To begin, I’ve started my research into my idea for my final project regarding the roles law enforcement and vigilantism played in the West, and like most looks into Western law enforcement and justice, my first stopping point has been the Gunfight at/near/a block from the O.K. Corral. What I always felt to be a rather simple story of officers versus outlaws has quickly spiraled into a complicated weave of family, grudges, town politics, the Civil War, cattlemen vs. ranchers, and much, much more. I really should not have been surprised, considering the most scholarly look into the gunfight I had prior to starting this class was an “edu-tainment” television show. ‘History Actually Much More Complicated Than Hollywood Portrays’ probably won’t lead the New York Times any time soon.
That fictional headline does, however, lead rather well into our author this week: Frederick Jackson Turner, one of the major perpetrators of the West as myth. Turner’s West is one where men were Men, patriotically setting out to conquer both Wilderness and Wild Man in the name of Civilization, Progress, and America. Of course, this West is devoid of women, minorities, and the countless individual motivations we read about last week, and that of the natives is only as Savages to be turned to Civilization. The West as envisioned by Turner, though a sappy story, seems dull and boring compared to the more complex and realistic versions seen in more modern scholarship. Perhaps the emptiness in Turner’s West was made up some by all the capital letters.
Snarky jabs aside, Turner has his own point in time, and scholarship in the almost century since Turner have ripped his idealized version of the West up one side and down the other. Turner’s West has its place in national myth, but myth does not mean history, and real life is certainly not a Hollywood movie or television show.
If it was, I’d certainly demand a much better soundtrack.