The American West: The Invention of a Myth

By David H. Murdoch | Go to book overview

Chapter Six

The West's Response

Well, maybe we didn't talk that way before Mr. Wister wrote his book, but we sure all talked that way after the book was published.

Anonymous cowboy

I'm being paid to lie about the West. I'm going back home where I can do honest work.

Maynard Dixon, 1912.

... the free-running reprobate... becomes a very hero of democracy

Emmett Dalton, 1931.

There is, wrote Kipling, nothing quite so terrible as an idea whose time has come. In the first decade of the twentieth century the myth of the West did not merely flourish: it escaped the hands of its creators and became entrenched in the collective unconscious of America. To some cynical contemporaries public passion for the West looked no more than a craze, and in some areas the cynics were right. A fad for Western plays engendered by the success of The Virginian on stage died out about 1908. But Western drama just switched to the cinema, a medium which would eventually reach audiences immeasurably larger than the theatre's. The film industry in turn relied for its scripts, as it would in all genres indefinitely, on novels and Western novels were the literary growth industry of the era. Frank H. Spearman published the first of his Whispering Smith stories in 1906, Clarence E. Mulford created Hopalong Cassidy and the Bar 20 in 1907 and Eugene Manlove Rhodes began his career as a Western novelist with Good Men and True in 1910. Emerson Hough had written a history of the cowboy as early as 1897 and published his first novel before The Virginian, but reached his peak with

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The American West: The Invention of a Myth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • The American West - The Invention of a Myth *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Preface *
  • Chapter One - History through the Looking Glass *
  • Chapter Two - Myths and Heroes *
  • Chapter Three - Manufacturing Images *
  • Chapter Four - The Knights of the Range *
  • Chapter Five - The Myth-Makers *
  • Chapter Six - The West's Response *
  • Chapter Seven - The West of the Politicians *
  • Epilogue *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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