You're in the Jungle, baby!
You're gonna DIE!
If you thought the north was bad, you haven't seen the south. Down there, everyone is crude, their language indecipherable, and their mannerisms barbaric. The land itself is an inhospitable jungle full of wild beasts, barren desert, or nasty swamps full of snakes and crocodiles (sometimes it has all of the above). Also, don't go swimming: there are sharks, or worse.
The Savage South is when a southern area is seen as more barbaric than its northern counterpart. This shows up frequently in westerns, fantasy settings, horror films, and many other works and takes many forms. In milder versions, the area's just unpleasant with rude, poorly groomed people. At worst, the people are hostile to any outsiders and the land itself is a nightmare realm just waiting to kill unlucky travelers.
A Supertrope of the Deep South, South of the Border, Darkest Africa, and Land Down Under, sister trope to Grim Up North. If the South is looking decayed, misty and/or possibly undead, then it's Southern Gothic instead. Go even farther south, and you're in Mysterious Antarctica. See also North Is Cold, South Is Hot.
This trope may have its origins in the Punic Wars and Roman perception thereof. Hannibal Barca spent ten long years ravaging the Roman countryside, handing the Roman army some of the most one-sided defeats in the history of warfare, rewriting the entire book on tactics. The wars ended with a Roman invasion of Africa and the complete destruction of Carthage, who had been Rome's greatest rival for many decades. In Roman literature thereafter, the south would inevitably be associated with the "savage" homeland that produced such figures as Hannibal.
Later, the Age of Exploration and the adventures of European sailors, conquerors, traders, explorers, and colonists, would cement this trope in the modern mind. Europeans typically found Africa, South America, and lands further afield to be hot, wet, filled with strange and possibly hostile natives and wildlife bordering on monsters - to say nothing of the horrors of exotic diseases, and in many cases the horrors of European diseases shared with the native inhabitants, which the immune explorers would have hardly associated with themselves.
The field equipment of any self-respecting European or American in places beyond the tropics would include the venerable pith helmet - before World War II, plenty of Real Life people were fully convinced the head of a White guy would boil in the midday sun without, while the natives were genetically adapted to it. It had a more mundane explanation: while the people who had grown in hot climates would know better and stop all physical activity from around 11 AM to 6 PM, Northerners would insist on their usual work schedule from their home country, with most active hours when the heat is worst.
No "real life" examples unless very specific, please. For example, quoting an American newspaper saying that Mexico is barbaric is fine (despite the Unfortunate Implications), but saying "how America views Mexico" is not enough.
- Cannibal Exploitation Films were very popular in Grindhouses all over the USA during the 70's and 80's. The whole point of these films is showing how "savage" South America is. Cannibal Holocaust is one of the most famous, and an Unbuilt Trope in that the film crew protagonists prove to be more savage than the tribe that they are filming!
- There are countless horror films that take place in the Southern USA. Here is a sample list (see also Hillbilly Horrors):
- Australia itself has quite a few takes on its own, including, but not limited Fair Game (a 1986 Australian version of the typical Hillbilly Horrors film, complete with sociopathic redneck rapists), The Western Mad Dog Morgan, The Outlaw Michael Howe, Savages Crossing, cannibal slasher Van Diemen's Land, Dying Breed, The Cars That Ate Paris (about a degenerate town of psychos who cause car crashes to scavenge the remains) and Road Games, a remake of Duel.
- Swamp Water (1941), while not a horror film, is still arguably a good example. It takes place in the rural South, specifically the area in Georgia around the Okeefenokee Swamp. The town on the swamp's edge is pleasant enough, with a general store, square dances, young women in gingham dresses and the like. But once you wander outside of town and into the enormous swampland itself, things quickly become dangerous. Not only are the trees growing out of the water so labyrinthine that you can easily become hopelessly lost and starve to death if you don't know how to catch your own food, but once trapped in there you're easily prey for alligators, Florida panthers, and the dreaded water mocassin ("cottonmouth") snake, which lurks at the water's edge and strikes without warning. Also living in that swamp is a paranoid survivalist (actually a man unjustly accused of murder who's been forced to become a recluse) played by Walter Brennan; he'll kidnap you if you get too close to his hiding place and then kill you if you try to escape.
- The premise of The Ruins. A group of young people vacationing in Mexico travel to an out of the way Mayan ruin. Horror ensues.
- Stark Love portrays Appalachia as a savage and primitive region where men treat their women like beasts of burden and/or sex slaves.
- Southern Comfort
- Invoked in Romance of the Three Kingdoms — the South is reportedly a vast, dense jungle inhabited by tribes, all of which answer to the mighty Meng Huo. Unlike the usual barbarian chieftains, Meng Huo can be reasoned with... eventually... involving a lengthy series of moves that takes the form of a Humiliation Conga and culminates in the ultimate Break the Haughty.
- In Faulkner's Sanctuary, beautiful Ole Miss coed Temple Drake is kidnapped by the impotent criminal Popeye who proceeds to rape her with a corncob when his junk won't work... later, in a drunken rage at being interrupted by his local book club, Faulkner answered the question, "Do you see yourself in your writing?" with "I, madam, I WAS THE CORNCOB" before slamming the door and getting back to his scotch.
- Until fairly recently, Africa south of the Sahara was often called "Dark Africa" in many books and films because it was largely an unknown, "savage" land.
- Due to its Troperiffic nature, The Belgariad plays this incredibly straight with Nyissa, a snake-infested jungle full of poisonous plants, ruined temples and a thriving slave trade, populated by a race of stoner weirdos ruled by a sadistic oversexed queen. South of it is Cthol Murgos, home of a Proud Warrior Race in service to a Human Sacrifice-loving God of Evil.
- Averted in most French works: The south of France is often depicted as being far friendlier and warmer than the north. Played straight in that most clandestine immigration comes from the South (that is, North Africa), so depictions of the area are portrayed roughly the same as Mexican Favelas.
- The Black Company spends most of the saga traveling from the north (which is the standard fantasy setting) to the south (India expy) down to their place of origin at the southernmost end of the continent... where things get really weird.
- In The Lord of the Rings:
- The land south of Gondor, called Harad, is considered a savage land. Sauron musters an army from there. It is important to note that Harad is huge, covering all of what would in the real world be the Middle East (Near Harad) and Africa (Far Harad). There is at least one technologically and socially advanced kingdom in the Near Harad, although it's under Sauron's thumb. Next to nothing is known about the Far Harad, but what little is implies it to be a genuinely savage environment. The mûmakil, enormous elephants that the Haradrim ride into battle, come from these lands.
- The southern part of Gondor split away after many people refused to accept one of the Kings due to them not being a pure Numenorean, and by the War of the Ring is inhabited by the Corsairs of Umbar, pirates. Eventually the Haradrim conquered Umbar.
- Similar to The Lord of the Rings in The Chronicles of Narnia is Calormen, a land to the South of Narnia, and Archenland, separated by a vast desert. It is inhabited by Calormenes, who practise slavery and have a large Empire. In The Horse and his Boy they try to conquer Archenland and in The Last Battle they launch an invasion of Narnia, but this is stopped by The End of the World as We Know It.
- The Calormenes refer to Narnians and Archenlanders as the "Northern barbarians," whose lands are full of demons — from their perspective, the "normal" lands are the Grim Up North.
- The southern lands in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian series. Most of the lands are savage in various degrees, but the lands south of Stygia are more so, especially the Black Kingdoms.
- In Mattimeo, one of the Redwall books, we find out that the Kingdom of Malkariss, a slave empire at the bottom of a vast abyss, is in the south. While the northlands in the setting are cold and filled with their own dangers, no place is as loathed as Malkariss. Even further south is the island of Sampetra, home of corsairs and savage monitor lizards.
- In Terry Brooks' Shannara books, the Southland Federation regards itself as the single most civilized nation on the continent. In reality it's a xenophobic, expansionist dictatorship that outlaws magic and has designs on the rest of the world. At its worst, in the Heritage books, The Federation became an outright Police State, dominated by The Seekers, and secretly controlled by The Shadowen. Many books and centuries later, things have improved, but it is still the single greatest threat to the other lands outside of the Demons, and is certainly the most persistent.
- The Wheel of Time's southern continent is called the Land of the Madmen; it's never visited, but the Proud Merchant Race Sea Folk tell stories of constant volcanoes and earthquakes, violently insane Channelers, and wretchedly primitive villages, and refuse to go there.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- Sothoryos, a continent to the south of Essos and modeled after historical and pulp fiction portrayals of sub-Saharan Africa, fully embraces this trope.
- To reach it, one first has to pass the Basilisk Isles, a notorious nest of corsairs with no ports save for ramshackle pirate towns and the ruins of the ancient city of Gogossos.
- Past that, the continent itself is covered in an endless, steaming jungle until it vanishes into the unknown south, the only signs of habitation being tribes of savage apelike "brindled men" and the ruined cities of Zamettar and Yeen, over which no plants will grow. The jungles themselves fester with an enormous assortment of horrible diseases and teem with basilisks, poisonous snakes, stinging flies and parasitic worms, with crocodiles and carnivorous fish infesting the rivers. Numerous expeditions have been sent there in history, every single one ending in disaster.
- The furthest south beyond even Yeen, simply known as the Green Hell, is this trope Up to Eleven. Its jungles are home to even worse things than the northern ones, including apes twice the size of elephants, enormous bloodsucking bats, what sound suspiciously like carnivorous dinosaurs, enormous snakes and wyverns.
- Dorne, the most southern region in the continent of Westeros is an arid desert whose people have the reputation of being savage and uncultured due to being colonized by a different ethnic group than the Andals and the First Men that make up the vast majority of the Seven Kingdoms.
- Sothoryos, a continent to the south of Essos and modeled after historical and pulp fiction portrayals of sub-Saharan Africa, fully embraces this trope.
- Game of Thrones:
- How the middle of Westeros sees Dorne; they are regarded as different and less civilized. Not unlike the North, weirdly enough. The fact that they have a different skin tone and have more relaxed cultural norms in terms of sexuality and class doesn't help matters. When Tywin and Cersei try to invoke this to Oberyn though, the latter quickly points out the hypocrisy of the Lannisters, whose fame and power comes from vicious atrocities, in calling other people savage, especially since the Queen's daughter is living in Dorne and engaged to the Martells' youngest son.
- Utterly averted with Missandei. Missandei is one of the only speaking characters in the TV series that is actually from the third continent, Sothoryos (well, Naath, a large island off the coast) which is the analogue to Africa in their fantasy world. One or two other characters in the TV version are from the Summer Islands, father to the west, but it doesn't really come into the plot much. Nonetheless Missandei is a very gentle and kind person, and a very intelligent translator. Later, Missandei describes Naathi culture to Jon Snow and Davos, noting how the concept of illegitimate children and segregation of children from society based on their issue was utterly alien to their values, which touches both Jon Snow and Davos. In the books, the Naathi people are in fact utter pacifists, whose religion commands them to harm no living thing to the point that they are strict vegetarians that will not eat the flesh of animals, and they are forbidden to use force of any kind, even in self-defense. Their main activities are making music and making butterfly cocoons into fine silk cloth for export. Unfortunately, utter pacifism makes them a favorite target for slaving raids from Slaver's Bay to the north, which is how Missandei ended up in Astapor.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "Safari O'Toole", the eponymous adventurer spends much of his time in the Savage South, Darkest Africa in particular. He's a fake, but a nice one, who's only trying to impress Mrs. Davis.
- Oregon: Washington's Mexico and California's Canada, according to Stephen Colbert.
- Community has a joke in it referring to Thailand as China's Mexico.
- The X-Files has multiple episodes that take place in the Southwest and in Mexico ("South of the Border") and portray it like this.
- The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Gets Trapped" actually portrays the Southern characters as pretty nice and reasonable, but the Main Characters have different preconceptions.
Dennis: We are in a very dangerous situation here; these people are from the South! (...) I mean, God only knows what these people will do to us if they catch us. These Southerners, they probably pray for a home invasion every single day; they can't wait to get their hands on home invaders so they can blast 'em with shotguns and do God knows what to them, Frank. (...) They are always armed to the teeth. They will hog-tie us and hang us out on the front lawn or burn us on a cross!Charlie: You're right man, you gotta be careful. Y'know, anytime you find out some dude's got a crazy torture basement or something, it's someone from the South; it always is.
- Breaking Bad is an increasingly violent tale about Walter White's FaceHeel Turn from desperate highschool teacher to full-blown meth kingpin. It's set in New Mexico (which is pretty far south already by average western standards), and most of its non-law-enforcement antagonists are either part of the Mexican drug cartels or heavily associated with them.
- In Legend of the Five Rings, the Crab Clan who occupy Rokugan's Southernmost Provinces are considered by most Samurai to be crude and vulgar. This is justified however by the fact that, for nearly their entire history they have been at war with the Shadowlands just south of them, leaving them precious little time to bother with courtly niceties. Said Shadowlands are an even better example since they are literally hell on Earth.
- Dungeons & Dragons provides some examples. Generally speaking, the humans who live in these areas are fairly civilized or at least peaceful toward outsiders; it's the monsters that live there that pose the real threat.
- The Chultan Peninsula in Forgotten Realms (also the setting for the first and last chapters of Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir). Swarming with dinosaurs, Snake People, and the odd evil Cult. However, Tashalar on the same latitude is reasonably civilized. (Further south from that is the continent of Zakhara, which is actually more civilized than Faerûn.)
- Hepmonaland and the Amedio Jungle from Greyhawk. Home to various plant monsters, Mayincatec ruins, and a secret cult of fantasy Nazis.
- Because the main setting of Dragonlance is in its planet's southern hemisphere, their "savage south" is actually any other setting's Grim Up North.
- Eberron: the continents of Xen'drik and Argonessen, ruled by giants and dragons respectively. Xen'drik in particular is filled with trap-laden ruins and haunted by Snake People and dark elves.
- The southern reaches of the continent of Garund are dominated vast tracts of jungle known as the Mwangi Expanse, which is filled with dinosaurs, demons, demon-worshipping halfling tribes and Maniac Monkeys. Several areas of the Expanse have reputations in their own right, and have quaint names like the Screaming Jungle and the Jungle of Hungry Trees. To the Southeast of the Mwangi is the southernmost recognized nation of the Inner Sea region, Geb, which is a magocracy / necrocracy ruled by a ghostly archmage, teeming with undead, and where mortals tend to be chattel unless themselves necromancers or death priests. Further south, off the edge of the map, there's rumor of a land of warlike Amazons and an empire of dino-riding Lizard Folk.
- On the other side of the world, the continent of Tian Xia has its own succession of increasingly hostile southlands.
- The southermost of the Tian kingdoms is the jungle realm of Nagajor, an insular and often hostile nation ruled by the nagas and their reptilian servants, who deeply dislike outsiders and are happy to let their homeland's jungles dispose of them for them.
- The southernmost quarter of the continent proper is dominated by the impassable Valashmai Jungle, a stretch of rainforest, swampland and volcanic ranges dotted with the ruins of ancient civilizations and home to tribes of Lizard Folk and Frog Men, carnivorous plants, more dinosaurs and a surprising number of Kaiju. According to the people who entered the Valashmai and survived, the jungle seems to deliberately erode and undermine any attempt to settle or explore it.
- South of that, beyond a sea filled with whirlpools, storms and Sea Monsters, is the "dark continent" of Sarusan. Exactly what it's like there is uncertain, since those expeditions who return from it invariably find themselves missing most of the memories of the place beyond vague recollections of vast wildernesses and giant marsupials.
- Different parts of Titan, the Fighting Fantasy world, play this trope to varying degrees:
- In Allansia, the humans of the southern lands are all quite civilized and friendly, if exotic to characters from the north. The danger comes from the huge Lizard Man Empire that haunts the swamps of the central south, which are more evil and savage than any human you might encounter.
- In the Old World, the southwestern part of the continent is home to the country of Lendleland, which is home to many fierce and superstitious horse-nomads. The southeastern part of the continent is occupied by the kingdom of Analand, which is arguably one of the nicest places in the entire world.
- In Khul, the southernmost part of the continent is home alternately to the savage southern swordsmen of Zagoula, who worship the gods of chaos and evil, the plague-breeding beggars of the foul city of Shakuru, and the petty city-states of the Inland Sea, all of whom engage in constant low-key warfare with one another. Khul is the most Justified example on Titan, as the central part of the continent is a warped, horrific pit of Nightmare Fuel caused by the evil which infected the very land itself during the War of the Wizards.
- Most of the action in the Warhammer world (here's a map) takes place around the Old World.
- The continent to the south of the Old World is the Southlands, the Warhammer world's equivalent of Africa. Here, you'll find the Badlands; a harsh, barren wasteland filled with various Orc clans constantly warring for supremacy, as well as other vicious predators. Beyond the wastes is a patch of desert once known as Nehekhara, once the first human civilisation, now known as the Land of the Dead and home to the undead remnants of the first human civilisation. And beyond that is pretty much nothing but untamed, unexplored jungle teeming with Orcs and Goblins even more backwards and savage than their northern kin.
- Over on the other side of the world is the continent of Lustria, a tropical land roughly equivalent to South America and home to various dinosaur-like monsters and an Aztec-like civilisation of Lizardmen, who aren't exactly as savage or evil as their nightmarish appearance suggests, but still aren't exactly welcoming to outsiders, in fact they'd probably look at you as dinner. And the northernmost part of the continent (the one closest to where the equator should be) has been taken over by vampires, of all things.
- The worst by a country mile is the Southern Wastes, the equivalent of Antarctica — when they say "Here Be Daemons", they really aren't kidding!
- Kurast and its surrounding jungles in Diablo 2 which are filled with giant insects, poisonous river creatures, savage pigmy demons, and murderous human cultists. Subverted in that it was once a place of great good that was corrupted by Mephisto.
- The Korcari Wilds in Dragon Age: Origins, which are full of barbarians.
- Ferelden is in southern Thedas and is considered the south border of the civilized world. But all the other northern countries, specially Orlais, think Fereldans are only one step above savages and only a bad day away from reverting to barbarism.
- Ferelden might be in the south of Thedas, but in practice, it is Grim Up North, since Thedas is basically Fantasy Europe flipped upside-down. Conversely, the Anderfels, located in the north, are a land of ravaged steppes and forests, and are close to a region called the Donarks, which are also filled with jungles.
- The Hockomock Swamp and the Glowing Sea mark the southern boundaries in Fallout 4. One is a real, supposedly haunted swamp just outside of Boston that is basically uninhabited. The other is ground zero for the nuclear warhead that struck the area. Both are filled with very high level enemies and few, if any, places to rest. The Swamp itself is usually filled with dense foliage and a thick fog that makes it hard to see enemies. The nearby towns are mostly destroyed and overrun with synths, Gunners, and ghouls. The Glowing Sea has no friendly settlements (besides the Children of Atom by the Crater) and is basically a sparse, blasted hell in which an eternal storm grips the sky, massive hordes of ghouls move about, deathclaws nest, and in which even taking off your hazard suit for a few minutes can easily kill you. Plus, if you play on survival mode, the Glowing Sea becomes exceptionally tough, as now there is a good chance of starving or dehydrating, and there are basically no beds to sleep in.
- Sands of Destruction's Summer Continent appears to be an expy of Africa, complete with deserts and Savannah. The biggest sign of civilization is the complex operated by Elephas Rex, and travelers who fail to take precautions usually collapse from heat exhaustion before they reach it.
- The Elder Scrolls
- Tamriel's two southern-most mainland regions, Elsweyr and Black Marsh, both qualify. To note:
- Elsweyr is a massive desert with some tropical jungles at the borders, home to the Cat Folk Khajiit who have a not-undeserved reputation for stealing everything that isn't well-guarded. They are considered one of Tamriel's prime examples of a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass race, and even the fascistic Aldmeri Dominion preferred to get Elsweyr to join diplomatically as a vassal rather than via conquest.
- Black Marsh (aka Argonia) is full of diseases, poisonous life forms, sentient trees, man-eating plants, and vicious wildlife. It is home to the Argonians, who are resistant to the aforementioned diseases and toxins, and who worship said sentient trees (known as the Hist). Even Tiber Septim didn't bother conquering Black Marsh completely for his Empire, just capturing a few border towns (where non-Argonians could actually live) and calling it a win. (The Argonians apparently didn't care enough to raise any serious objections.) When it was being invaded by the forces of Oblivion during the Oblivion Crisis, the Argonians fought back with such ferocity that the Oblivion Gates had to be closed there as the Argonians were invading Oblivion.
- To the south of Tamriel lie two archipelagos: the "coral kingdom" of Thras and the "jungle islands" of Pyandonea, both of which also qualify. To note:
- Thras is home to the Sload, "slug-men" who famously practice necromancy while having a Lack of Empathy and utter ruthlessness as their racial hats. They've long been at war with the Altmer (High Elves) ever since their ancestors came to Tamriel, and their most infamous interaction with Tamriel was to unleash the Thrassian Plague, which decimated Tamriel's population. (In revenge, the All-Flags Navy was formed from the navies of most Tamriellic nations and they sank Thras beneath the sea. It would, however, rise again.)
- Pyandonea is home to the Maormer, or Sea Elves, who are also long-time enemies of the Altmer. They have "chameleon skin" which allows them to "disappear by walking into the shade of a single tree." They are led by an "undying wizard king" named Orgnum, and practice a powerful "snake magic" that allows them to control sea beasts. After thousands of years of raiding the coasts of southern Tamriel, especially the Summerset Isles (homeland of the Altmer), they brought a massive fleet with the intent to conquer. However, it was swallowed whole when the Psijic Order created a magical storm, leaving the Maormer so devastated that it is said they will never again be able to seriously threaten Tamriel.
- Tamriel's two southern-most mainland regions, Elsweyr and Black Marsh, both qualify. To note:
- The Stranglethorn Vale zone in World of Warcraft, a wild, savage jungle full of dangerous predators, cannibalistic trolls, and pirates. In southern Kalimdor, we have Tanaris, a Shifting Sand Land full of dangerous predators, cannibalistic trolls, and pirates; and Un'Goro Crater, a Prehistoria populated with dinosaurs. To a certain degree, the continent of Pandaria also counts, being a jungle-heavy Crapsaccharine World where the Old God worshipping mantid, the xenophobic Shado-Pan, and the brutal yaungol are all but at war with eachother.
- The entire continent of Kunark in EverQuest and EverQuest II
- In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the southern portion of the map is definitely the most dangerous. As you creep south, you go further and further from civilization. While the north has large farming communities, beautiful rolling fields, and well developed infrastructure, the southern portion of the map is desolate and run down. The few people there are usually cannibals or deserters from the war, and the friendly settlements are very few and far between.
- Averted in the wider scale of the setting, as South is home to the Nilfgaardian Empire that is considerably more advanced and united than the Northern Kingdoms, and the nations south of them seem quite civilised, as well. Ofcourse Nilfgaard is also a genocidal dictatorship, but with Nazi-esque obsession with strict organization, rather than uncontrolled savagery.
- As What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?'s presenters, Nash and Tara, will tell you, Florida. The most insane, screwed up, disturbing stories come from Florida. The people are psychotic, the animals are insane (read: the snakes are eating everything) and the state is crazy.
- Plus, there's the ongoing adventures of Florida Man.
- Australia, according to Badass of the Week.
- Somewhat justified as the climates close the Equator provide the best environment for life to thrive — including germs, diseases, pests, predators, parasites and other nasty creatures. Most snakes, insects and amphibians, for example, find their natural habitat between the Tropics and Equator. Likewise, the sister trope Grim Up North is due to the increasingly life-hostile climate towards the poles.
- Joseph Campbell has written that because tropical environments make dead things decay spectacularly (decay and scavenger organisms being more vibrant too), it tends to make native religions more aware of life's connection to death. This can make "fertile" ground for stories about death cults.
- Note that this trope is inverted at the Southern hemisphere. The perceived "savagery" increases towards north (as the equator is there) and the more south you go, the more the north-like the milieu becomes as the climate becomes colder and less friendly to life. Until, of course, we reach the Mysterious Antarctica.
- According to Dave Barry, Florida in general and Miami in particular. According to him, Florida has a constant 200% humidity rate, teems with psychotically aggressive antsnote , giant insects that want to jump into your mouth, and crabs that tear up your front lawn and attack you when you try to pick up the morning paper. And the "natives" are even worse - the Miami version of a good Samaritan responds to a carjacking by pulling out a gun and firing madly at the jacked car. As for politics, the only thing that makes the endemic corruption bearable is how hilarious it is. Case in point: the then-U.S. attorney for the state's south district who responded to losing a legal case by going to a strip club and biting a stripper on the arm. Fittingly, there's even a trope about it.
- Amusingly, while The Wild West had many traits of this (generally located near the Equator, lots of dangerous wildlife, conflict between settlers and natives, inhospitable weather, little in the way of true law, etc.) and is frequently depicted as such in fiction, it was actually a subversion. The numerous hazards meant that everyone had to own weapons and have a degree of survival skill just to make ends meet, on top of making people willing to fight to the death to protect their belongings and livelihoods. Bandits and other criminals tended to use their guns as a last-resort and often relied more on trickery and stealth, since any one of their victims could and would blow their heads off in a heartbeat if they were caught. Gunfights of the sort seen in Westerns really weren't as common as you would think and tended to have surprisingly low body counts. All in all, the "Wild" West was one of the safest periods in American history, and you were more likely to die from natural causes like disease than from any outside danger.