JACK SIMPSON: Westerns told us tales that live on in memory

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson

If you are a senior citizen, you probably miss those old western movies we used to go see on Saturday afternoons. Back then our heroes were cowboys like The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, Andy Devine, Ken Maynard, Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight, Tex Ritter, Tom Mix, The Cisco Kid, and John Wayne. Remember?

After we worked cutting grass, chopping and selling wood and various other chores to earn the price of a movie, some popcorn and a Coke, we settled into a nice, quiet, dark movie theater for an afternoon of escape into another world.

We watched stories set in the great American West. It was an untamed area between civilization and the wilderness. It was there in the great outdoors that we saw our heroes ride the range, sit on the ranch house porch, visit the saloon, and have showdowns in the streets. It was good guys in white hats against bad guys in black hats. They carried Colt 45s, wore bandanas around the neck, buckskins, and most of them had hearts of gold and a shine for the town ladies.

In all fairness, cowboys probably loved their horses first and then the ladies. Roy Rogers had Trigger, Gene Autry had Champion, and Bill Boyd had Topper. They all told us stories of virtue versus evil, of good versus bad, of civilization versus wilderness, of cowboys versus Indians, and lawmen versus gunslingers. Oh, it was so enjoyable watching gunfights, fist fights, shoot outs, showdowns and big cattle drives.

Our heroes were patriotic, honest, anxious to help the unfortunate and unwilling to take advantage of the less fortunate. They never shot first and never shot anyone in the back. It was a fair faceoff and the fastest draw and straightest shooter won. We could not wait to see those High Noon encounters, those shootings, pursuits and final showdowns. Our cowboys lived hard and fought not only evil doers, but the elements and the critters.

The good guys wanted to count for something before a bullet might send them to meet their maker. They wanted to leave their mark --- something good to show they passed this way. Their stories of courage and survival live with us still, and we remember all who stood up to the bullies. These heroes captivated our imagination and are a part of our heritage.

Times change. Old western films appear from time to time on television, but going to the movies each Saturday afternoon to watch western heroes has faded into our past. We regret the passage of these nostalgic moments.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.