Here's a thought I was pondering the other day.
What if the United States as we know it today didn’t exist?
What if our countries western border was at the banks of the mighty Mississippi river and we never had a western expansion? No California gold rush or great cattle drives from Texas to Kansas. No wagon trains heading west on trails like the Oregon or Santa Fe. No settlers leaving the comfort of their homes and loved ones in the east, braving the unknown to take on a long and rigorous journey risking everything they had including their very lives. All for a new beginning in a land they had only heard of but never seen. What if we didn’t have the American West as we know it today?
I try to wrap my mind around the thought of not having an American western heritage and I just can’t do it. I can’t imagine this country without ever having covered wagons rolling across the Great Plains. I can’t imagine a country with no cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail, no western hero’s or villainous outlaws.I just can’t think of what our countries history would be like without western legends like lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson or outlaws like Billy the Kid or the Dalton Gang? And what about the dime novels that played such a big role in shaping these men into what we make of them today. Would they have been part of our history?
We would have never known the thrill of a western rodeo. No bucking Bronco’s or Calf Roping events. The famous Pendleton Roundup would have never been heard of. The classic cowboy hat and western boots that have become such a large part of our culture might be unheard of today. In fact, the cowboy himself may not have even existed in this country. I can’t even begin to imagine that!
I’m so glad our country expanded its western border all the way to the shores of the vast Pacific. Not only has the westward expansion of this country given us such a rich history, both good and not so good, it has given us another whole way of life.It has given us the “Code of the West”. Most men lived by it and some even died for it. Where a man’s word was his bond and cowboys who worked for an outfit like the Bar O or the Rocking R were loyal and quick to defend the brand. At times, even more so than the man behind it.
Towns with names like Tombstone, Dodge City, Wichita, Virginia City and so many more may never have existed. The wealth of written words lifted from the dusty streets of these western towns alone, have filled volumes. And much more has been written about the towns that didn’t survive. The ones that now stand as empty shells of their former glory, where survival of the fittest ruled the day.
And speaking of the written word, would we have ever heard of Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Zane Grey Ernest Haycox, B.M.Bower, Owen Wister, Andy Adams and so many other fine western authors. We might have, but I can guarantee you, we wouldn’t know them the way we know them now. We were given a whole new vocabulary with colorful words and phrases like “Acorn Calf”, “Grub-stake”, “Saddle tramp” and “Quirley”. We were given a wardrobe of spurs, chaps, six-guns and bandanna's and fixtures like windmills, bunk houses, barbed wire and branding irons.
And what of the Pony Express which began overland mail service from Missouri to California. It lasted less than a year, but even within that one short year, it became the stuff of legend that has been talked about ever since. Much has been written about the pony express and the men who risked their lives to deliver mail to loved ones out west and all points in between.
What a rich and colorful history we have concerning the west. We must not let it be buried in the distant past, left only to those inquisitive enough to blow the dust from the jackets of long forgotten novels. I’ve only briefly touched on a few of the many reasons why our American Western Heritage is so vitally important to us. There are so many more reasons to keep it alive. I intend to do my part…one story at a time.
Rope and Wire