“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968


Friday, 25 May 2012

How I rode with Buffalo Bill.


When I was a little kid no publication gave me more pleasure than the Buffalo Bill Annual.  The wonderful  Denis McLoughlin art work, ripping yarns and factual articles all informed my view of the American West; far more than did film or TV.  I realised of course that times had changed, that the world had moved on, but I'm sure that to some extent I was convinced that the Wild West was still to be found by those prepared to saddle up and ride into the sunset.
In 1968 I finally did ride the western plains, but aboard a beat up Oldsmobile rather than a Quarter Horse. As we crossed the Arkansas - Oklahoma state line and headed west on Route 66 I became increasingly quiet, hardly speaking at all to my companions. Now it's true that at the time I was smoking dope on an  almost industrial scale but that was not the reason for my long spells of silence. I was simply totally poleaxed by the vastness of the landscape - and the fact  that somehow, rather like the English schoolboys who travelled through time to ride with Bill Cody in his Annual, I was here, actually in The West. Occasionally we would catch sight of a lone horseman topping a rise. The Indians tended to be manning filling stations rather than hunting buffalo or taking scalps but I never doubted for a moment that they could switch back to the lifestyle of their ancestors at the drop of a stetson.
Of course by this time I was well aware of the reality behind the myth of The West. The genocide that was at the heart of the Indian Wars, the poverty of the reservations, the fact that Hitler was a great admirer of the Manifest Destiny of westward expansion (for Sioux read Slav) and that as I pursued my childhood fantasy in Texas and New Mexico the real conclusion to all of this was being acted out in Vietnam. But like so many other things in life I discovered that the reality behind the myth was far and away more interesting than the myth itself - disturbing at times but interesting none the less. Looking for the image of the Buffalo Bill Annual on the net I found that it's possible to buy copies from the 50's. I wonder if I dare?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid (this was the 60s) my mate Nigel's mum worked as a cleaner in the local cinema, so we used to get into Saturday morning kids matinées for free. Along with the cartoons there was usually a black and white B movie Western from, I assume, the 40s or 50s. Corny as shit but also racist as hell. The bad guy was so often referred to as "a breed" or a "half-breed". I was disturbed by that even then as a kid.
I didn't realise this at the time but
one of my mum's cousins had been a war bride, and the Yank she married was full on Cherokee and their son, my half-cousin (who I liked) was therefore a "breed".
I'm also uncomfortable with the whole Western mythology, which I think started after the American civil war. As I understand it the gun companies made a lot of dosh, not just supplying both armies but from peeps buying their loved ones an extra revolver to take into battle.
Following the war their sales dropped, but there were still the "Indian Wars" - a massacre of indigenous people.
The "Wild West Shows" featuring Buffalo Bill were sponsored by the gun companies who after Bill and his mates had "killed" all the "wild" Indians with blanks would open their stalls to sell guns to whoever and thus the American gun culture was born.
Too simplistic? I'm a simple man.

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