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THE WAY THINGS USED TO BE: The Wild West wasn’t so wild

THE WAY THINGS USED TO BE: The Wild West wasn’t so wild

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Some of us grew up on Western movies and television shows. We played with cap pistols and stalked the back yard with BB rifles — or woods and fields if we lived in the country. It was great.

But it also left a lot of people with skewed understanding of the West and of guns. People who think they know about guns because they have seen them in the movies believe the most arrant nonsense.

And about the West. ...

To begin with, the West wasn’t all that wild. The West had violence and crime, yes, but they were nowhere near as common as the movies would have it. Shootouts didn’t happen on dusty main streets every day.

After the Indian troubles ended, most parts of the West were probably more peaceful than major Eastern cities such as New York and Boston.

Part of the reason, probably, was that these people were used to being self-reliant and they were armed. As Robert A. Heinlein would say in a later time, an armed society is a polite society.

A recurring theme in the Westerns was the bad man or a gang buffaloing a town. That might have happened somewhere, sometime, but Western people weren’t cowed easily.

In “High Noon,” Gary Cooper played a lawman who couldn’t get a single townsman to help him deal with a gang of outlaws seeking vengeance. Good story if you can suspend your disbelief.

Think about it. Western folk, some of them, had fought Indians. Some of them had fought in the Civil War. They were raised on stories of their daring pioneer ancestors. No, they weren’t cowed easily.

The Dalton boys learned that the hard way on Oct. 5, 1892, when they rode into Coffeyville, Kansas, to rob two banks.

The good folks in Coffeyville objected to unauthorized withdrawals from their banks. They felt pretty strongly about it.

They took to guns and shot the Daltons to pieces.

— John Rains


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