Matt Allen
November 2016.

Why does the Wild West have such a grip on the American imagination?

1 answer

It’s our thing. Europe has knights in shining armour, Japan has its ninjas, the Caribbean has its pirates, and the US has the Wild West. That era (between 1865 and 1895) combines a lot of thrilling and admirable qualities: discovery, adventure, bravery, war, lawlessness, fortunes made and fortunes lost. There’s also the over-arching theme of the Wild West, which was the controversial struggle with the Native Americans over the land itself.

This period contains an amazing field of characters. You have explorers, native cultures, cavalry, cowboys, gunfighters, outlaws and lawmen. The scenery is majestic and even the true to life stories that haven’t been corrupted by Hollywood are amazing as well. Such as Bass Reeves, the African American US Marshal who was dispatched to bring in his own son after he had shot and killed his wife.

I think all of that has combined to gives us – to some, not to everyone – an identity as a people. It contained individuals who were tough and brave, and willing to go to extremes to build their lives and fortunes. By extension they built our nation. Is it an early incarnation of the American Dream? Maybe. All this stuff was happening in the tough years after the American Revolution, and all the English Remittance Men came over during that time. In those days, the oldest son in England inherited the family fortune, but that left everyone else out of luck, so they would come to the US to make a go of it in someway or another.

“The Wild West is a place for creatives to play with, for historians to explore.”

So there were people who stole away as paupers on ships from England. They were just castaways.  Now, their families are still among the leading ranchers of the world today and their fourth or fifth generations are part of the sheep-ranching culture. To me, that’s pretty cool. It’s a romantic non-fiction.

All of this makes for a creative environment for writers, film-makers and musicians. It’s a stunning world too. All of that plays together, and because the characters and storylines are so rich and the scenery is so majestic, it’s a fun place for creatives to play with. It’s a fun place for historians to explore as well because some of the things that happened... Well, you couldn’t have dreamt them up. 

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