The ultimate nobody.
The life and times of Arch Stanton mean pretty much nothing to anyone. His was a fictional name with significance in a chess game between outlaws in the film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. He was, by all accounts, the name of a soldier who fought in the American Civil War and died during the conflict. Buried in a grave in a cemetary for war dead called Sad Hill, his only claim to fame was being buried next to $200,000 in Confederate gold.
"Sure I'm sure."
The Good, Clint Eastwood, and The Ugly, Eli Wallach, travel together in search of this large sum of money. Clint knows the name on the grave, while Wallach knows the name of the cemetary. They come upon the tragic scene of two armies fighting against each other in trenches over a bridge with little significance. It is reminiscent of Hamlet's speech about armies fighting over a meaningless piece of tundra. The captain leading the Union army has descended into drunkeness and depression after seeing so many men die in a pointless and never ending battle. They decide to blow up the bridge for him. It isn't a completely giving gesture. They need to get to the other side of the river and that is too complicated with the two armies in constant battle. While stringing together the explosives, the two outlaws decide to share their secret information. Eli Wallach names the cemetary. Clint Eastwood tells him that "Arch Stanton" is the name on the grave.
"We're gonna have to earn it."
After The Ugly learns the name on the grave, he decides to race to the cemetary to get the gold before The Good gets there. Clint Eastwood takes his time. As Eli Wallach runs through the cemetary in a long, drawn out scene, he runs past hundreds of graves. The casualties of war, none of them more significant than the last. Money is all that matters. Eventually he finds the grave marked "Arch Stanton" and begins digging, with, of all things, a piece of the cross used to mark a neighboring grave.
The arrival of The Bad, Lee Van Cleef, who has been searching for this gold for some time, using less than savory methods, finds him thinking he holds all the cards. With his gun trained on The Good and The Ugly, he demands they both dig for his treasure. Clint grins and tells him he won't find anything in Arch Stanton's grave and kicks open the lid to reveal the skeleton of a long dead man.
Who is Arch Stanton?
The truth that Clint Eastwood's character knows, that no one else has managed to guess, is that the gold is buried in the grave marked "unknown" next to Arch Stanton's. Had anyone managed to figure out that knowing the name of Arch Stanton meant the name was somehow related to the quest, they may have figured it out.
We are surrounded by death. What more is there than three outlaws gunning for each other for the right to the gold? Does it matter. Human life, in an outlaw world surrounded by the brutality of war, is not held in very high regard. There is no name written on the stone that they duel for the right to read. There is no name on the grave. There is no one in this grave, only saddlebags filled with gold coins. This is all that matters.
I often think of Arch Stanton. Not necessarily as a fictional pile of bones in a crude pine coffin. I think of him as the ultimate "nobody" in a world full of names and faces we never know, understand or really care about. There is no fame for the 1,379th casualty of a war. There is no fame for the latest highway fatality. There is no fame for the honest family man who died of heart failure last summer. In a world of unknowns, we are known only to those we surround ourselves with. Perhaps Arch Stanton had a wife and children. Perhaps he was a young man who marched off to war and found his life ended much earlier than he expected. Maybe he had a sister and parents who cared about him and missed him after he was gone. Or maybe he was just a pile of bones in a pine box. A statistic.