The Wild West

And that's just what they could fit on the poster!

The American Old West was the land west of the Mississippi River roughly in or around the latter half of the nineteenth century; specifically we might start it at the California gold rush of 1848 and end it at the U.S. Census Bureau's official recognition in 1890 of the end of the frontier. This setting is home to a definitively American genre almost as stylized and standardized as Commedia dell'Arte. The Wild West is basically the Theme Park Version or fictionalization of this setting. It has its own set of specialized subtropes, including a wide assortment of stock character types and its own specialized locations.

The Theme Park Version of the old west is a land of Indians, grizzled prospectors, scenic bluffs, Conestoga wagons, tough, shotgun-toting pioneers and buxom, be-feathered dance-hall girls. Also home to very lucrative sugar glass and balsa-wood chair industries, judging by the number of bar brawls which occur during a single episode of a typical western series. Bad guys and anti-heroes wear black hats, good guys and sheriffs wear white hats, shootouts on Main Street occur with the frequency of at least one an hour — with the sun at high noon each time — and everyone drinks sarsaparilla or whiskey.

The real Old West was nothing like The Theme Park Version (which was originally the creation of 19th-century "dime novels"). There weren't any huge shootouts, quickdraw duels were rare, and not exclusive to desert-like "western" areas. Plus, since many guns were very inaccurate in those days, they sometimes tended to happen in significantly closer quarters than they do in fiction. The average Western town had 1.5 murders per year, and most of those weren't done with guns (due to the West having a relative small population that those in the East). Carrying guns in these towns would rather get you arrested than shot, and you were much more likely to die from diseases like cholera, dysentery, and tuberculosis, or in an accident like being dragged by your own horse than being killed in raging gunfights or getting scalped by Indians. Although by means, it was still a lawless and violent era, with three major 19th American wars taking place in the frontier (Mexican-American war, Civil War and American Indian Wars) and also other range wars, bandit attacks and feuds. Not to mention that courts were almost non-existent, so settlers substitute it with vigilance committees, which were more focused on lynching people than doing any law practices. The Wild West was not so wild — it was actually more simple and boring, in fact.

See also The Western. A popular subject of The Parody, and surprisingly popular outside America. Frequently overlaps with The Savage South. Dawn of the Wild West is a sub-trope set during the time period just before the Wild West. Twilight of the Old West is about the dying embers of the Wild West flickering out during the early years of the New Old West. May overlap with Settling the Frontier. Largely occurs contemporaneously with The Gilded Age.

Popular tropes from this time period are:

  • Anti-Hero: ...would draw before the villain.
  • Badass Tropes:
    • Badass Bandolier: Especially during the Mexican Revolution.
    • Badass Beard
    • Badass Longcoat: One could argue this fashion arose from the long duster coats which were commonly worn in this period, and which mythical cowboys — and cool guys in general — have been wearing ever since.
    • Badass Mustache
  • Bar Brawl
  • Black and Gray Morality: The villains are usually ruthless, greedy and despicable characters. On the other hand the "heroes" are not exactly noble guys either. See Anti-Hero above.
  • Blasting It out of Their Hands: Usually only when an unrealistically pure good guy is shooting.
  • Bounty Hunter
  • California Doubling: The geography of the American West is varied, but most movies tend to take place in Monument Valley. Spaghetti Westerns often used the Tabernas Desert in Andalusia, Spain to double for America.
  • Cool Train: So cool that if you find railroad clipart or caricatures, chances are, it's designed around the kind of trains used in the American West.
  • Cowboy Episode: When The Wild West seeps into a series that isn't The Western.
  • Crapsack World: Rampant lawlessness. Constant war with Indians. Everyone carries guns. Very little opportunities for a bath. Why did anyone ever romanticize this period?
  • The Drifter / Knight Errant
  • Friendly Local Chinatown: This time period was when Chinese people were starting to immigrate to the US, forming the first ever Chinatowns. Expect to see a Chinese Launderer.
  • Guns Akimbo: A Justified Trope — with the single-action revolvers of the period, it was quicker to fire one gun, then fire the second while you were cocking the first. It was just as inaccurate as it is today, though.
  • The Gunslinger
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Characters will frequently try to be a tough and quick sharp shooter, but be the laughing stock of the actual gun experts.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Billy The Kid, Calamity Jane, Frank & Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Geronimo, Roy Bean, Buffalo Bill, among many others.
  • Humans Are White: Although historically about a third of all cowboys were black or Hispanic (And the word "cowboy" itself originally referred specifically to black farmhands), it wasn't until the 1960s that any black people started showing up in Westerns, and not until the 1970s that they started being main cast members.
  • Kirk's Rock: Frequently used in Westerns due to its convenience to Hollywood.
  • Mobile Kiosk: Most of the alleged doctors in the Wild West would travel by wagon from town to town selling a 'miracle elixir' said to cure whatever ailment they could come up with. These show up in Westerns from time to time.
  • Quick Draw: A trope that shows up in the Showdown at High Noon
  • Race Lift:
    • For every time someone says Crazy Horse's father was white, even though he inherited his name from his father.
    • In general, most depictions of classic cowboys in media show them as disproportionally white. While there obviously were white cowboys, there was also a much higher percentage of black, Asian, Latin, and Native American cowboys than is typically portrayed in the media.
  • The Remnant: A number of outlaw bands are made up of ex-Confederate soldiers who just kept fighting the war even after it ended.
  • Riding into the Sunset
  • Run for the Border
  • The Savage South: Typically there is more lawlessness and danger in the southern areas than the northern ones. This is especially common in the unrest of the years following The Civil War.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Typical Western guns were always shorter and lighter compared to what a modern rifleman may use, since they were designed to be fired from horseback.
  • Settling the Frontier: Settlers and new settlements play a major role in many Westerns.
  • Showdown at High Noon
  • Smoking Barrel Blowout
  • Tar and Feathers
  • Throwaway Guns: Revolvers are slow to reload, so a good gunfighter will have several to draw from as the previous goes empty.
  • Wanted Poster: Expect to see them allover town, especially if the bad man featured on it is the Big Bad, one of his henchmen, or at least relevant to the plot. In some cases even the good guy might end up on one if he's been wrongly accused and needs to prove his innocence
  • The Western: The genre that takes place here.
  • Western Characters: The full collection of stock characters of Westerns are listed on this page.

Works that are set in this time period are:

Comic Books
  • Blueberry
  • Les Tuniques Bleues
  • Jonah Hex
    • Although, interestingly, not in the movie. It's apparently set in the Wild South, unless Jonah's horse is extraordinarily fast- he travels from the Old-West-style town he's in to the villain's lair in about a day. The villain's lair is an old confederate fort, on the Atlantic coast.
  • Lucky Luke
  • Tex Willer
  • Marvel Comics had a number of Western heroes, including the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid (who got unstuck in time and briefly became an Avenger) and the original Ghost Rider (who dressed up as a ghost, not the guy with the flaming skull). In the modern age, a miniseries called Blaze Of Glory revived those characters to show their final days.
  • Zorro



Live-Action TV

  • The Beatles did a Wild West tale of failed revenge with "Rocky Raccoon", a song from The White Album written by Paul McCartney.
  • The Bonzo Dog Band's "Bad Blood", from Let's Make Up and Be Friendly, is another Western revenge tale and Affectionate Parody of Johnny Cash.
  • Beck's "Farewell Ride" from ''Guero has lyrics built on Western imagery. Sample:
    I don't see the face of
    Kindness I don't hear the
    Mission bells I don't smell
    The morning roses all I see
    Is all I see is
    Two white horses in a line
    Carrying me to my burying ground.



Tabletop Games

  • The Girl of the Golden West, play by David Belasco and opera by Puccini

Theme Parks

Video Games
  • Call of Juarez
  • Trouble In Terrorist Town: Technically if you go on the Mogz server hosted in the UK on the maps de_westwood and cs_desperados the modern guns have been replaced by western ones. However they do not have auto reload which means once your clip is dry(Shotgun 7 shells, Double Barrel 2 shells, Lever Rifle 5 bullets and 1 bullet for the sharps and six for either the colt or peacemaker) you have to pistol whip your opponent or get out of range and reload.
  • Desperados
  • Gun
  • Red Dead Revolver
  • Red Dead Redemption: While the game itself is set during 1909, it fits many of the tropes associated with the Wild West. The game even has three distinct acts, with the first being the Standard Western (good guys, bad guys, etc), the second taking the form of the Spaghetti Western (moral ambiguity), and the third and final act set in the Dying West.
  • Outlaws
  • Sunset Riders
  • Wild Arms series combines western tropes with a Standard Fantasy Setting. How Western the series is varies per game.
  • Bastion evokes this with its old-timey narrator and most of the soundtrack, which is full of banjos and the occasional voiced song that sounds like a traditional folk song.
  • Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist
  • Lethal Enforcers II: Gun Fighters
  • A couple of Mount & Blade Game Mods, especially 1866: A Mount & Blade Western.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time has the Cotton Mouth Bluff world, complete with coyote/jackalope/steer guards, a huge train moving through the world, a Small Name, Big Ego armadillo sheriff, sarsparilla bars, and the guncane-toting "Tennessee Kid" Cooper. The Caper of the world is even a train robbery.
  • Fallout: New Vegas takes place mainly in the Mojave, and outside of Vegas itself, mostly resides here. You can even take a perk named 'Cowboy' to make your .45-70 lever-action deadlier than a triple plasma rifle.
  • Fistful Of Frags is a multiplayer first-person shooter based on the Source Engine. Its most prominent feature is the effect that period weaponry has on a typical FPS death-match arena. The weapons are slow, clunky, but very powerful, placing a greater emphasis on landing your shots.
  • In The Adventures of Lomax, the third world is like this, complete with cowboy enemies.
  • The second level of Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose takes place in a western town, featuring The Coyote Kid (from the TV series episode, "High Toon") and his henchmen as enemies. Here, Montana Max is in the progress of robbing a safe, and the second half of the level takes place on a runaway train to chase after him.

Western Animation


Web Original

Alternative Title(s):

The Olllld West, Wild West