No matter what name is hung on the genre the Western is one of the most popular dramatic genres to appear in entertainment. It has remained popular for over 100 years, and it has had an unexpected impact on the collectibles market.
“Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb.” Olive Carey as Mrs. Jorgensen in The Searchers.
“Way out on a limb” pretty well describes the archetypical Old West hero. It wasn’t really important what geographical area he was in (Quigley Down Under takes place in Australia), he was a man who tried to do things based on his understanding of right and wrong. He accepted any adversity and challenge heaped upon him by Mother Nature stoically and without complaint. Then one day, someone pushed him too far, and that “someone” was the bad guy.
I’ve always loved the Western story genre in film and in print. The stories were usually simple morality plays, but I know of no other genre that allows for such a broad depth of expression. Little Big Man and Dances with Wolves were a deep examinations of the human experience from the White and Native American perspectives. The Searchers was every bit as good as Apocalypse Now as they revealed the darkness within human nature. Silverado was just good fun.
The Western began in cheap paperback novels in the 1890’s long after most of the real “Old West” was over. Selling back east for 10 cents, these dime novels made legends out of men good and bad. The practice of the authors to stretch the blanket was wonderfully illustrated in the character of W.W. Beauchamp played by Saul Rubinek in Unforgiven.
When Hollywood came along, the Western melodrama became an audience favorite that evolved into serials, and gave the world the quintessential cowboy in the person of John Wayne.
The Western kept up with technology by making the jump to radio and television in turn. The TV show Gunsmoke ran in prime time for 20 years.
The popularity of the Western had an unexpected side effect. It created consumer demand for the revolver commonly known as Colt’s.45 Single Action Army, or “Peacemaker”. Unfortunately Colt Manufacturing had dropped the Peacemaker as obsolete during World War II, and scrapped the machinery to make the classic revolver it had introduced to the world in 1873.
This market demand drove up the prices of original Colts, and thus allowed a small Connecticut gun company called Sturm, Ruger, & Co. to expand their product line by introducing the Single Six, a .22 caliber revolver whose lines echoed the Colt. The Ruger guns, and Peacemaker clones manufactured in Europe, sold so well that Colt retooled and brought back the venerable Single Action Army which remains in production today.
Even though it was considered obsolete before 1900, love for the old frontier revolvers keeps capturing new generations. Original Colts have become quite collectible, and represent an excellent investment for the gun enthusiast just starting a collection. All because American still love a good Western.