Writing the West; or, the West's Westness, Part 1

by cowboylands

A recent trip to the LA’s Autry National Center of the American West, aka the Cowboy Museum, yielded huge Westness moments. I don’t remember much of it–being so transported in ecstasy I wasn’t on the earthly plane–but I know I took a lot of pictures.

What is Westness? It’s the romantic thing that anything West of the Mississippi has, to greater or lesser degree.

For example, the grubby clothing shown worn by 1980s-era ranch hands on the basement level has Westness. The gift shop of the Autry museum, does not, as most of its wares come from another hemisphere. I have none, although I yearn to have it (without having to ride a horse). My relatives from LA, who do many things but neither work on ranches nor wear grubby clothing, have that certain something. Are you born with it? No, otherwise Teddy Roosevelt would’ve stayed the toothy Dude and John Wayne would’ve starred in football movies.

Westness is born, or it can be developed, by you or others, as you will see.

Nice saddle, right. Must be a great cowboy. WRONG!!! This was created for Altman’s 1976 film, Buffalo Bill and the Indians; or, Sitting Bull’s History Lesson. While not a fantastic movie, it does skewer faux Westness well, at the expense of Buffalo Bill, who was probably not such a bad guy.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill (no, I have no pics of authentic western wear from the great man–like his legend, nobody knows what’s real anymore), one of the originators of white man riseth / red man descendeth–a common western theme–has a script in the museum, addresses as “written for Buffalo Bill.” Jack Crawford, the “Poet Scout,” wrote plays glorifying his deeds and Buffalo Bill’s. His work can be found here. He had been a soldier in the Civil War, but his fame came from making things up. In so doing, he started a whole slew of dreaming/scheming get-rich-quick types, still found out West.

Next: The Real Deal

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