In most Western films you may find several of the following characters, situations, storylines or themes. I’ve also included some interesting trivia related to the Wild West.
- Blacksmith shops
- Cattle Drives
- Churches & Schoolhouses become common settings for meetings and settings
- Civil War Veterans (confederates return home to ruined towns and no futures and move west looking for opportunities)
- Communication – Telegraphs, Newspapers, Pony Express.
- Conflicts (natives vs. natives, settlers vs. settlers, natives vs. settlers, Nature vs. Culture, freedom vs. restriction).
- Conquests – Taming the wilderness in the name of “civilization”.
- Covered Wagons and stagecoaches (wagon trains).
- Crooked Govt. Leaders (Town, State or National).
- Dusty and Dirty towns (usually small in nature).
- Exploration and expansion of the western territories.
- Freed slaves seeking opportunities outside of an oppressive South.
- General Stores (The Walmart of its day).
- Gold Rush (1848 -1855) – Over 300,000 men, women, and children came to California from the rest of the United States and abroad searching for Gold and a fortune. Many died in the process. Other Gold was discovered throughout the west throughout the next 50 years causing mass migration of new residents to the Western states.
- Gambling, violence, and Gunfights.
- Hangings (public executions), Horses and horse thieves.
- Independent thinking.
- Kids becoming adults (or taking on adult responsibilities) well before their time.
- Levi Strauss (1850’s Miners – Clothing and Tents) was introduced during this time.
- Lynch Mobs (vigilantes taking the law into their own hands).
- Military forts and outposts (designed to protect the pioneers of the old west).
- Mississippi River (Exploration beyond this river began the westward movement).
- Moral messages are pretty clear in many Westerns (clearly defined lines between right and wrong).
- Native Americans (American Indians).
- Outlaws (bandits & desperados) vs. Law abiding citizens
- Pioneers, explorers and adventurers.
- Posse of Armed Men (good guys or bad guys).
- Prostitution (legal).
- Quixotic-minded heroes taking on idealistic and unrealistic challenges.
- Railroads (robberies, transportation and expansion).
- Saloons, Saloon fights and Saloon Girls.
- Shootouts on main street.
- Thieves, thugs & bank robbers.
- Unknown: Characters exploring all aspects of the unknown (enemies, nature, territory).
- Violence & mayhem.
- Wilderness on display and wide-open landscapes of Canyons, deserts, ranches and homesteads.
- Pony Express: The Pony EXpress relay mail service during frontier days. Pony Express riders rode in relay across their routes delivering mail across 2000 miles in 10 days. The Pony Express service only ran for 18 months from April 3, 1860 to October 24, 1861 and was replaced by the telegraph.
- Yellowstone National Park became the first national park established in 1872. The lakes, canyons, wildlife, and vast wilderness of this land provide the perfect backdrop for nature untamed (in many ways the anti-western establishment).
- Zane Grey is one of the most well-known western adventure novelists. Known as the greatest storyteller of the American West, Grey wrote over 60 novels covering the themes, characters, places and situations listed above.
Agresta, M. (2013, July 24). How the western was lost (and why it matters) – The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/07/how-the-western-was-lost-and-why-it-matters/278057/
AMC. (2019). Westerns Films. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/westernfilms.html
Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). western | narrative genre | Britannica.com. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/art/western
Genre: Western – The Script Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://thescriptlab.com/screenplay/genre/western
Perry, C. J. (2015, March 6). The evolution of the western genre. Retrieved from http://www.filmslatemagazine.com/the-evolution-of-the-western-genre/