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“old West” State

June 2024
1min read


Texas. In the landscape of the Western movie, Texas has it all: sweeping vistas, rugged deserts, high mountains, and tall, stately saguaros. In reality, most of Texas looks like Iowa without the Norwegians. Green and lush farmland is predominant, and it’s mighty flat. As for saguaros, Texas has none (they mostly grow in Arizona and Mexico, with a handful in California). Texas has always sounded like a place that the West should be, and as a matter of fact, it has confused foreigners for years. (See Sergio Leone’s Westerns for proof. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly you get the impression that the entire history not only of the Civil War but of the entire American West took place in Texas.)


California. With the possible exception of the fictitious character Zorro and early San Francisco, the Golden State gets surprisingly short shrift as an Old West location. Never mind that it had plenty of badmen (Joaquín Murrieta, Tiburcio Vásquez, and Black Bart, to name but a few) and wild times (the gold rush!). California doesn’t really get the credit or the romance that, say, Arizona or Texas gets in the imagination or portrayal of the American West. Part of this is because it was settled earlier than the territories east of it, and when it came time to turn the West into romance (1880s and 1890s), the West Coast had become civilized and “tony.” For example, it’s very hard to imagine a Western taking place in Los Angeles. “Hey, pard, let’s ride on over to L.A.” just doesn’t sound right. The modern connotation of the place cancels out all the earlier imagery. And other West Coast towns don’t work either. How believable is a character called the Spokane Kid? Or the Silicon Valley Boys? My theory is that the more urbane a town gets, the less it works as a “Western” location. That’s why Tucson still sounds right, but Scottsdale doesn’t. Leadville flies, but not Aspen. But I digress.

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