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 West 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 the Samurai
version of this trope, see works set during and immediately after the Meiji Restoration
Has nothing to do with cowboy vampire romance
or a certain purple unicorn ruling the outback.
- 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, and involves Wild West legends such as the Dalton Gang, Anney Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Geronimo. PT Barnum himself sums it up at the end how the West has ended for all of them. Buffalo Bill and Anney Oakley reduced to performing tricks in a traveling show, Angus Pothole leaving the riverboat business as they have been made obsolete by the intercontinental railroads, and the great Indian tribes all but wiped out or stuck on reservations. As the story wraps up, Scrooge, himself a symbol of the dawning 20th century, thinks to himself as he watches the others leave that the West "is riding off into its last sunset".
- Hergé completely failed to understand this trope when making Tintin In America, and as such features cowboys and gangsters in the same story and sometimes in the exact same location.
- Parodied in the final story of a Lobo Elseworld that reimagined the Main Man as various Western characters. "The Last Despera-bo" is a wistful page of the character reflecting on how times are changing and there doesn't seem to be much place for him any more. Then he gets hit by a truck.
- 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.
- Monte Walsh, Jack Schaefer's 1963 novel about a group of aging cowboys coming to terms with the end of the era. Later adapted as a movie twice: in 1970, starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance; and in 2003, starring Tom Selleck and Keith Carradine.
- Blood Meridian is literally subtitled "An Evening Redness in the West", and is a comment on the death of that era.
- The Continental Op short story "Corkscrew" by Dashiell Hammett (written in 1925) takes a big city private eye to a small western town. Part of the story involves the Op telling the people of Corkscrew that frontier justice isn't gonna cut it anymore.
- 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.
- The Murdoch Mysteries episode "Mild, Mild West", in which a murder is committed at Buffallo Bill's Roadshow, and Murdoch's brand of by-the-book law and order is contrasted with the sort of lawman who gets involved in shootouts on main street.
- 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.