If ever you watch western movies, a familiar tale is the stateless western town held hostage by a rogue family. The U.S. state eventually sends a sheriff, who is brave enough to face down the rogue family, and order is thus restored to the grateful citizens, now happy to pay their taxes to support the sheriff and his department.
I’ve seen this particular movie so many times, I even know the characters’ names. There’s ‘Pappy’, the head of the rogue family, then there’s ‘Jake’, the almost decent first son who acts as grit within the family, usually arguing with Pappy, then there’s ‘Joey’, the drunken second son who is the main problem, shooting up people for the slightest reason and getting away with it. The sheriff’s name is usually ‘Duke’ (a strange reference back to European feudalism), and there’s sometimes a cowardly former sheriff, in the pay of the rogue family, who’s called ‘Campbell’, in a reference back to the English-supporting Scottish clan of yore. The female involvement is either a daughter of former sheriff Campbell, who ends up holding up the bloody body of her dead father, shot to death in a drunken accident by Joey, or who is the daughter of Pappy, who she runs away from, into the arms of Duke, usually chased by Joey, who Duke shoots, leading Jake to side with Pappy, and the ultimate showdown of the movie, in which Duke restores state ‘order’.
But was ‘The Wild West’ really the ‘The Peaceful State-Free West’? (And peaceful because it was state free.)
This is what historian Thomas DiLorenzo thinks, in this podcast from Radio Free Market, in interview with Michael McKay:
- ** Stateless but not Lawless: Myths of Violence in the Old American West ** Exclusive Interview with Dr Thomas DiLorenzo (MP3)