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The Myth Of The Old West

2087 words - 8 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 prove that the vision of the west as it is commonly known is a myth, a brief background of the herding business and era is necessary to include. The origins of the ranging business as we know it began in 1848, when Texas cattle drovers began to herd their livestock north towards Missouri, where the drovers would sell them to make a profit. (Terrell 187). According to a Dallas newspaper in 1850, “[The cattle] are to be sold for beef , or to furnish teams for California emigrants” (Terrell 187). Major markets for cattle in the North during this time period included Independence and Kansas City, Missouri.
Although the cattle ranging which was occurring in the west during the mid-eighteen hundreds was known by the government to be taking place, a large part of the business was, in fact, illegal. In fact, John Upton Terrell declares that cattle herders’, “historical significance is not to be found in beneficial contributions to the nation welfare, for they made none. Quite to the contrary, they are worthy of note for the political corruption they engendered” (Terrell 181) This stems originally from the disease which the cattle carried with them, which the state of Missouri suffered from as a result of the cattle...

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