The Wild West

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    The American Old West was the land west of the Mississippi River roughly in or around the latter half of the nineteenth century; specifically we might start it at the California gold rush of 1848 and end it at the U.S. Census Bureau's official recognizance in 1890 of the end of the frontier. This setting is home to a definitively American genre almost as stylized and standardized as Commedia Dell'Arte. The Wild West is basically the Theme Park Version or fictionalization of this setting. It has its own set of specialized subtropes, including a wide assortment of stock character types and its own specialized locations.

    The Theme Park Version of the old west is a land of Indians, grizzled prospectors, scenic bluffs, Conestoga wagons, tough, shotgun-toting pioneers and buxom, be-feathered dance-hall girls. Also home to very lucrative sugar glass and balsa-wood chair industries, judging by the number of bar brawls which occur during a single episode of a typical western series. Bad guys and anti-heroes wear black hats, good guys and sheriffs wear white hats, shootouts on Main Street occur with the frequency of at least one an hour -- with the sun at high noon each time -- and everyone drinks sarsaparilla or whiskey.

    The real Old West was nothing like The Theme Park Version (which was originally the creation of 19th-century "dime novels"). There weren't any huge shootouts, quickdraw duels were rare, and not exclusive to desert-like "western" areas. Plus, since many guns were very inaccurate in those days, they sometimes tended to happen in significantly closer quarters than they do in fiction. The average Western town had 1.5 murders per year, and most of those weren't done with guns. The Wild West was not so wild -- it was boring, in fact.

    See also The Western. A popular subject of The Parody, and surprisingly popular outside America. Frequently overlaps with The Savage South. Twilight of the Old West is a sub-trope about the dying embers of the Wild West flickering out during the early years of the New Old West.

    Popular tropes from this time period are:
    • Anti-Hero: ...would draw before the villain.
    • Badass Tropes:
    • Bar Brawl
    • Black and Gray Morality: The villains are usually ruthless, greedy and despicable characters. On the other hand the "heroes" are not exactly noble guys either. See Anti-Hero above.
    • Bounty Hunter
    • California Doubling: The geography of the American West is varied, but most movies tend to take place in Monument Valley. Spaghetti Westerns often used the Tabanas Desert in Andalusia, Spain to double for America.
    • Cool Train: So cool that if you find railroad clipart or caricatures, chances are, it's designed around the kind of trains used in the American West.
    • Cowboy Episode: When The Wild West seeps into a series that isn't The Western.
    • Crapsack World: Rampant lawlessness. Constant war with Indians. Everyone carries guns. Why did anyone ever romanticize this period?
    • The Drifter / Knight Errant
    • Friendly Local Chinatown: This time period was when Chinese people were starting to immigrate to the US, forming the first ever Chinatowns. Expect to see a Chinese Launderer.
    • Guns Akimbo: A Justified Trope -- with the single-action revolvers of the period, it was quicker to fire one gun, then fire the second while you were cocking the first. It was just as inaccurate as it is today, though.
    • The Gunslinger
    • Historical Domain Character: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Frank & Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Geronimo, Buffalo Bill, among many others.
    • Humans Are White: Although historically about a third of all cowboys were black or Hispanic (And the word "cowboy" itself originally referred specifically to black farmhands), it wasn't until the 1960s that any black people started showing up in Westerns, and not until the 1970s that they started being main cast members.
    • Injun Country
    • Kirk's Rock: Frequently used in Westerns due to its convenience to Hollywood.
    • Mobile Kiosk: Most of the alleged doctors in the Wild West would travel by wagon from town to town selling a 'miracle elixir' said to cure whatever ailment they could come up with. These show up in Westerns from time to time.
    • Race Lift: For every time someone says Crazy Horse's father was white, even though he inherited his name from his father.
    • Riding Into the Sunset
    • Run for the Border
    • The Savage South: Typically there is more lawlessness and danger in the southern areas than the northern ones.
    • Showdown At High Noon
    • Smoking Barrel Blowout
    • Tar and Feathers
    • Throw-Away Guns: Revolvers are slow to reload, so a good gunfighter will have several to draw from as the previous goes empty.
    • Unfortunate Implications: To the point that some viewers assume any work set in this era is racist. This aspect of the genre was a major focus of many of the spaghetti Westerns' deconstructions of it.
    • The Western: Naturally enough.
    • Western Characters: The full collection of stock characters of Westerns are listed on this page.

    Works that are set in this time period are:

    Comic Books

    • Blueberry
    • Jonah Hex
      • Although, interestingly, not in the movie. It's apparently set in the Wild South, unless Jonah's horse is extraordinarily fast- he travels from the Old-West-style town he's in to the villain's lair in about a day. The villain's lair is an old confederate fort, on the Atlantic coast.
    • Lucky Luke
    • Tex Willer
    • MARVEL's Rawhide Kid.
    • Blaze Of Glory, a MARVEL miniseries depicting the final fate of many of their Western heroes.
    • MARVEL's Two Gun Kid.
    • MARVEL's original Ghost Rider (the one who dressed like a ghost, not the fiery skull guy).



    • One of the downtime locations in Time Scout is Denver, 1885. A lot of people go down there for Wild West shooting competitions.
    • The Alloy of Law has the Roughs, which are basically a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of the Wild West.
    • Many of the novels of J. T. Edson, including all of The Floating Outfit, Waco and Waxahachie Smith series.
    • While he is now better known for fantasy, Robert E. Howard wrote many, many Western tales, both humorous and serious.

    Live-Action TV


    Tabletop Games


    • The Girl of the Golden West, play by David Belasco and opera by Puccini

    Theme Parks

    Video Games

    Western Animation

    Web Comics

    Web Original