The Myth of the Old West

2022 Words5 Pages

Over the years, the idea of the western frontier of American history has been unjustly and falsely romanticized by the movie, novel, and television industries. People now believe the west to have been populated by gun-slinging cowboys wearing ten gallon hats who rode off on capricious, idealistic adventures. Not only is this perception of the west far from the truth, but no mention of the atrocities of Indian massacre, avarice, and ill-advised, often deceptive, government programs is even present in the average citizen’s understanding of the frontier. This misunderstanding of the west is epitomized by the statement, “Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis was as real as the myth of the west. The development of the west was, in fact, A Century of Dishonor.” The frontier thesis, which Turner proposed in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition, viewed the frontier as the sole preserver of the American psyche of democracy and republicanism by compelling Americans to conquer and to settle new areas. This thesis gives a somewhat quixotic explanation of expansion, as opposed to Helen Hunt Jackson’s book, A Century of Dishonor, which truly portrays the settlement of the west as a pattern of cruelty and conceit. Thus, the frontier thesis, offered first in The Significance of the Frontier in American History, is, in fact, false, like the myth of the west. Many historians, however, have attempted to debunk the mythology of the west. Specifically, these historians have refuted the common beliefs that cattle ranging was accepted as legal by the government, that the said business was profitable, that cattle herders were completely independent from any outside influence, and that anyone could become a cattle herder. In order to p... ... middle of paper ... the American government and rightfully rebelled. This rebellion, unlike the others, was successful, as Red Cloud forced the Bozeman Trail to be closed. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the American Government’s oppression of Native Americans. All in all, the treatment of the American Indian during the expansion westward was cruel and harsh. Thus, A Century of Dishonor conveys the truth about the frontier more so than the frontier thesis. Additionally, the common beliefs about the old west are founded in lies and deception. The despair that comes with knowing that people will continue to believe in these false ideas is epitomized by Terrell’s statement, “Perhaps nothing will ever penetrate the haze of puerile romance with which writers unfaithful to their profession and to themselves have surrounded the westerner who made a living in the saddle” (Terrell 182).

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