Lingering Myths of the American WestWhat role has the mythology of the "American West" played in creating an "American" identity, and is it still relevant today?

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gallowak1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of what people believe about the old west is a "lingering myth"- this simply means it is not true, yet many people today believe it to be so.  Hollywood movies and dime novels created many of these myths, as did Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows.

Zane Grey, a dentist from New York City, created the stock characters and stock action sequences that are standard for western literature and western movies.  Fact is, he never stepped foot outside of NYC, but he created many of the myths that still live today.

Example:  Indians scalped white men.  FACT:  The US army offered bounties for Indian scalps, so many more white men scalped Indians than the other way around.

Example:  Shootouts were a common occurrence, and usually somebody died.  FACT:  Shootouts very seldom occurred, and if they did, it is highly unlikely anybody would be hurt.  Participants, after counting off 20 steps, would be 40 feet from one another, and most guns used buckshot, a group of small pellets.  Once fired, the buckshot would spread, and wasn't going to kill anybody 40 feet away!

Most everything a person sees in the movies, at least where the Old West is concerned, can be considered a lingering myth!