I’m not sure as a kid if I ever uttered the “I want to grow up to be a cowboy” line (maybe Mom listened to Waylon and Willie).

How would a suburban Baltimore kid in the 1970s even get the idea? Easy.


I’m digging back in the memory layers for what I might have known of in terms of Westerns, for my second post in response to Western106 Unit 1What do westerns mean to me?

I am hoping when people do this they do not use the school reflex and try yo figure out what a teacher wants (e.g. looking it up somewhere to find some cut and paste answer). I am hoping people just draw on their own experiences and influences with Westerns as a starting point. Then, after spending maybe 15 weeks digging into them, creating art around them, they can look back at this entry viewpoint… and hopefully be somewhere else.

This is exactly what Mrs Kershman did in our 10th grade English class… the first day, she had us write any kind of essay, which she collected. We then spent a year reading literature, writing, learning research, and we worked on a final essay. She handed back our first essay… we could be either horrified / proud of how little we knew about writing going in and how much we learned since then.

So do not try to find an impressive or academic sounding answer. Just write what you know about Westerns from your life so far.

Thus tonight I went into the closet… to find these cowboy and Indian figures from my childhood.

Three Cowboys Gunning
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
Indian Riders
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

These are heavy metal (probably toxic) figures that look hand painted. I was told a friend of my parents gave them to me, but I always remember then being wrapped in kleenex in a box… that I was always too young to play with them (?). But here I am now, some 47 years later, pulling them out of the box.

Absolutely what influenced me as a kid as television. I vaguely remember seeing the old Lone Ranger TV series (Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels) and of course Bonanza the theme song, and flames burning through the map etched in my mind

Who knew there were lyrics?

My family watched Big Valley (young Lee Majors before he went bionic), maybe Alias Smith and Jones, Little House on the Prairie, and Grizzly Adams. I think my parents watched Gunsmoke, to me as a kid it was more soap opera.

Oh yes, the Brady Bunch went to a Ghost Town (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha). I saw that for sure.

I watched the John Wayne movies, many times seeing True Grit, but also The Cowboys (oh how could you be such a bad character, Bruce Dern?), The Searchers, many more probably.

My feasts were Saturday Warner Brother cartoons, and for all the Coyote and Road Runner Cartoons I watched, I wonder if I really connected the colorful rather Arizona-ish landscape for where I might ultimately live?

The Keep America Beautiful Campaign PSA with the crying Indian remains a vivid bit of story in the size of a commercial

I’ve used it before to talk about the arc of a short story.

Books? I am stumped to remember reading Westerns. Some would but Last of the Mohicans in the Western pile. Maybe the Hardy Boys went west? There had to be more, but I remember TV shows and movies more.

As a teen and young adult, I definitely gravitated to the lone figure who takes a stand against the norm, fights for the common person, thus the appeal of the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns but actually more Outlaw Josey Wales, and likely my favorite, the somewhat mystical High Plains Drifter (which I have re-watched at least twice in the last year) and the later Unforgiven.

I’ve used this story before, but in my 9th grade English class we studied westerns (so I should remember some literature). I do remember Miss Walker telling us we were going to go to the movie theater to see a new western film.

So imagine our surprise when our bus pulls up to a theater showing this film!

We thought it was a mistake. but Miss Walker just smiled and said, “Watch.” She knew, and thus know I can conjure Space Westerns. And easily Star Trek, which I watched ALOT of (thanks to my sisters) was a western, not only in some of its locales for the plots, but as a whole.

You can find the original announcement for the Star Wars pilot in the New York Times from 1986:

”The Cage,” the first pilot episode made in 1964 for the television series ”Star Trek,” will be shown beginning Aug. 7 at the Museum of Broadcasting, 1 East 53d Street. The episode, made in black and white, featured Jeffrey Hunter in the role of Captain Pike, commander of the starship Enterprise.

It was written by Gene Roddenberry, creator of the television series, and has never been shown publicly in its entirety.

The episode, which also starred Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, was initially rejected by WNBC-TV. In 1965, at the request of the network, a second pilot show, called ”Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was made. Mr. Hunter was unavailable to repeat his role and William Shatner was cast as Captain Kirk. The series, which has been referred to as a space western by its creator, was then accepted by the network.

Imagine being able to say you were there for that premiere.

I am fairly sure I saw Jeremiah Johnson in the movie theater (worth a re-watch) plus Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid many times on TV. I thought Westworld was just too wildly retro-future.

Again there is more.

It was after I had moved to Arizona, one one of my early solo trips out to the high desert for my Geology research, that somehow I had picked up a copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It had a profound influence on my, so much I am fairly sure I read everyone of his novels and short story collections.

Abbey’s novels are definitely not pulp fiction westerns, the characters are generally highly flawed outcasts. But they always rung true to me for an ethos of this harsh land. Novels like Fire on the Mountain and definitely The Brave Cowboy pit the iconic western figure as being lost in the modern world.

That tale of Jack Burns escaping up Sandia Mountain in Albuquerque is maybe my favorite Abbey novel- I blogged about it (pre-ds106) in October 2010 and came back a few months later in DS106 when I used it for the 10 minute video film analysis assignment, blogged as Jack Burns is the last Cowboy

This assignment will be back when we get to video in Western106.

The funniest Abbey anecdote is that on one of my Mom’s visits I was rather surprised that my little old Jewish mother had pulled one of his novels off my shelf and devoured it in like 3 days. And what a surprise that after she passed away, at her home I found a whole shelf of Edward Abbey books.

Reading for the Road
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

This is about as much as I can remember in one sitting. If I had to speculate, the idea of the west I had absorbed through movies, TV, and the road runner as a kid is something that called in my 20s when I was rather eager to reset my East coast life for something more… wide open and unknown. Most of the examples I listed come from the stereo typical male, outcast loner, someone who desired nor fit into mainstream society, who was self-contained, self-sufficient, but also who was driven by a sense of fairness and doing the right thing.

The gun thing did not transfer. Although I live in Arizona, and have done a small amount of target shooting, I have no gun. And I seriously doubt I could actually use one on another being short of extreme. Who knows?

Much of this was what inspired me to want to do a DS106 about westerns. But not in the sense of reinforcing just the western genres I was familiar with… I feel like the more we push beyond those limits, we will find that it goes far and wide as a genre.

This just went farther today.

In the morning, as I was trying to warm up sitting in front of my heater, I started combing through Amazon prime and added about 50 of its 420+ available films to my watchlist). I had noticed a few odd titles

Paul Bond tweeted a reply about a western / horror comic

Si maybe there is a sub-genre / flavor we can explore in Western106?

Vampire cowboys? Yeah

There is a lot more I found at IMDb just be messing around with it’s genre URLs

And I can watch Curse of the Undead on YouTube!

Let’s see how many places we can ride this western genre. In retrospect, the early days of the web were pretty much a wild west frontier… and like the old west, it’s disappearing by “advancement”, population, and profiteers.

Now this is a western riff to play with… the Wild Wild Web!

Top / Featured Image Credit: flickr photo by cogdogblog http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/23760296514 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The post "When I Grow Up I Want to Be a [Pretend] Cowboy [on the Internet]" was originally assembled from spare parts of a 1957 Chevy at CogDogBlog (https://cogdogblog.com/2016/01/when-i-grow-up/) on January 15, 2016.


  • Kevin Hodgson

    It’s been pretty interesting how deep AND shallow the Western genre is and is becoming. The very things that make some of us uncomfortable are the perfect points for learning. Great post, dawg. I am working on last bits of my own.

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Your survey of personal influences of the western genre has so little overlap with mine, which points to the richness of the question. The overlap is at Edward Abbey, although I’ll admit that once I found out Douglas Peacock was Hayduke, “Grizzly Years” stole my attention out from under Abbey. As with Fury and Lassie, the inclusion of the Bears as some kind of spirit guide for the PTSD Vietnam vet alone in the wilderness seeking redemption and peace is a winning Western combination for me.

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