Just off the picture: a wild Ford Mustang.
Our days are over
Times have changed around these parts
There ain't no more cowboys
Only men with violent hearts
The Twilight of the Old West
is a trope invoked by stories depicting the changes that took place in Western North America and Mexico during the closing days of the Wild West
and the beginning days of the New Old West
. This is roughly the period between 1890 (the year the U.S. Census Bureau announced the closing of the frontier and the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred thereby marking the end of the "Indian Wars") and 1920 (which marked the official end of The Mexican Revolution
when guerilla/bandit forces operated along the US/Mexican border and the beginning of Prohibition in the U.S. which closed the last of the old Western saloons).
In stories set during the Twilight of the Old West
, there will still be many elements of the Wild West
present like cowboys
, bank and train robberies
, saloons, and cattle drives
but, as you get deeper into the 20th century, they'll gradually become less common. Probably the most noticeable change is the shift away from horses as a mode of transportation in favor of trains and—especially—automobiles. The replacement of gas and oil lights in favor of electricity follows close behind as an indication of progress as do the appearances of new inventions like telephones, motion pictures, phonographs, and airplanes.
While technological changes play a major role, the Twilight of the Old West
mainly deals with changes in society and how they affect those who still feel tied to the "old ways" of the Wild West
. For example, bringing justice to an area now means criminals are dealt with by sheriffs, police, judges, and jails rather than vigilante justice. Also, cattle drives
become more infrequent and smaller with the end of the open range and the spread of the railroad system beyond the hub cities that were usually the destination of such drives.
Compare Riding into the Sunset
. The Magic Goes Away
can be considered the corresponding fantasy trope.
Sub-trope of The Western
and End of an Age
that overlaps with the latter stage of the Wild West
and the beginning of the New Old West
. Opposite of Dawn of the Wild West
. For Samurai
version of this trope, see works set during and immediately after Meiji Restoration
- Part of American Vampire is set in this timeframe. Skinner Sweet attends a Wild West Show, and is highly offended at how he and his Worthy Opponent are portrayed.
- Originally, the adventures of Cinnamon in The DCU were set in this period (although later stories moved her back to the more typical Wild West period).
- Jonah Hex's Deadly Distant Finale.
- This trope is a theme in Don Rosa's story The Vigilante of Pizen Bluff, a part of the The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck series taking place in the 1890s. At the end of the story, Buffalo Bill himself admits that he and his ilk are "relics of a bygone age".
- An American Tail: Fievel Goes West takes place around 1890 or so, implied to be the tail-end of the Wild West era because the boom town the Mousekewitz family expects to move to is now run-down and dying, and the Sheriff and folk hero Wylie Burp is now old, frail and past his prime.
- The Ballad Of Cable Hogue depicts a failed prospector during the closing of the frontier. Cable Hogue discovers a well in the desert and founds a town at the site. When an automobile appears on the road and drives past without stopping, Cable recognizes that as a sign that the frontier is closing, so he decides to pack up and move to civilization.
- Big Jake takes place in 1909. It featured a posse of Texas Rangers chasing outlaws in automobiles but ultimately the bad guys are defeated using old school gunfighting.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is set between the years 1898 and 1908—a time when such "new" inventions like motion pictures are present. The abrupt transition from the Wild West to the Modern Age is illustrated in a cut scene from the movie when Butch and Sundance visit a nickelodeon and see a filmed dramatization of one of their train robberies ... in which they're shot to death.
- Though still set squarely in the Old West, The Last Samurai shows a time when - for some people, at least - that time was already starting to die out. The hero, no longer needed as an Indian fighter in his own land, is offered employment oversees fighting a different kind of "savage".
- This could also mirror the fact that Japan, at the same time, is facing its own End of an Age, with the decline of the samurai and feudal era.
- The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean partially takes place during the first decades of the 20th century.
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller may, upon first glance, appear to take place early in the era of the Wild West. However, the appearance of a vacuum cleaner and William McKinley presidential posters indicate it's actually around 1900 and times are changing.
- The Professionals is set during the later years of The Mexican Revolution.
- Ride The High Country involves two aging ex-lawman hired to guard a shipment of gold being transported out of the Sierras in early 20th century California. The opening scene, especially, captures the flavor of this trope; director Sam Peckinpah revisits the same themes in The Wild Bunch.
- In The Shootist, John Wayne plays a dying gunfighter in the fast-changing West of 1901.
- In Sunset, which is set in 1920s Hollywood, Wyatt Earp is watching his life being mythologised while he is still alive.
- íThree Amigos! lampshades and parodies Wild Western tropes...even though the plot takes place in the Mexican frontiers around World War I, with the protagonists washed-up silent film stars pretending to be cowboys. At one point, German military pilots show up to train the main villain's banditos in more "modern" weapons.
- The Wild Bunch is set in 1913 when the film's characters, a gang of aging outlaws, have clearly lived past their time. Electricity and automobiles are present as are such "modern" weapons like Colt M1911 handguns, M1903 Springfield rifles and Winchester Model 1897 shotguns and an M1917 machine gun which underscore the mechanized brutality of the modern era.
- Sergio Leone's last Spaghetti Western Duck, You Sucker! is set during The Mexican Revolution, making full use of the Western landscapes that had been used his previous films, but now with 20th century weapons and transportation.
- The spaghetti western My Name Is Nobody takes place in 1899 and the trope is part of the plot. Jack Beauregard, an old and, by then, famous gunslinger in the Wild West decides to call it quits and retire to Europe. However, he meets 'Nobody', a young enthusiastic gunfighter whose idol is exactly Beauregard. Nobody wants Beauregard to definitely end in a blaze of glory in the history books by facing the Wild Bunch (a horse-riding gang of 150 bandits) alone.
- The story "The Long High Noon" in the anthology Law of the Gun is about two Gunslingers trying to have a decisive shootout over several decades as the Old West fades around them. By the end of the story, they're both playing aged extras in cowboy movies. One of them finally decisively plugs the other, then walks in front of an automobile.
- O. Henry has several stories about the West set in this era.
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. takes place in 1893, as the old ways are changing, although unlike most versions of this trope, it's mostly played for laughs.
- The short-lived 1971 Western series Bearcats is set in 1914 and has the main characters traveling from one adventure to another in a Stutz Bearcat automobile rather than on horses.
- Nichols, a 1970s Western Dramedy starring James Garner, took place in 1914 Arizona and had the title character, a pacifistic sheriff, using cars and motorcycles rather than a horse.
- The series Outlaws starts in 1899 where an outlaw has become a sheriff sent to bring in his old gang. The sheriff tells the gang that the old ways aren't going to work any more. Then a freak lightning storm sends them all through time to 1986, where they set up a detective agency and have to adapt to the modern world.
- The Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "Threepersons" is set on the Texas/Mexico border circa 1923, with horses and automobiles sharing the streets. The heroes go after a gang who's smuggling booze across the border.
- Hec Ramsey starred Richard Boone as Hector "Hec" Ramsey, who had been a gunfighter/lawman in the Wild West, but the heydays of the cowboy are coming to an end, and the 20th century is just beginning, and Ramsey is keeping up with the times. He has developed a strong interest in the then-emerging field of forensics.
- Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured from 1883 to 1913, was a result of the closing of the West. There were all of these people still alive who had lived through the wildest days of the West, which had finally been tamed and fenced in. So the only way left to experience the Wild West was The Theme Park Version, and William F. Cody brought some of the best to his show, like Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull.
- The hunt for Pancho Villa had both the primitive setting of the borderlands and the high-tech for their time gasoline-powered trucks, airplanes, radios and automatic weapons.
- Red Dead Redemption takes place in 1911, with this trope in full effect. Federal agents have shown up to tame the Wild West, and they've brought an automobile with them. They repeatedly refer to the hero, Retired Outlaw John Marston, as a remnant of a bygone age, even as they use him to track down his former gang mates. Indeed, one of the game's major themes is the incompatibility of the old west with "civilized" people, whom are ever encroaching upon it.
- Call of Juarez: Gunslinger actually starts off in 1910. Most of the story however is told via flashback during the heyday of the Wild West.