Wild West – The ‘Gunslinger’ Myth

Robert Walsh

The stylised version of a Wild West gunfight. These almost never happened. The stylised version of a Wild West gunfight. These almost never happened.

The Wild West, home of many colourful (often disreputable) characters. Native Americans, gold prospectors, gamblers, cattle ranchers, miners and immigrants scrambled to extend the new frontier. They spread further West in search of their fortunes. With law-abiding, hard-working citizens came criminals. The most notorious were gunslingers, hired guns who’d rob a bank one month, protect a cattle baron the next and then be hired as a town Marshal the month after that. Being a gunslinger didn’t automatically make a man a criminal, some of the best-known were both law enforcers and lawbreakers at different times.

Gunslingers in popular culture.

The popular image of gunslingers comes from cheap novels and films and it’s far more fiction than fact. Hollywood would have us believe that hired guns were either all good (like Gary Cooper’s portrayal in the classic film ‘High…

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