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The days when westerns ruled the air

web1_RickHouser.jpgBy Rick Houser

After the discovery of gunpowder and then the invention of the gun, it probably wasn’t long before the invention of the first cap pistols arrived on the scene. With that came the glamorizing of the Wild West and the many ways of selling it to the public began to appear. Even in the 1800’s there were traveling shows that recreated just how the west was won. Most notably was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show that traveled the world re-enacting just how the west was won to the delights of millions.

Movies came upon the scene as a new way of viewing re-enactments and of course the daring tales of the Wild West were one of the biggest themes that grabbed the public interest.. People just loved to see the good guy versus the bad guy. Bank robberies, stagecoach hold-ups and the most exciting part, the gun fights, kept audiences glued to their seats. There was nothing like a good bust-em up and shoot-em up cowboy movie. These movies created stars such as Tom Mix from the silent movies to Gene Autry, who not only beat the bad guy in every movie, but sang in between the fights and shoot-outs. Cowboy movies were top draws in the movie theatres from day one on.

In the 1950’s television was growing into a huge market and of course one of the first topics covered was of the western. In the 50’s and 60’s, westerns were at their high point of popularity. I know because I tried to watch every one that was ever on.

On Saturday night when Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke kept peace in Dodge City, on Sunday when Roy Rogers and Dale Evans did likewise, always with a happy ending as they rode off into the sunset singing “Happy Trails”one more time. Later on Sunday, Ben Cartwright and his boys protected Silver City and the Ponderosa successfully (but it was fatal to fall in love with a Cartwright as a rare disease would prove fatal). On another channel were the Maverick brothers Bret and Bart and they won the west with their wits and gambling prowess.

There wasn’t a night in the week that didn’t show a western and it was amazing that it took this many cowboy heroes and each with a special gimmick to keep the west safe from the bad guys. I often wondered about that but I kept on watching as I figured that I would learn the answer eventually. Some didn’t even use a gun. Jim Bowie used his oversized Bowie knife to prevent crime. Sadly for him he ran out of different ways to do so and his show was short-lived.

Western shows were many and my enthusiasm was sky high to see just how good prevailed every time. I remember one episode of Sugarfoot where he stopped an Indian uprising by having read the Almanac and saw there was to be an eclipse that night and he told the cheif that if the moon disappeared from the sky and he called it back there was to be no fighting and son of a gun it worked. Was there no end to the clever ways the west was won? Of course I hoped not as I just couldn’t get enough of all this action.

It came to me finally. If the west was so bad and the odds of surviving so slim, why did the west exist after a few years? I quickly dropped that thought when a new series began and more new ways to win arrived. I loved this era in television. For over 22 years Matt Dillion and the Cartwrights kept the west a much calmer place to live. Also with the western the writers had to deal with American History and this was a period of time when America wanted to look back at our past and show the public just how hard it was to settle this country and how successful we had been at it.

In every show I ever watched there was a common thread. Each show presented the viewer with a leading character who wore a holster and a Colt 45 pistol. Each star also was the fastest draw in the west (or at least the fastest in his show). As I said in the beginning, ever since the gun and bullets appeared on the scene, we have all been intrigued by them, even though most folks today aren’t too wild about using them as the only way to settle an issue. There still is something that draws our interest to them.

The bottom line is that as I grew up I watched westerns as much as I could because there was a lot of excitement, action and suspense in every show. When you are a little boy and have been playing on the farm all day,the western took me as far away from my setting as it could. Besides when a cowboy in black walked up to a person and handed them his business card and it said “Have Gun Will Travel”, there was no way was going to turn the channel. The west was more than wild it was entertaining!

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.

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