The Wild West commands a mythical sway over the American imagination and stirs a certain kind longing in our hearts – a longing for the open frontier and for freedom and adventure. This is why the Western genre – be it in film, television, novels or video games – has never disappeared and is still alive and well today.
Of course, a big part of our culture’s romanticizing of the Old West are the guns. Just as there is an aura of mystique that surrounds the Old West genre, so too does the same aura surround the Old West guns. This interest largely began in the 1950s due to the influence of TV shows like Maverick and Gunsmoke and continues today due to the aforementioned ongoing popularity of the Western genre. Since many of the guns originally manufactured in that era are not readily available for purchase, the replica industry has emerged to fill the demand and to fuel the romantic fantasies of everyone who grew up playing cowboys and Indians. Most of these replicas are manufactured in Italy by companies like Uberti and imported by companies like Cimarron Firearms. These replicas not only look just like the real McCoys but shoot just like them too.
Fiction of the Wild West: The Western
Perhaps one of the things that helps keep the mythology of the Old West alive in our minds is the Western genre in storytelling. It appears in all media spanning film, television, literature and now increasingly in video games and comic books as well.
The genre has its roots in literature. One of the earliest novels to attain widespread popularity was The Virginian (1902) by the author Owen Wister, known as the “father of Western fiction.” Authors like Zane Grey and, later, Louis L’Amour also helped to popularize the genre.
Western literature established the conventions of the genre but it was arguably the Western film that cemented it status as a modern mythology. While Western movies did well during the silent film era they experienced a period of downturn with the advent of sound. It saw a resurgence of popularity in the late 1930s with films starring the likes of popular Hollywood actors such as Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn and John Wayne. In the 60s, Clint Eastwood and the Spaghetti Westerns made their mark on the genre. And in recent years, the vocal enthusiasm of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino for the genre has further helped to ensure that the genre remain relevant.
Increasingly, in the 2000s, the Western video game has been gaining popularity due to blockbuster hits like Red Dead Redemption (2010) and the Call of Juarez series.
Sport of the Wild West: Cowboy Action Shooting
Cowboy Action Shooting (or CAS) is a sport that started in California in the 80s. It is now practiced widely and is sanctioned by organizations such as the National Congress of Old West Shooters.
In CAS contestants make their way through a shooting range and are scored according to time and accuracy. A big draw to Cowboy Action Shooting is the use of era-appropriate costumes and replicas of Old West guns: single-action revolvers, lever-action rifles and shotguns (double-barreled or pump action). Generally, contestants are armed with two revolvers, a rifle and a shotgun. In addition, they are required to wear Old West costumes and take on aliases with an Old West flavor.