LocationNorth America Date1600 - Early to late 1910's

There are more than 200 million and possibly up to 300 million guns, owned by citizens of the United States in 2013. Americans have been fascinated by the gun culture of the Wild West shows and movies for many years now, but that fascination with Western movies, and guns portrayed as all good things wrapped up in steel, is largely based on myth and folklore, if not outright deception. 

In movies such as the Lone Ranger, the Wild West heroes wore white, rode white horses, and fought the black clothed bad guys, who rode black horses, swore and drank a lot.

In the myth of American history, the good guys and the bad guys had gun battles out in the street of small towns every night, and the good guys in white always won.The bad guys and Indians always lost.  At least that is how the movies portrayed the history of the Wild West for movie goers and TV show watchers. In addition, movies and TV shows often showed that the Indians who inhabited the entire continent for thousands of years before the 'settlers' came in, were nothing more than trespassers. In the movies and TV shows, it was entirely ok to either kill them off or to relocate them off of desirable property without any cause or reason, other than that 'settlers' felt entitled to that property and wealth.

Historical Myth; Columbus 'Discovered' America; The Canary Effect; via A Green Road

The blazing gun battles, cowboys and Indians as portrayed in the movies of the Wild West were and still are nothing more than a myth, an urban legend, and the Wild West history that existed only in the movies, but does not exist in real life. 

According to Wikipedia, "the American frontier comprises the geography, history, folklore, and cultural expression of life in the forward wave of American westward expansion from the original colonial settlements to the early 20th century. Enormous popular attention in the media focuses on the second half of the 19th century, a period sometimes called the Old West, or the Wild West. 

As defined by Hine and Faragher, "frontier history tells the story of the creation and defense of communities, the use of the land, the development of markets, and the formation of states." They explain, "It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival, persistence, and the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America."[1] 

Through treaties with foreign nations and native tribes, political compromise, military conquest, establishment of law and order, building farms, ranches and towns, marking trails and digging mines, and pulling in great migrations of foreigners, the United States expanded from coast to coast fulfilling the dreams of Manifest destiny.

Historian William E. Weeks has noted that three key themes were usually touched upon by advocates of Manifest Destiny:
the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the United States;
the destiny under God to do this work.[20]

The origin of the first theme, later known as American Exceptionalism, was often traced to America's Puritan heritage, particularly John Winthrop's famous "City upon a Hill" sermon of 1630, in which he called for the establishment of a virtuous community that would be a shining example to the Old World. In his influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine echoed this notion, arguing that the American Revolution provided an opportunity to create a new, better society:

We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand...

Many Americans agreed with Paine, and came to believe that the United States' virtue was a result of its special experiment in freedom and democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Monroe, wrote that "it is impossible not to look forward to distant times when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent".[21] To Americans in the decades that followed their proclaimed freedom for mankind, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, could only be described as the inauguration of "a new time scale" because the world would look back and define history as events that took place before, and after, the Declaration of Independence.[22] It followed that American owed to the world an obligation to expand and preserve these beliefs.

The second theme's origination is less precise. A popular expression America's mission was elaborated by President Abraham Lincoln's description, in his December 1, 1862 message to Congress. He described the United States "the last, best hope of Earth" The "mission" of the United States was elaborated on in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in which he interpreted the Civil War as a struggle to determine if any nation with democratic ideals could survive, has been called by historian Robert Johannsen "the most enduring statement of America's Manifest Destiny and mission".[23]

The third theme can be viewed as a natural outgrowth of the belief that God had a direct influence in the foundation and further actions of the United States. Clinton Rossiter, a scholar, described this view as summing "that God, at the proper stage in the march of history, called forth certain hardy souls from the old and privilege-ridden nations...and that in bestowing His grace He also bestowed a peculiar responsibility". Americans presupposed that they were not only divinely elected to maintaining the North American continent but "spread abroad the fundamental principles stated in the Bill of Rights".[24] In many cases, this meant Native Americans, neighboring colonial holdings and other countries were seen as obstacles not involved in the destiny that God had provided the United States.

As the American frontier passed into history, the myths of the west in fiction and film took firm hold in the imagination of Americans and foreigners alike. America is exceptional in choosing its iconic self-image. "No other nation," says David Murdoch, "has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America’s creation of the West."

The average Western movie shows someone being shot and killed or being shot at about every ten minutes. In reality, fewer than five people were killed in any of the infamous 'gun battle' or bank robbery towns of  Dodge City, Deadwood, or Tombstone, during any given year, at the height of the most violent 'Wild West' days.

The Wild West movies often featured quite numerous bank robberies, creating the impression that every town in the Wild West was being robbed on a regular basis. All of the 'bad' guys with guns then required the use of an armed posse as well as armed town sheriffs to defend not only the banks, but also the honor of virgin young maidens. 

From 1860-1900, in the 40 years of this period, during the height of the Wild West days, only 10-18 banks were robbed NATIONWIDE. This means that out of all of the hundreds if not thousands of towns spread all over the USA, less than 1 bank robbery was happening per year, all across the US.

Many cowboys toured the country in the early Wild West days, telling 'tall tales' about Indians, Indian wars, bank robberies, and fascinating (though untrue) blazing cowboy gun battle stories. Telling those 'tall tales' helped promote the West, made a few cowboys a lot of money, while also promoting gun sales.

Greed, religious bigotry, and racial animosity were more of a motivation behind the 'settling' of the Wild West than many other reasons, and guns plus OK Coral shootouts with bad guys and bad Indians were much less common than most people believe. But portraying the settlers as anything less than heroes is not ok, so the mythology and fables have to be passed on to future generations.

The Western cult movies often romantically depict the lone cowboy as some kind of cult hero, to be emulated and copied as much as possible. In reality, the life of a cowboy was rough, tough, unhealthy and morally challenging, as they often resorted to bars and prostitutes when they did get some time off from their lonely and long vigils of cow herds out in the woods, grassy plains and desert regions where people were far and few between. 

Cowboys were subject to hemorrhoids, testicular cancer and other diseases caused by an unhealthy, lonesome, socially isolated lifestyle that did not include women, families, marriage, community life or children. Typically, cowboys rarely owned guns, as they did not make much money.  Few cowboys could afford the huge expense of a gun, much less the bullets and other gear required. Is the cowboy movie fable and myth something people are worshiping today, when they buy guns? 

The United States developed a fascination and a type of 'worship' at the alter of Western movies and associated gun culture.  Today, people are not fooled as much by the myth that more guns make communities and schools safer. Today, more people are looking at the scientific studies that prove guns actually create more of a chance of death or disability in a typical family that owns one or more guns, than the odds of being robbed or shot by a robber or intruder with no guns in the house.

Wild West Mentality Rules Gun Industry And Gun Enthusiasts; via A Green Road

More stories about gun violence and mythology....

Lessons From The Tragic Shooting in Newtown, Conneticut; via A Green Road

Bowling For Columbine;  Michael Moore; via A Green Road

30% of all Guns Used In Crime Come From Gun Shows; via A Green Road

Police Chief Scott Knight Talks About Gun Violence; via A Green Road

President Obama On The Rights Of Freedom Of Assembly, Happiness, Speech, Life, Liberty And Peace

Jon Stewart On Gun Violence Prevention; via A Green Road

Schools, Guns And Drugs; via A Green Road

Trayvon Martin; Brutal Murder, or Justified Defense of Life? via A Green Road

Nuclear Accidents Around The World

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Posted: Monday January 21, 2013, 11:22 am
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