Where has the Western Genre Gone?
The western plot has gone from Indian captivity, to eastern white vs. western white, then to "a day on the western frontier." There is so much more that could be told about this era. Could the point of view of the Native American be made into a "western?"
1820's to 1850's
The first books that are considered westerns were written by James Fenimore Cooper about the American Frontier, which is the Eastern side of the Mississippi River, primarily the Appalachian Mountains. These stories began in 1823 and were stories about frontiersmen and females captured by Indians.
Plot of the Captivity
An example of a captivity plot is found in "The Blue Tattoo: the life of Olive Oatman." It is the harrowing story of a heroine of frontier America who was orphaned when her family was brutally killed by the Yavapai Indians. Oatman and her sister, were slaves to her captors for an year before they were traded to the Mohave Indians. The Mohaves had their faces tattooed and raised them as their own. Her sister died and she became fully assimilated and happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back into the white culture. She became a celebrity, the price of fame was high and her childhood caused her much pain throughout her lifetime.
1850's to 1900's Dime Novels
Then in the 1850’s along came the “dime novels.” These were stories of mountain men, lawmen, outlaws, settlers, and Indian women marrying white men.
The first “dime novel” was by Ann S. Stephens called “Malaeska, the Indian wife of the White Hunter.”
Historian June Namias believe that three archetypes are used in the captivity stories; the Survivor, one who endures and adapts, the Amazon, fights and escapes, and the Frail Flower, lacks courage and settles into captivity.
An example of the Frail Flower would be the story “The Blue Tattoo: the life of Olive Oatman,” which has been written and retold in many forms for over 100 years.
In these “dime novels” many people of the time were romanticized such as; Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, and Jesse James. This type of plots lasted until the early 1900’s.
The Plot of the Eastern White vs. the Western White
"Malaeska, the Indian wife of the White Hunter," is a story of an interracial marriage and the tragedies that result from the marriage.
1900's to 1930's
Along comes the pulp magazines and a change in the plot from Indian vs. white man to the eastern white people vs western white people. The mixing of these two distinct cultures. Zane Grey in “Riders of the Purple Sage,” is Morman vs. western white values. Max Brand morals vs. western values. This plot style lasts from the 1900’s to the 1930’s.
1940's to 2008
Then the “day on the western frontier” style of plot arrives in stories by Walter Van Tilburg Clark in “The Ox-Bow Incident,” which is about mob lynching. “Shane” by Jack Schaefer confronts land grabbing. In the 1940’s along came the western Comics which followed the same “day on the western frontier” theme with “Kid Colt Outlaws, Roy Rogers comic, Toni Mix comics, Red Ryder comics and more.
The “day on the western frontier” theme was used until about 2008.
The Plot of " a day on the Western Frontier"
"The Border Legion" by Zane Grey is an example of "a day on the western frontier." 'Gold at Alder Creek!' When news of the gold strike swept through camp, Killer Kells and his infamous Border Legion were ready to descend on the helpless prospectors. And no one would be left alive to tell how or by whom he was robbed. But Kells hadn't reckoned on two people; Jim Cleve, a maverick who had taken the Border Legion's bloody oath, but secretly rode on the side of the law; and Joan Randle, the outlaws chief's beautiful captive!"
Words about Westerns
The statement has been made that when we read a western “we go into a dream state where the good and bad guy were distinguishable.” Did they really distinguish the good people from the bad people or confuse who is bad or who is good? Jesse James was made into a hero, but he was an outlaw with, what some believe is a justifiable reason for being an outlaw.
Why are they not Classified as a Western?
There has been many a book written from the Native American point of view of how the west was won, but they are not considered a western, they are classified as historical fiction, romance or some other classification. They are from the same period, same people, same story, just a different point of view. Shouldn't these books also be classified as "westerns?"