Marshall Matt Dillon - An Old-West Hero

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Marshall Matt Dillon - An Old-West Hero


In the 1950s the radio program, Gunsmoke, starred William Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas between 1872 and 1885, when the Santa Fe Railroad reached town and when the Texas cattle drives were forced to end by local farmers. Known as the Queen of the Cow Towns, the Wicked Little City, and the Gomorrah of the Plains, this little town had the reputation for being a hostile, lawless town where the fastest gun ruled (Gunsmoke). The character Marshall Matt Dillon was modeled after the real lawmen such as Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) who tamed Dodge City. Dillon was laid-back, tried to avoid conflicts, and was tough when the need arose.

Gunsmoke includes the talented actors of Howard McNear (Doc), Parley Baer (Chester) Georgia Ellis (Kitty) along with Dillon who makes up the cast of four main characters. Chester is Dillons middle aged helper who is around him often. Everyone goes to see the town physician, Doc, and visitors and friends alike are able to meet Kitty, a saloon girl, at the Texas Trails. Matt Dillon, with a laid-back personality, liked to peruse the town or just sit on a porch with his buddy, Chester, chatting about the days events. One day, as the two are chatting, their friend Kitty walks up to invite them for a drink in the bar. Sure, why not, they reply. Not much happens at times in their small humble town, except when certain people come around and stir up situations where the Marshall has to be involved. Even when at the doctors office getting a piece of lead removed from his leg, Dillon is easy-going and care-free.

When needing to confront someone, Matt Dillon would rather not approach a situation where conflicts might occur. In one episode, Webb Johnson walks up to Dillon and almost defiantly states that just because Dillon has a star on his chest does not make Johnson afraid of him. Dillon just looks at him, not threatened at all. Knowing Johnson is a big fan of the saloon, Dillon avoids the place at all costs. Another morning, while Chester and Dillon are visiting at Dillons desk, a Mr. Cook runs in looking for someone. He says he wants to kill the person, which is a strange comment to say in front of a federal Marshall. Dillon wants to stay out of this seemingly personal brawl, but as a Marshall, his job is to protect people and stop brutal fights.

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Going down to the bar, Dillon finds Johnson at the end of the counter, who is possibly known as Sam Williams by fitting the description Cook gave. Unfortunately, though, after a severe gun fight, Cook is the one that ends up getting shot and killed. To make Dillons life more conflicting and stressful, a girl comes in to testify that she overheard a conversation mentioning that Webb Johnson was sending some kid to do the dirty work of killing Cook. She was afraid of being the next victim. The Longhorn saloon closes until further notice.

Along with a laid-back personality and wanting to avoid confrontation, Marshall Matt Dillon has a tough streak to him. With all the fights he has to break up and stories to solve, a level of toughness is drilled into him after awhile. Sometimes, the situation is not that crucial physically; rather almost mentally such as not trusting or judging a person so quickly by just what you see on the outside. They could be a totally different person altogether on the inside. With being the Marshall of the town, you are guaranteed to hear many, many stories from all sides of the people involved. Staying open-minded and checking all sides before making drastic decisions could not have been easy. In one episode, Dillon has to hear a story from Cook, finds that Sam Williams could be Webb Johnson and then hears later from a girl that a kid was involved in the murder of Cook. Deciphering what was truth and what was fiction took time and determination. Another tough part about being Marshall would be that Dillon had to deal with all the wanted criminals, whether hunting them down or dealing with them in prison. Wanted was a common word on posters that the Marshall had to read and deal with. Finding the courage to hunt them down could not have been an easy achievement, although, he did so heroically.

By looking at Matt Dillon as an example, you begin to see how the old-west heroes lived and worked. He was just another human being who happened to chase criminals and decipher truth from lies. Matt Dillon showed how many men experienced trials and triumphs as they worked to support themselves or a family. They were just another friendly face on the street while looking out for those around them.

Works Cited

Boy. Gunsmoke. Starring William Conrad, Howard McNear, Georgia Ellis, and Parely Baer. Audiocassette. Radio Spirits, (8-01-53)

Jesse. Gunsmoke. Starring William Conrad, Howard McNear, Georgia Ellis, and Parely Baer. Audiocassette. Radio Spirits, (8-22-53)

Gone Straight. . Gunsmoke. Starring William Conrad, Howard McNear, Georgia Ellis, and Parely Baer. Audiocassette. Radio Spirits, (8-29-53)

Gunsmoke: Radio's Last Great Dramatic Series 1999-2003 http://www.northern.edu/wild/th100/gnsmoke.htm


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