Discuss myths  of the American cowboy of the 19th century.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I would say that one of the most dominating myths about the American cowboy was that the sense of "frontier justice" which was credited to most cowboys somehow presented a vision of unity and harmony.  The most idealized notion of the American cowboy was where what he saw was in his dominion and that all that he focused upon within that realm of justice was, in fact, just and fair. The reality and most logical read of this was that justice was often confused with vengeance and violence as a way of settling disputes left a moral abyss that enveloped the cowboy.  Should this be seen as a way of providing justice, moral decay could not be far behind.  I think that one of the best historical examples of this demystification of the American cowboy and the violence that was a part of the American cowboy experience of the 19th Century landscape is in the Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven.   I don't think one can find a better rendering of the emptiness within the life of the cowboy, and how the violence and savage brutality that passed for "frontier justice" was actually a moral abyss where so much in way of ethical treatment of human beings was vitiated and compromised in the lack of any real and substantive notion of honor and moral structure.


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