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As a class, gunfighters did not conform to the stereotyped image of the motion picures. Generations of Western fans have seen them portrayed as cowboys, gamblers and occasionally in the guise of a frontier scout complete with buckskins. But the cowboy image dominates. From the earliest appearance of the Western film in 1903, the dress and manner of the gunfighter has been reflected in the image of the cowboy. The huge sombrero, neckerchief, double or single gunbelt, knee high boots (worn with pants tucked in or pulled down over them), and jingling spurs, all served to create a false image of the man behind the gun. In reality, most gunfighters dressed normally according to the current fashions of the time, and would probably be missed in a crowd. Only when they openly carried pistols would they command much attention. In fact, the editor of the Kansas City, Mo. Journal on 15 November 1881 made a point of describing the ‘man-killer’ or ‘civilizer’ that today we call the gunfighter:
The gentleman who has ‘killed his man’ is by no means a rara avis … He is met daily on Main street, and is the busiest of the busy throng. He may be seen on change, and in the congregations of the most aristocratic churches. He resides on ‘Quality hill’, or perhaps on the East Side . . . This ubiquitous individual may be seen almost anywhere. He may be found behind the bar in a Main street saloon; he may be seen by an admiring audience doing the pedestal clog at a variety theatre; his special forte may be driving a cab, or he may be behind the rosewood counters of a bank … He is usually quiet in demeanor, sober … [and] … he may take a drink occasionally, but seldom gets drunk … He is quiet — fatally quiet.. . Your gentleman who has dropped his man is, therefore, no uncommon individual. . . -Joseph G. Rosa, Age of the Gunfighter: Men and Weapons on the Frontier, 1840-1900
Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story or poem about a gunfighter.
Journaling Prompt: Which is scarier to you and why: the type of gunfighter you see in the movies or one that blends in with ordinary people.
Art Prompt: Gunfighter
Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Write about a famous gunfighter’s life story.
Photo Credit: Cain and Todd Benson on Flickr
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