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Westerns: America’s Homeric Era on the Silver Screen

Some time around 800 b.c., Homer put the heroic tales of the Achaeans into lyric form: battles, expeditions, adventures, conquests.  The tales were inspiring, heroic, tragic, triumphal.  Greeks recited Homer’s iambic pentameter for centuries; so, too, did we as schoolchildren—as inheritors of Western civilization.  We Americans, however, also have our own Homeric Era.  While the Greeks moved from north to south through their peninsula and eventually into the Peloponnesus, Americans moved from east to west across the continent and eventually into California.  Recalled most vividly, though, is the trans-Mississippi West.  That’s where the mountain men trapped beaver, the miners struck gold, the cowboys drove cattle, the cavalry fought Indians, the magnates of industry built railroads, the gunfighters dueled.

The pioneers of the trans-Mississippi West came from every corner of the United States: puritanical Yankees from New England, cavaliers from the Old South, Pennsylvania Dutch from the Susquehanna Valley, and Scotch-Irish frontiersmen from the length and breadth of the great Appalachian range.  They also came from overseas: Dutchmen from Germany; Scandinavians from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden; Limeys from England; Welshmen from Wales; Cousin Jacks from Cornwall; Highlanders and Lowlanders from Scotland; and, in the greatest numbers, Mikes and Pats from Ireland’s Old Sod. ...

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