Grit Blogs > Arrows and Minnows

Westerns Bring Back Rural Memories

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor


Tags: movies, Western, film, cowboy,

A James Stewart WesternI really don’t recall what turned us onto the topic, but one day here in the editorial office at GRIT, Publisher Bryan Welch, my colleagues and I breeched the topic of selective breeding and the adaptability of livestock. I think we were working on a breed guide at the time, maybe hunting down photos of goat breeds and were overheard. This brought to Bryan’s mind an old Western, The Rare Breed (1966), which I had never seen. A couple of days later our movie, television and books buff, Senior Associate Editor Jean Teller, placed the DVD on my desk. Recently I had the chance to watch it.

I generally do like Westerns, both older – aside from this one, I also recently watched McLintock – and newer – I count Tombstone and Open Range among my favorites. This must be because I grew up watching the likes of Josie Wales, Gus from Lonesome Dove and, from my mom’s favorite television show Gunsmoke, Marshall Matt Dillon when I was a kid. I then would imitate these lifestyles, from cattle herder to sheriff to outlaw, while I roamed the farm on horseback and ran (too much, whatever the amount) fat off the cows on our farm.

Those were some of the best – and worst, from my perspective – chewings my mom ever gave. I say best because they always seemed fierce and well-deserved, although I don’t recall Momma ever giving an undeserving chewin’. With three boys, she never lacked for justification.

Anyway, The Rare Breed features James Stewart as a protagonist, and a mother-daughter duo (Maureen O’Hara and Juliet Mills, respectively) and their Hereford bull, aptly named Vindicator.

Mom and daughter are forced to sell the bull, and what results is relocation to a Texas Longhorn ranch, where Vindicator will hopefully substantiate the claim (Juliet Mills’ claim) that he can survive and procreate. James Stewart leads the bull on the drive, while O’Hara and Mills tag along to ensure Vindicator doesn’t just end up on a dinner table.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Vindicator, along with several of the Longhorn bulls, perishes in a harsh Texas winter (I expected the heat to be more of a problem), but in the spring several Hereford calves, several baby-white faces, are discovered.

Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner in Open RangeIt’s more of the tamed variety of Western movies you’ll find in my opinion – at one point Stewart and the antagonist seemingly play chicken on their horses, the horses collide and one cowboy dies – and there are few to no gunfights, an aspect of the American Western that appeals to me, hence my affinity for Open Range, The Outlaw Josie Wales, Lonesome Dove and others.

What does it for you? What aspect of the American Western movie appeals to you most, and what are the types you like the best? Also, what memories do you have as a child watching Westerns like I do?


Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .

kc compton_2
2/2/2009 11:51:50 AM

Trails. Western TRAILS ... although they were for sure trials, almost every step of the way ...


kc compton_2
2/2/2009 11:51:05 AM

Nice blog, Caleb. Lonesome Dove -- no contest. But I also absolutely loved the Deadwood series, despite language fouler than anything I have heard since I worked in my first newsroom. My favorite reading for a very long time was the diaries of women on the Western trials and the early settlements in the West. I especially am interested in the history of African Americans in the West -- did you know that at one time one in four American cowboys was an African-American? The freed slaves after the Civil War headed west, hoping for wide-open opportunity. And they found it for a few years, until the disgruntled Confederates also got themselves established out west and started enacting the same restrictive legislation found elsewhere. It's such a fascinating, under-reported aspect of our history. I never got to have a horse as a kid, although my sisters and I pined for one so much you'd think it would have just been easier for my parents to give in and get us a darned pony. They kept bringing up all this mundane stuff like, "We have a suburban yard. Where do you plan on keeping this pony?" Details ...


caleb regan
1/29/2009 11:35:14 AM

Bryan and Hank- Thank you both for reading and commenting. The personal quest and the understated hero are both characteristics of great films, and great story-telling in general. Admittedly, there is something simple-minded, even childish, about the way gunfights in Westerns appeal to me. But they are consequential and often the apex. I especially love the way Charley (Kevin Costner in Open Range) fires about 20 times out of his 6-shooter in the culminating fight. Maybe that's my version of a superhero's trait. I do find it interesting that, for all three aspects we each like, Lonesome Dove is mentioned at or near the top of each of our lists.


hank will_2
1/29/2009 10:01:41 AM

Lonesome Dove, Outlaw Josie Wales, High Plains Drifter, Hud, One Eyed Jacks, Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and Two Mules for Sister Sarah are among my favorite westerns. I relate to the stoic lone character who is an understated hero, or learns to be one by the time he has been pounded enough times. There was a time in my life that I could pretty well recite the lines from One Eyed Jacks and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Thanks Caleb, this brings back many movie-watching memories.


bryan welch
1/28/2009 5:39:00 PM

For me the best Westerns are "quests" in the mythological sense of the word - people are pitted against difficult physical, psychological and moral challenges and emerge from their trials changed, for the better or for the worse. My favorites are Lonesome Dove, Hombre, Pale Rider, High Noon and on and on and on...