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Old West Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Joey Starrett is more than eighty years old, and has been telling a version of the story of Shane for many years. The film Shane came out in 1953, three years after Joey narrates his story. Joey’s version is a correction of the well-known story. What follows is the real story of Shane, told by the only living witness of the famous gunfight dramatized by Alan Ladd and Jack Palance. It did not happen that way, Joey reveals in Richard Bausch’s “Old West.” First of all, Shane came back to the valley twelve years after he rode out of it, wounded, with little Joey shouting, “Come back, Shane.” When Shane comes back, Joey’s father is already dead of cholera, and his mother is living with Joey in their now-broken-down homestead. Joey is twenty-one; his mother is crazy and a bit deaf.

A preacher has recently arrived—the Reverend Bagley—who mesmerizes the folk who hang around Grafton’s saloon with his sermons about damnation and salvation. Joey’s mother is fascinated by Bagley and cherishes a gift from him, significantly, a six-shot Colt. Then Shane rides into town, his buckskin clothes transformed by the years into stinking rags. Shane is fat and bald. He has become a bounty hunter and is looking for a phony preacher who might be Bagley. Shane admits to Joey that since he rode out of the valley he has been living all these years in the next town, only a few hours away. He has been married as well, unsuccessfully. Joey’s disillusion is complete.

Joey rides into town and sees Bagley preaching in Grafton’s. Bagley is a gifted talker, a role model for Joey, who already is telling people the story of the heroic, younger Shane of the time when Joey was a child. Bagley’s sermon warns of evils to come that sound surprisingly like ones that have already come: “Miseries and diseases we ain’t even named!” preaches Bagley, half-drunk. “Pornography and vulgar worship of possessions, belief in the self above everything else, abortion, religious fraud, fanatic violence, mass murder, and killing boredom, it’s all coming, hold on!” Bagley suggests that Joey’s tale of Shane is an exaggeration, that Wilson, the gunfighter whom Shane had fought years earlier, did not have two guns, but only one stuck out of sight in his pants. Bagley throws doubt on the details of the gunfight Shane won when Joey was seven, and seems to know something of gunplay himself. He certainly knows something of wordplay.

Later, Joey drives his mother in to see Bagley, with Shane riding his decrepit horse alongside the buckboard. They ask for Bagley at Grafton’s, and the saloon-keeper obligingly directs them to the barn where Bagley is sleeping off another drunk. As they arrive at...

(The entire section is 728 words.)