The Demise of Cowboys and Injuns

Tuesday 26th November

The war had only finished a few years ago, there was still rationing, life was pretty grim.  Most entertainment was coming out of America, and our newly installed televisions were full of Westerns.  The American public was in love with the Cowboy, and we followed suit.  They embodied all that American dream, the free-spirit, those wide-open spaces.  There was a romance in the man on his horse enforcing law and order on the lawless West.  Oh and killing Indians.  That was the best bit.  We had programmes like the Lone Ranger, Wagon Train and best of all Bonanza.  All had shoot-outs between cowboys and injuns, and the amazing thing was that whereas sometimes a cowboy got an arrow in the arm, he would pull it out and mutter ‘only a flesh wound’, but the injuns were mowed down in their hundreds, falling dramatically off their horses and yelping to the ground.

And as children we played cowboys and injuns, with silver guns and holsters and bows and arrows and hat and headbands with a single feather and fringed waistcoats and trousers.  It was the first and best game we played, a gang of us would meet and without question it would be cowboys and injuns.  Bang bang – you’re dead, and if you were an injun you fell to the floor.  My parents made me a rug of Davy Crockett and a Red-Indian chief.  And every night before sleeping I would shoot the Indian with my toy rifle.  And none of us ever thought it might be wrong.

Then in the seventies came the Spaghetti Westerns, grittier, a bit more realistic, the bad guys were other white men.  Eventually the tables turned with Richard Harris in A Man Called Horse, where the idea of the noble savage was resurrected.

Now, no kids play cowboys and Indians anymore.  There are hardly any Western films, no Cowboys on TV, you don’t see guns and holsters or real sound effect rifles in toy shops anymore.  But strangely despite all the ‘evidence’ of violence affecting kids I am not sure it had that effect on our generation at all.   In many ways we have gentrified a violent world, bringing in ideas of respect and fairness – hardly cowboy values at all.