The Time: America's great expansion westward, ca 1770 - 1890
The Stage: The ever-moving Western frontier, the American West between the Mississippi and the Pacific
- wild savages who spend their last powers ferociously fighting a losing battle against civilization
- lone cattleherds who love justice and freedom more than their own lives
- lawless men carrying guns, who sometimes turn out to have a heart of gold
, sometimes to lack one altogether.
Miners of precious metals
- hopeful dreamers who forever sift the soil
, hoping somehow to get rich through their toil
- wagon trains of brave little folk who have come to make farms of the big, wild prairie
, The Cavalry
, Texas longhorn
, bounty hunters
The Wild West is a tall tale and a glorious history of America, known to every citizen of the US and far beyond. It is far from truth - the image of the cowboy is glorified and romanticised, the Indian fights and slaughters magnified so much one wouldn't expect a single Native to be alive by now. The concept has been like the jar of Sarepta, full of inspiration for the still alluring Western genre of movies, comics and literature.
The humble beginnings of the Wild West were made by a brave band of fur traders who slowly penetrated the untamed land beyond the Appalachians. They found paths and lived among the Indians, sometimes in peace, sometimes not. An Eastern public, eager for tales from the wilderness, absorbed tales of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson without questions. The first heroes were born.
The real starting point, perhaps, was the gold rush of 1849, which brought a whole society of cunning and star-eyed American dreamers all the way to California. New towns sprang up wherever the latest find had been reported as young men from throughout the world came to try their luck. In a society where both selfishness and liquor were strong, fights and lawlessness seemed to be the norm. With time, however, miner settlements either developed through vigilantic tar-and-feathering mobs to a stable community, or became abandoned ghost towns of broken hopes.
Few sourdoughs actually got rich from their finds, but in the meantime others had realised that there were more ways to prosperity. The Great Plains turned out not be such a Great American Desert after all, but could be made into rich farmland through intense labour. And so the trains of settlers set out, through terrain they did not know, into the hunting fields of the Indians.
The original owners of America were fed up with being removed, and now struck back in several Indian Wars that took the life of many Americans and even more Indians. With the near extinction of the buffalo, their main source for food and clothing, our brave friends finally resigned to a life in a reservation or assimilation.
With the buffalo and those pesky natives gone, the Plains also looked inviting to large herds of cattle, and investors soon fulfilled that particular dream. Cowboys were sent out to lead the mass of the cattle from grazing land to butcher and back. A fence-cutting war ensued, as small farmers and BIG fought over 'common' land.
The end of the Wild West was declared when the 1890 Census showed that there was no visible frontier, with a thin population of less than 2 people per square mile, left. But the West was far from gone.
Spinners of Tales
'That thar might be true but I hain't got no reckerlection of it.' (Kit Carson)
First among the literary inventors of the Wild West was James Fenimore Cooper, whose Leatherstocking Tales (including Last of the Mohicans) have become classics of the genre. Another early and celebrated describer of the wild land just outside of civilization was Bret Harte, who wrote the stories The Luck of Roaring Camp and The Outcasts of Poker Flat. Seeing the success of these and other authors, publishers of dime novels soon realised the market for Western stories and commissioned a host of writers to pen them. Among the people who found that the West was indeed a goldmine was Edward Zane Carroll Judson, who made Buffalo Bill into a legend, with good help from the man himself. After the first Western movie The Great Train Robbery met with success in 1903, the scene was set for an avalanche of similar movies and the hero worship of actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
- founder of the feared and respected Pinkerton
- girl with a gun who knew how to use it
Billy the Kid
- ruthless outlaw who was made even worse by Pat Garrett
, the sheriff who shot him
- heroic hunter of buffaloes and Indian, a larger-than-life hero who starred in his own authentic Wild West show
- longtime gangster who never was caught by the law
- girl with a gun who defied social norms of the time
- A Texas Cowboy
, and first among those to publish his memoirs
- fur trader who went into the West in the beginning, moving ever westward as the frontier followed in his tracks
- victim at the Alamo
, made into a fur-clad hero by the 1950s media
and Jesse James
- notorious gangster who terrorised the west for a number of years
John Charles Fremont
- self-titled 'Pathfinder
', American hero who created the legends of himself and Kit Carson
John Wesley Hardin
- feared gunman who killed 20 people or so
- fur trader, path finder, Indian fighter and legend
- giant lumberjack of American folktales
- legendary cowboy teacher and advisor
Richard Kyle Fox
- editor of the National Police Gazette
which drew people's interest to the lawless west
- wild Indian who performed at Buffalo Bill's Wild West
for a while
Wild Bill Hickok
- honourable sheriff who kept law and order - when he wasn't drunk
Abilene, Kansas - the first cowtown
Boot Hill - Wild West cemetary
Pecos - (needs a node)
Rio Grande - the river which bordered the land and the law
Tombstone - famous for O.K. Corral and a certain gunfight
Virginia City - a true gold rush town
for a proper shootout
Miss anything? /msg me. A noder never misses a target.