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Lies John Wayne Told You

June 25, 2020

Do you like cowboy movies?

I like cowboy movies.

Did you know cowboy movies are a lie?

Just about every single one.

You know one that is more true than most?

Blazing Saddles. Seriously. Mel Brooks’ western spoof had more truth than many classic John Wayne movies.

If you haven’t seen it, Blazing Saddles stars Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder. Cleavon is black and Wilder is white. That’s part of the joke. And it’s hilarious. When Cleavon takes himself hostage and threatens to kill himself if the townspeople don’t stop trying to take him prisoner.

Trust me, it works.

Blazing saddles is also the movie that has a group of mexicans saying the line,

Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges

So, Brooks mixed whites, blacks and latinos all mixing it up in the Wild West.

Crazy right?

Not so much. In fact, it’s a better representation than John Wayne leading a troop of white cavalry troopers.

Despite what Hollywood showed us for years, cowboys were a very diverse bunch. They were about one third white. One third black and a third latino.

Django Unchained with Jamie Foxx? Yeah, that was not an uncommon sceanrio. Of course, his sunglasses were still out of place.

But, white cowboys weren’t the only lies that John Wayne told us. What’s more “wild west” than the bad guys robbing the bank? It shows up in all types of westerns; comedies, dramas, rom-coms (there’s probably at least a couple.)

How many banks would you guess were robbed in the “Wild West”? Let’s call the Wild West as the second half the 19th century. From 1859 through 1900.

I can tell you right now, your guess is too high. Pick a lower number.

You are still too high. Lower still.

Probably still kind of high, but you’re at least closer.

Less than ten.

Butch Cassidy robbed a few. He took $20,000 from a bank in Telluride, Colorado. Later he got $7,000 from a bank in Montpelier, Idaho. The robbed some more banks in South Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming.

Lots, right?

Not so much. The Wild Bunch (Cassidy’s gang) was unusually successful.

But, not as many others. Why?

Think about it. The West was full of ex soldiers, Confederate and Union. Everyone was armed. And towns were small. Strangers were noticed and the townspeople weren’t afraid to shoot at people who attempted to walk into their bank and steal their money. And the townspeople shooting at those bank robbers were black, white and brown.

Not exactly the story that Hollywood and John Wayne gave us at the movies.

It’s never a good idea to base your understanding of history on a movie. Unless maybe it’s “Blazing Saddles.”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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