01/13/06 - the cowboy myth

In today's excerpt - the cowboy myth:

"The mythologizing of the West was consolidated in the immensely popular novels of writers like C.J. Mulford, creator of the absurdly uncowboylike Hopalong Cassidy, and Zane Grey, a New York dentist who knew almost nothing of the West but refused to let that get in the way of a good tale. The first movie western, The Great Train Robbery, appeared in 1903. By the 1920s, westerns accounted for nearly a third of all Hollywood features. But their real peak came in the 1950s on television. During the zenith year, 1959, the American television viewer could choose among twenty-eight western series running on network television—an average of four a night.

"It is decidedly odd that these figures of the West, whose lives consisted mostly of herding cows across lonely plains and whose idea of ultimate excitement was a bath and a shave and a night on the town in a place like Abilene, should have exerted such a grip on the popular imagination.

"They certainly didn't spend a lot of time shooting each other. In the ten years that Dodge City was the biggest, rowdiest cow town in the world, only thirty-four people were buried in the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery, and almost all of them died of natural causes. Incidents like the shootout at the O.K. Corral or the murder of Wild Bill Hickock became famous by dint of their being so unusual."


Bill Bryson


Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States


First Avon Books


Copyright 1994 by Bill Bryson


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