Intro to the American West
November 13, 2015
Gun Slingin’ Lifestyle
Violence and the use of guns are a big part of American history and our current events. Cowboys and robbers with their sagging holsters and revolvers going around shooting everything that moves outside of the saloon was just a day in the life, right? Savage humans living their gritty lifestyles as portrayed in many movies, songs, and books, proves to be a common misconception or perhaps a myth, if one looks back on the historical accounts of our past. Cowboys, and men in general, of the Wild West being portrayed as nothing but crazed, bloodthirsty murderers that carry a six-shot revolver has proven to be anything close to the truth.
In the movie Django Unchained directed by Quentin Tarantino we see a portrayal of many different types of people but with common traits such as anger, revenge, and killing. The movie follows a black slave by the name of Django who becomes a cold hearted badass out for blood against basically everyone. With a revolver on his side, Django shoots anyone and everyone that embodies racism. Although this is a Quentin Tarantino film, which means that his plot may be a bit exaggerated, his basic cliche Wild West notion isn’t too far off from other films. For example, True Grit and The Good the Bad and the Ugly both include “shoot ‘em up” types of plots.
Although we as an entertained audience may not know any better, this is not exactly how the west played out in history. Gun laws were possibly even more strict than in the nineteenth and twentieth century. “Starting in 1878, some 25 years into the westward expansion, action was finally taken — even places as wild as Dodge City started posting signs that said “The carrying of firearms is strictly prohibited”.” (Nakumura;Cracked). As a society today that believes anything that is placed before them, it is easy to understand that most would believe the American West was a place of chaos and little respect for anything. But in fact, Eugene Hollon from the Texas State Historical Association wrote, “The American frontier was a far more civilized, more peaceful and safer place than American society today” (independent institute, Hollon).
A six-shot revolver was supposedly the common weapon of choice in the time of the cowboy. Surprisingly, they were inaccurate and somewhat impractical for the certain people who needed firearms. The more realistic and popular guns were the rifles such as the 1873 Winchester and shotguns such as the ‘coach gun’ (which is a snub nose). These firearms had better accuracy and were much more powerful than handguns. The common myth of gunslinging and shootouts that took place in the middle of the street was something that just didn’t happen. In many novels, comic books, and especially films such as High Noon or Tombstone, we see a heavy portrayal of the quick firing, squinty eyed cowboys. In fact, the apparel and name of the so called “gunslinger” such as the revolver holster that rode low on the waist was not a common article since the revolver was hardly used because of how difficult it was to fire accurately.
In cattle towns in the late eighteen hundreds, it was common for gun violence to be prevalent. The cattle towns served as a battle arena where anything goes including homicide. A walk through the town, one would see the normal crowd of railroad workers, soldiers, gamblers, alcoholics, and prostitutes. In Dodge City, Texas in the years “1872-1873, news correspondents reported the violent deaths there of nine men, with another three as possibles” (The Cattle Towns, Dykstra). Although for the most part in the eighteen hundreds the use of firearms was predominantly served as a tool, there are many scenarios (such as the ones with cattle towns) where guns and homicide was not subject to mess around with.
The situation with firearms in the past couple hundred years has been misinterpreted and become somewhat of a myth. According to media and other forms of entertainment, guns and violence were a thing of everyday life, but truth be told the gun laws were much more strict. The common misconception of these “gunslingin’” hooligans gave many people the idea that shooting someone for no good reason was just a day in the life.
Myth: That everyone and their brother carried a revolver/gun, and that violence was prevalent to daily life.
“5 Ridiculous Myths Everyone Believes About the Wild West.”Cracked.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
“Myth-busting about Gun Use in the Wild West.” Fabius Maximus Website. N.p., 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
“The Culture of Violence in the American West: Myth versus Reality.” The Independent Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
Django Unchained. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2013.