THE OPENING OF THE WEST
By Art Isberg
The human yearning for adventure to see what lies over a distant mountain range, across wide rivers and beyond misty valleys, drove explorers West to wonder and marvel at what they might find. This eclectic mix meant fur trappers, farmers, pioneers, gamblers, prospectors, businessmen, and even unrepentant killers, would fan out across the West to make their mark, leaving their name in history books. No Western fiction can trump actual events that took place beginning in the early 1800s, lasting until the end of that century.
The Law of the Six-Gun
Beyond the Appalachian Mountains in the East, across a vast, rolling sea of grass mid-continent that was the Great Plains, coming up against the mighty backbone of North America, the towering Rocky Mountains, they came to sweat and toil, bringing with them their dreams, schemes, goals, Bibles and guns, sure that they were doing God’s work in opening up a land no white man had ever seen before. In most of these new places there was no law, save a man’s own sense of right and wrong and the willingness to back it up with six-guns carried on their hips. Some used their weapons for good, but many used them for their own nefarious purposes. Therein lay the most famous chapters of the Old West, the gun twirlers who took what they wanted and gave no quarter to those who tried to stop them. It was that man with a big Colt on his hip that wrote the most famous chapters of western history.
It was also true that some of these famous men worked both sides of the law. Sheriffs and marshals who walked the streets in frontier towns, ordered to keep the peace, might have just as easily been on the run from that same law at an earlier date. Some became heroes; others became wanton killers. A few even managed to rob and steal while still wearing the respectable badge of the law, protecting their cohorts and getting away with it at the same time.
Towns sprung up in wilderness areas that had never heard a hammer strike, nor the buzz of double-handled saws with sweating men on each end bringing down ancient timber that had stood for centuries. It was inevitable that the Native American people would suffer at the white man’s constant advance further West. They fought to stop the change they saw coming over the land, but with only a few brief successes. One by one the great tribes fell to the advance of the steel age culture that had come out of the eastern seaboard, overwhelming a Stone Age civilization that ended up corralled and tamed, suffering on reservations that they could not understand.
The historical upheaval that was the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, nearly tore the young nation apart. Men who once wore uniforms, especially of the Confederacy, turned their former gun skills to robbery, ambush and murder, developing their new-found vocation robbing trains, banks and stage coaches. Dime novels glorified brutal men and made household names out of others who were genuinely trying to bring some semblance of law and order to frontier towns. To the landed gentry back East, these tall tales of derring-do made instant heroes out of men – and sometimes women – they would never meet. Those same wild tales sent a second wave of men ‘out West,’ better financed, for the chance to make fortunes in timber, gold, silver, fur and hides.
Stagecoach companies and other routes of travel, the opening of banks, elections for public officials – all these slowly began to civilize the backwaters left by original pioneers, while new mile-long wagon trains ploughed further West up and over the high Sierra Nevada Mountains, then over a wide valley to eventually reach the vast Pacific Ocean. And still more stunning adventure and discovery lay ahead. The sudden cry of ‘Gold!’ in that same Sierra Nevada high country sent another rush of men West – not just from America, but from around the world. As if this wasn’t enough, a great silver strike was discovered in Nevada that only added to a world of characters who would rush to populate the new west by horse, mule, steamship and stagecoach.
There is no chapter of American history to match the opening of the Western frontier, and there never will be another one. Readers of Black Horse Westerns can ride those same trails, make those same tantalizing discoveries and witness the man-to-man gunfights that changed the history of this nation. Those times and places live again right here in the novels of authors. Take a trip back. Strap your gun belt on tight and step up for great adventures!