Monday, September 10, 2012

MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COWBOYS





By Terry Irene Blain, Guest Author

Yes, I admit, my heroes have always been cowboys. My love of cowboys came from old western movies. Here were men who were larger than life, who stood up for what they believed in, who’s word was their bond, who were willing to do what had to be done. And when they fell in love, it was deep and forever — even if they fought it at first.

Nothing surprised me more when I started to write, than that I chose set my stories in the American frontier. Now, it wasn’t a surprise that I chose to write historicals –after all, I have a BA and MA and a second BA in History and taught US History and Western Civilization at the college level. However, I liked teaching Western Civ more than US History and my MA had specialization in Tudor and Stuart England, and the second BA in European Studies. But when it came time to write it was the frontier and the cowboy who caught my imagination. Big surprise.

Guess Fredrick Jackson Turner was right. Turner, a historian, presented his "frontier thesis" in 1893 at the American Historical Association, stating that it was the westward expansion that formed the American character, making us, as Ben Franklin said, a new race that was rougher, simpler, more enterprising, less refined.



I think now it was the frontier aspect that drew me, as on the edge of civilization, it took a man and a woman working together to make a home. This was the basis for my first novel, KENTUCKY GREEN, when the frontier was “the land beyond the mountains,” the Kentucky and Ohio territory in 1794. My hero, although he’s not a cowboy, has all those cowboy characteristics. But for most people Turner’s westward expansion brings to mind the cowboy. Which leads me right back to my old western movies.

When I was teaching, I used to have the student watch “Stagecoach”  (1939) and discuss how the character portrayed the values of the time. If you haven’t seen the movie (shame on you!) a group of disparate individual undertake a dangerous stagecoach trip through Indian Territory. Our hero, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne, where director John Ford gave Wayne’s character the greatest screen introduction ever) is out to get the man who killed his father and brother. There is the “good woman,” a military wife on the way to join her husband, and the “bad woman,” the dancehall girl run out of town. The Confederate and the Union veteran. And of course, our hero helps save the day when the Indians attack. Here are our cowboy values of putting the good of the group before personal advantage, care and protection for those who need it. Courage in the face of danger (the Indian attack).

John Wayne as Ringo Kid in "Stagecoach"


Ringo also shows determination to get revenge on the man who killed his family. This is often part of the “man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” philosophy of the frontier. The average man, our hero, is forced to act as the law as either the law is absent (part of the definition of frontier) or unable or unwilling to do the job that needs to be done to protect society. And, of course, after the final shoot out, our hero and his girl ride off to start a new life together. The “new start” part of the frontier standing for redemption
“Stagecoach” is #9 on the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Westerns.

I also used to show part of “Red River” (1948) to my classes. This movie is #5 on the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Westerns. In the first part (a prologue actually), our hero, Tom Dunstan (John Wayne) leaves the wagon train heading to California and the girl he’s fallen in love with to go to Texas to start his ranch, saying he’ll send for her. She fails to convince him to let her go with him, and says she’ll come.



I liked to use this to point out to my classes, who were used to instant communication, how you have to understand the times the people lived in to understand the history of what they said and did. I used to ask the men in my class, how are you going to send for her? A letter? Who would carry the letter? How would you address it? Would you go yourself? How would you find her? Then I’d ask the women in my class – how long do you wait for this guy to send for you? A year? Two years? Forever?

Perhaps part of the pull of the western is the lack of technology that sometimes seems to overwhelm and swamp the personal and individual in today’s society. People seemed more important than things in the west. Relationships were personal. Today we can spend more time with our computer that with our family.

John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan
in "Red River" 1948


The main part of “Red River” deals with the dangerous cattle drive north many years later. Here again we see the cowboy hero in several guises. Dunston (Wayne), who willing to do what no man has done, the cattle drive to try and save not only his ranch but all the surrounding ranches. Dunston willing to step up and take responsibility. He’s helped by his surrogate son, Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) and a cast of great secondary characters. As the cattle drive is beset with disasters, Dunston becomes more autocratic and driven to the point that Matthew rebels and takes over the herd. Matthew standing up to and against the man he loves like a father, necessary to do what right in his mind. Matt says, “know he (Dunstan) was wrong. Sure hope I’m right.” The story is not only one of man against nature (taming the frontier), but of Matthew (Clift) and his conflict with Dunstan (Wayne), each man doing what he thinks is right as the central theme of the film.

And, of course, there is a romance between Matt and the girl he meets, falls in love with, but must leave to complete the cattle drive. This romance between Matt and Tess (Joanne Dru) is what help lead to the final reconciliation between the men. This is a great movie with a young and beautiful Montgomery Clift and John Wayne allowed to act before all the directors wanted him to do was be John Wayne.

Jimmy Stewart

The Forties and Fifties were a great time for western movies, really too many to mention. But you might recall a few with Jimmy Stewart such as “Winchester ’73,” or “The Far Country.”
Randolph Scott working with directory Bud Boetticher made several good western such as “The Tall T,” and don’t miss “Seven Men From Now” if only for the final gun fight between Scott and Lee Marin as the ‘good’ bad guy.

For lots of good cowboy heroes, there is always what’s known as director John Ford’s Cavalry trilogy, “Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and “Rio Grande.” These three, along with “Stagecoach” were shot in Monument Valley and the scenery is as much a character as the actors. Especially the storm in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” which blew up as they were filming, and Ford kept right on filming. No special effect, just the real thing.

Monument Valley, Idaho
Photo by Wolfgang Staudt


I think part of the allure of the cowboy is the wide open spaces and scenery that surrounds him. It was the remembered clean, clear and bright mountain scenery around Durango, Colorado that made me set COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD there. My cowboy hero is an undercover officer for Wells Fargo who, of course, is determined, brave and does the best he can. And, of course, as all western heroines, the woman he falls in love with is strong, capable and makes him realize he’s a better man than he thinks he is.




Modern westerns in the old tradition are starting to turn up on television, such as “Broken Trail” (2007) with Robert Duvall as the older mentor and Thomas Haden Church as his nephew.



And the traditional cowboy values are showcased in “Open Range” (2003) with Kevin Costner teaming with Robert Duvall, as two itinerate cowboy who end up taking on a corrupt sheriff and town boss – doing what needs to be done to make the community safer and revenge their friend. Also a nice little romance between Charlie (Kevin Costner) and Sue (Annette Bening).




Even the contemporary cowboy has those values. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” (1991) where an estranged son and father re-connect as he finds love with an old flame. How much better would things be today, if those cowboy values – honest, true to their word, willing to sacrifice to help those who can’t help themselves, putting the good of the community before their personal needs when necessary.

Yep, my heroes have always been cowboys. I watch the old movies any chance I get, and keep a lookout to see if they are out in DVD to replace the VHS tapes I have. My current favorite is “Tall In The Saddle.” Did I miss mentioning one of your favorite westerns? I know I missed some of mine. Do you watch the old movies, or do you have a favorite “modern” western?




                COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD

To protect her siser, Juliette Lawson stole documents and fled west. Now Wes Westmoreland, undercover lawman, threatens both her plan and her heart.

Socialite Juliette Lawson fled west from Philadelphia on a train and in disguise. In Colorado she’d be safe; she’d take work with her uncle at the Rio d’Oro, his smelting operation. Her actions back east had been wrong, but to protect her pregnant sister from scandal she would have done anything. Then she met a man as hungry for answers as she was for independence. A handsome, honorable man. For him, she wished the truth was hers to tell.

From the first, Wes Westmoreland knew he couldn’t trust her. Having grown up in the saloons and brothels of San Francisco, he saw trust, like love, as a luxury an undercover lawman couldn’t afford. Not on a job like this one, not with gold involved. This woman dressed as a widow was clearly hiding something; he’d felt it the moment they touched. But he’d felt other things too, stir­rings in his heart, and for the first time ever, he saw riches worth the peril.

Check at http://www.boroughspublishinggroup.com/ for more information on the books, and a free first chapter.

Terry Irene Blain, Guest Author


Terry Irene Blain was lucky enough to grow up in a large Midwestern family with a rich oral tradition. As a child she heard stories of ancestor s adventures with Indians, wild life, weather and frontier life in general. So she naturally gravitated to the study of history, completing a BA and MA in History and taught History at the college level. Married to a sailor, now retired, she’s had the chance to live in various parts of the country as well as travel to foreign places such as Hong Kong, Australia, England and Scotland.

Terry Irene Blain
Escape to the past with a romantic adventure
http://www.terryireneblain.com

11 comments:

  1. Terry, Thanks for stirring memories of some great movies. My heroes also have always been cowboys, that is, until I married my personal Hero. He has all the qualities without the saddle and horse. ☺ I'm eager to read your new release. Best wishes for megasales!

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  2. I loved Walter Brennan. One of my favorite movies was How the West Was Won. Wonderful post.

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  3. Great info. I was reading it out loud to my husband and realized he, too, is a cowboy with his values. I've always thought he should have been born a hundred years earlier.

    One of my favorites was Festus in Gunsmoke and his hangy down part of his ear. :)

    Wonderful remembering all those great cowboys and their code of ethics. It would be a better world if some, wishful thinking all, of those heroic values of days gone by would return.

    Nice getting to know you better today, Terry.

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  4. I enjoy westerns. Some of my favorites include Young Guns I and II, and The Young Riders television show about the Pony Express. Even though they were a liuttle rough around the edges, they still had their code of ethics.

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  5. HI Terrygreat post even though I can't stand old movies lol. But being a child from the 1950's I understand the lack of intant communication. Good point about how he would send for the woman if they had no way of communicating.

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  6. Terry, what a fun post! You mentioned several of my favs, especially Red River. That's my favorite western ever. In fact, it inspired me to write a cattle drive sequence in one of my books. Thanks for bringing back so many fond memories!

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  7. Thanks for all the good comments. How could I have forgotten Rawhide? or Silverado? Too many good westerns/yiSony

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  8. I do remember all the westerns on when I was little. I will watch them today on cable, and love Cheyenne! Good and honest values. I also like to watch Have Gun Will Travel. Thank you, Terry.

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  9. Terry--I think you hit all the high spots. One of my favorite movies was Red River, but I don't think I got the plot until a few years ago when I watched it on AMC. Montogomery Cliff seemed like a different character than I remembered, and by dang, I thought he was great! John Wayne has never been a favorite of mine--okay, just shoot me now, I know I'm being sacreligious--but I just didn't care for his acting...or non acting, just being "John Wayne."
    A recent movie you mentioned, Open Range..one of the best for me, at least. I loved the music--I have the sound track on CD--and I love Sue and Charlie so much.
    Charlie comes to visit, and at the door he says, "Well, Sue...."
    She laughs and says, "Well, Charlie..." I absolutely love that.
    You couldn't have written a better post, and I thank you.
    And...welcome to Sweethearts of the West. Maybe you can come back another time and be our guest. Caroline and I would love to have you.

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  10. Terry, I love the movies you mentioned. Others are all those made from Louis L'Amour books (love Sam Elliott), and High Noon. There are so many good western movies, and each highlights the qualities you mention. My persoanl Hero husband is not a cowboy, but he certainly has all the good qualities.

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  11. I absolutely LOVE westerns! Bothe reading & watching them. As a child of the television generation, some of my fondest memories are of my dad, brothers & I watching both the old movies on TV, but especially the western series. Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and especially The Big Valley. That was our favorite, because of the new "cowboy" to star in that show---Lee Majors! Especially since he hailed from our home town.

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