Blogs > Liberty and Power > Wild Wild West

Jun 23, 2004 3:51 pm

Wild Wild West


Like Radley, I'm a big fan of HBO's Deadwood. If you feel the same, you may enjoy this link, which has some information on the historical characters the show's based on, like Calamity Jane, above. Turns out Al Swearengen was a real guy, and about as vile as the character played by Ian MacShane:"Proprietor Al Swearengen recruited women from the States, assuring them of jobs in hotels or respectable homes, and the thrill of adventure on the Western frontier. When the women arrived in Deadwood they found that they were stranded, victims of a virtual white slave trade, forced to work in abominable conditions and perform disreputable acts."

However well-grounded in actual events, the cursing strikes me as anachronistic. Not because I think cowboys talked like Jimmy Stewart. But I doubt that a certain appellation peppered throughout the dialogue was really the curse of choice in the late 19th century.

Was life on the stateless frontier really so Hobbesian? Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill have argued otherwise. But human nature being what it is, it shouldn't surprise us that the state of nature is sometimes Lord of the Flies instead of Little House on the Prairie. And that's the way it goes when the state enters the picture as well.

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Charles R Martin - 6/23/2004

I always love it when academics get into these things, because, see, the Old West wasn't *that* long ago. In this case, as a child, I grew up with our head wrangler, who had been a deputy sherrif in Deadwood and Pueblo, and another hand who had been one of Pancho Villa's soldiers.

Old Bill, the head wrangler, swore a blue streak, using every one of those words -- as well as the sort of creative blasphemy one associates with a drill instructor -- and insisted he never said anything I hadn't heard his mother day.

So I suspect those words were quite common.