The Myth Vs. Reality Of The Old West

The Western Frontier in America began in the late 19th century with many white settlers moving to the West to start a new life or others looking for work. In the book, “American Yawp” chapter 17 “Conquering the West” mainly explains the history and what life was like in the West for Americans. Other sources may also tell different stories to explain the reality as well as myths about the Wild West. The widely known influence about the violence and lawlessness in the Old West created the nickname the Wild West to best describe the time period.

The reality of the Western Frontier is that it dealt with the Indian wars between the U.S military versus different Native American cultures fighting against the peace treaties. The Indians saw the white settlers as a threat invading their land and preventing Indian groups from hunting buffalo. During the Civil War, the Dakota Sioux War was ended when U.S military broke Indian resistance at the Battle of Wood Lake where more than two thousand Sioux Indians were taken prisoner. The consequences of those taken prisoner were sentenced to death while others not sentenced to death and those who escaped were captured and punished to live on smaller and further land reservations in the west. The U.S military and new settlers allowed violence to justify their reasoning in killing and mistreating Native Americans. America in the West was violent in ways that death seemed like the only answer to end issues among others rather than talking the differences out in more peaceful manners. The start of the end of the Indian wars took place after “Wounded Knee” in 1890 resulting in the deaths of many men, women and children marking the end of Native American armed resistance. The tragic violence displayed during the Indian Wars between Native Americans and the U.S military may have been avoided and saved many lives if communication was done without many battles between gun violence. Also, the reality vs. myths about the true events surrounding Dodge City, Kansas and its notorious history of gunfights in the lack of law officials in the west. The true events surrounding Dodge City was that many journalist’s visiting arrived with preconceived notions about the town’s history and continued to add negative articles about the town making the citizens of Dodge City unhappy. However, this bad publicity turned out to be great for Dodge City in the distant future creating the popular culture of how the West is seen today.

The myth about violence and lawlessness in the west is that there was always not any law officials around, allowing freedom for many people to take matters into their own hands without getting in trouble. Films, television and books added to the popular culture about the Old West however, also misinterpreting the truth of the violence and lawlessness in order to entertain its viewers. The violence and lawlessness that is portrayed in The Six Shooter, commercials and Firefly is the cowboys are the ones who run the West. The law doesn’t matter if the hero saves the day by killing the bad guy. In, The Six Shooter episodes the violence and lawlessness is portrayed as having no authority figures near and justice being served by having gunfights resulting in death of the other. An example of this is Red Lawson being out for revenge against Dan for killing his brother back in Texas which inevitably leads Dan to feel the need to protect his family from Lawson and the two men attempting to kill the other first to solve their problem. In the T-Mobile commercial the cowboys are the bad guys riding into town on their horses scaring the people of the town. Until one cowboy no longer wants to “control” people and leaves the other “big wireless carriers” to stop restricting people from getting the wireless service they want. In episode 5: Safe of Firefly the violence and lawlessness is shown as having gunfights when a situation goes array and that the law officials will do any means necessary to catch anyone who has broken the law. The role of violence or threat in solving problems in the West portrayed in the Six Shooter episodes, commercials and Firefly is one fights their own battle with violence adding onto the myths about the west truly being so lawless that actions faced no consequences if justice is served. Dime novels became popular in 1860s creating myths about the west however, it was Mark Twain’s memoir that began to start over exaggerating the myths about the west. According to Mark Twain’s memoir it was based on a fictional town controlled by ruthless gangs and a men who has a history of killing someone was seen as attractive. The legend of the violence and lawlessness of the Old West is that gunfights represented how some settled disputes and that everyone in the west carried guns at all time and knew how to shoot.

The perception over time about the Old West has changed people perspective and clouded their judgement to tell what reality or a myth is. In the 1800s during the Wild West, a time where dime novels were most popular gave people an understanding of life in the west even traveling Wild West shows. The 1950s there were many films and books written about the Wild West that changed people’s insight to tell the differences of reality verses a myth. Most western films had identical ideas of how the final showdown between the hero cowboy and the villain would be depicted to express the violence in the Old West. Today, the reality and the myths about the Old West created an impact on Americans about the history the idea of taking the law into their own hands fascinates some about life where there is freedom and not being told to follow all the laws set in place. The myth about the violence and lawlessness in the West says that the times were unwatched by law officials and romanced the idea of a gunfight between 2 men with a tumbleweed flying through the wind to settle conflicts. The reality of the violence in Dodge City, Kansas was that the town was founded in 1872 and in mid-1873, when local authorities arrived to take control, damage had already been done (by then the price of anarchy amounted between 16 and 19 documented murders, justifiable homicides, or manslaughter). Thus, with this one bad killing season the created the myth giving Dodge City, Kansas an infamous history of violent murderers.

The legends about the Old West still appeal to people because some may idolize how life was different when there was a sense of freedom that many people still wish was here today. The rise of popular life in the west is that it continues to captivate audiences for generations shown through movies, books, and pictures (such images pervade American culture, but they are as old as the West itself: novels, rodeos and Wild West shows mythologized). The American Frontier is a symbol of freedom to most because of the lawlessness also the dangerous time due to the lack of law officials the man crimes of violence taken place. For others it is a time of the injustice towards the Native Americans pushing them further away from land that was originally theirs just to create space for new civilization in the West. The reason people today still find the Western Frontier interesting is that the reality and the myths create a sort of entertainment and distracts people from the way America is now. Still in today’s age if someone thinks of the West in America one automatically links guns, horses, cowboys and Indians, open land, and country life with no cities in sight.

In conclusion, the reality of the American Frontier is different than the exaggerated myths about how the times were in the Old West. The Western Frontier was indeed dangerous making it common for one to own a gun, but also violence was highly preventable from happening when law officials were around. However, the west being open land made it incredibly hard during this time period for law officials to enforce the law allowing many to enjoy the freedom of the lawlessness presence making violence easier to accomplish. The myths surrounding how free the west truly was is exaggerated as many towns had law officials and gunfights were not happening on a regular basis. The idea of the Old West brings joy to many still as it was a time of new beginnings for some to reinvent themselves and the freedom of life on open land. 

16 August 2021
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