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October 08, 2007

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One More Thought On The Old West

What follows is not my original thinking. I read something like it years and years ago. Apologies to whomever's thought I am borrowing.

One of the staple plots of the Western movie is the town that is held hostage by bad guys, the classic example being High Noon. In this 1951 classic, an entire town collectively wets itself because a bad guy named Frank Miller and two equally bad friends are coming to settle old scores with Marshall Will Kane. Kane can't get anyone to help him, and surivives only because he is played by Gary Cooper, who can't get killed off in the end.

The real Old West was populated by the bold, the daring, the desperate, and the violent. These were the people who had the cojones to leave the East and take their chances. They were very tough characters for the most part, and they had very little to lose. Many were also Civil War veterans, and were no strangers to guns and their proper use.

The best example of what really went on took place in Northfield, Minnesota in 1876, when Jesse James and his gang of fun-loving cretins decided to hold up the bank. That meant they were going to steal money that people had sweated for and saved, and it pissed off the locals so badly that the whole town armed itself and proceeded to shoot the hell out of the James boys.

Ah well, Gary Cooper looked great in a tux.


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Jesse James rode into Northfield, he met a bunch of Civil War Vets who decided to shoot back. Hollywood wants youto beleive in the myth of Jesse James. James rode with Bloddy Bill Anderson and Quantrills Raiders int he Civil War; these groups were know for atrocities and barberic actions during the war. At Northfiled, the James gang killed in cold blood Joseph Heywood, a bank teller and Civil War Vet when he said he could not open the safe. Heywood had a 3 year old daughter.

James was a thug.

Black Rifle Addict

Same theme in today's movies, which as Dave pointed out there were a number of civil war vets living in the old west towns so I find it hard to believe a town could be held "hostage" by a few bad guys?
Good old Hollywood!


DP and other writers,

Think your thought was gleamed from one of the writer/historians on the Old West series aired on the History Channel.

In reality I think there’s too much concerned over “plagiarism” in this day and age of websites and internet. Whatever someone writes or composes is open to “rip-off” almost as soon as it’s written or performed. I think it’s more important how the information is used. After all Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Greek playwrights.

If there is a literary sin it’s conjuring up fake information and passing it off as fact. Such as that professor that faked the information on colonial access to arms to prove a personal anti-gun agenda.

BTW-Since I’m an active performing musician I shamelessly “borrow” from Freddie King, T-Bone Walker, and Keith Richards. Hopefully I use their material well. Tough to use footnotes in live performance.


Well I may not be old and crotchety enough to remember Gary Cooper in a tux (No offense, Dave), but the apparant "fact" that ever Old West town was populated by human sheep has always been high on my personal annoyance list. I remember watching westerns and shouting at the screen "For God's sake, somebody just shoot the ba$tard! In real life at least a half a dozen people would have put a bullet in the back of his head by now!"

Dave Petzal

To Mark-1: Nope, it was long before that. Which probaably proves that there is no original thought anywhere.

Glad to see Keith Richards get some credit for his chops. Do they still say chops?

WA Mtnhunter

I think the way Hollyweird has portrayed the Old West was a fantasy of the time. Most of the heroes of the movies had a checkered past and some were just plain outlaws, some of which turned into lawmen. I doubt any of the victims of W.H. Bonney, the James brothers, Cole Younger, John Wesley Hardin, and the others would have found the romance of the outlaws appealing.

You are correct. They were thugs and scum bags.

Steve C

As the saying goes, it’s never not about money.

Old West towns didn’t spring up because of cultural cuteness or that’s where the territory borders were. They sprang up because of gold, silver, lumber, cattle, sheep, railroads, trade or anything else that put money into pockets. Money meant big players and little players, winners and losers.

Just about every town out west was dominated by powerful people. Just like the cities back east. And just like today except that there are fewer Gary Coopers.

Ralph the Rifleman

To Mark-1: Music is timeless my friend, and I salute the music talents you are keeping company with.
Hollywood, it seems, had a much less darker side I remember growing up as a kid.Maybe the media wasn't as zealous to uncover dirt as they are now? I don't know, but I tend to give much more credit to the musicians, for I am envious of their talants.
Just in case God is listening, I would like to have music playing/singing talents in my 2nd life in the event reincarnation does exist?


I read a book--the title escapes me--about the "old west" sometime ago, and the book made a very controversial point that I had not thought of before.

It was the author's contention that neither the Winchester rifle, nor men and women of stealy resolve won the west. Instead, he argued that the invention and subsequent use of barbed wire won the west. His reasoning was that barbed wire allowed farmers and ranchers to establish property lines and keep livestock in and bad guys out.


Many thanks for the kind words. I’m really a disabled USAF Officer with a 2nd career as a performing musician. Good thing I have the pension with such an unreliable, source of supplementary income. Still it’s good work. With a good performance everyone comes away happy. More than I can say working in a Court Room.

DP: Keith Richards is genius with technical expertise as well as musical knowledge. He has those three special notes. …and Chops are still: chops.

Ralph the Rifleman: You do need at least two lifetimes to get it in Music. Music is just as intricate as the Law or Medicine, but there’s no real formal training past a certain point except by playing the roadhouses, juke joints, and other houses-of-the-un-holy. Infinite. Infinite.

Eric  at Gunsite

'High Noon'--like all drama--was drama. Shakespeare said drama had only 2 formulae:
1. A stranger comes to town, or...
2. Someone sets off on a quest.

Yo Dave! Stop analyzing and agonizing and just enjoy it, for once in a while.

Clay Cooper

Mark-1 an USAF Officer?
What did you do Mark?


Probably what all USAF personnel do, sit around in air conditioned comfort and talk about being in the "military"


Clay: Obsolete and Ancient, Cold War Warrior-type in missile launch and electronic warfare. Some staff work, but mostly operations.


Jesus! You talk about missing the boat: "High Noon" is a metaphor...

Although at one level, "High Noon" IS a variation on the “western” formula, replete with symbols of good and bad, a requisite moral “code”, etc.

However, on a grander scale, the movie is nothing less than a study in human nature: It illustrates how individuals in a civil society tend to respond in the face of a serious external threat.

Indeed, it demonstrates how creative human nature can be when rationalizing its own timidity and inaction, particularly when action is warranted but poses inherent risk. In this regard, the film is timeless.

Nowhere does the timelessness of the film seem more apropos than in the context of the Cold War, and the serious threat posed by an expansionist Soviet system in the latter half of the 20th Century.

And nowhere has an exception to the norm been more profoundly demonstrated than by the man who won the Cold War: A man who loved the message of “High Noon” and a man who was very close friends with its leading star.


To Mark - 1

"----and other houses of the unholy.Infinite. Infinite."

'The Nostalgia Of The Infinite'---T.Monk & S.Rollins. 1954. Greenwich Village, NYC. Black Gunslingers w/chops. BeBop.

Dave Petzal

To Eric at Gunsite: I'm paid to agonize and analyze.

To lastearlofshaw: It's actually a metaphor of the McCarthy era.


Mark-1, Keith Richards is also an accomplished jazz pianist (he plays on a lot of Stones stuff). How are your piano skills, or are you a guitar man only? Stay out of the coconut trees.

Tom Obuhanych

I live in Cody, Wyoming...and there are good historians who dredge up western history here. One real bucket of blood was a town named
"Arland" about 25 miles from Cody,
perhaps the most violent, bloody town in the old west. Clay Gibbons, the historian did research & gave a talk on what he learned. A lot of the shootings, killings revolved around "The Lady in Blue", the town's cathouse madam. Yes, there wasn't the movies "romantic" version of the old west...revenge killings, odd characters, etc. that was the norm in Arland.

Tom Obuhanych

I live in Cody, Wyoming...and there are good historians who dredge up western history here. One real bucket of blood was a town named
"Arland" about 25 miles from Cody,
perhaps the most violent, bloody town in the old west. Clay Gibbons, the historian did research & gave a talk on what he learned. A lot of the shootings, killings revolved around "The Lady in Blue", the town's cathouse madam. Yes, there wasn't the movies "romantic" version of the old west...revenge killings, odd characters, etc. that was the norm in Arland.


No Dave:

That was an interpretation given it by the Hollywood commies after they were exposed for the subversive slime they were.

I have labored for years to try to understand how it fits the historical record, and do not think the metaphor works at all...


KJ: I can still bang out chords on piano. Started out on piano and french horn, but the girls in high school weren't impressed with the low, melodic tones of a French Horn. Hit guitar and pop music....but still didn't get the chicks. Got grabbed by blues after playing about every tune the Stones and the Animals did and went down into the pocket. After attending my 40th class reunion, I'm shocked to see I'm still a music geek playing blues and jazz.

Who's this Muddy Waters, and why is he still speaking to me?


I too, can't help analyzing movies. Bear in mind that Hollywood is entertainment, pure and simple, with profit thrown in. Not much different from William Shakespeare who sometimes made historical mistakes in his writings and plays. Zane Grey's old west novels were based loosely on true historical happenings with a lot of journalistic license applied to it. Open Range is still one of the best current westerns yet.

Ricardo Rodríguez

Talking about westerns and human nature, I vaguely remember a John Ford movie named "what is not forgiven" or something like that, where very odd things happen involving a community and a family with rumors about their young daughter. A terrible secret is hiden, so terrible as to kill a local crazy old man who could make it public. At the end, it happens that the girl is an indian, and her brother and his band of braves come to take her back. There is a shooting and all the indians got killed and the girl stays with the family, but that´s only the last 10 minutes of the movie. What the story was all about was more like the tormented minds of these people who took one of the most hated an not even considered human as their own, and the fear of being discovered by the townspeople and face their wrath.

Clay Cooper

Mark-1 which ICBM? Titans perhaps?

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