September 01, 2008

Ruminations of the West

By Jeanne Marie Leach

Welcome to the fledgling Bustles and Spurs blog. I wish to thank Tina for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the fun. I hope you will enjoy learning about the many facets that make up the West.

The West. These two little words conjure up a specific picture in everyone’s mind, and usually it’s of romantic days long gone. Why is that? Because the West is more than a place or a time; it’s also a state of mind and of the heart.

The reality of the 19th century West was that of extreme hardship, short life spans, perils, outlaws, and a land so harsh and wild, it tried to kill anyone who dared cross it. It took the determination of an unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit to attempt to tame this section of the continent. People arrived in the West with little more than a horse, a prayer, and a dream to start a whole new way of life unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

The American cowboy has become an icon uniquely our own. Those who endured the hardships faced after leaving their homes, families and a familiar lifestyle to head west of the Mississippi were brave, bold and unwavering in their quest to find something different. And different is what they found.

First came the fur trappers and mountain men. These solitary figures left the east and everything society dictated as acceptable and carved a life for themselves with a knife, a rifle, and some traps. They made their own clothes from the animals they ensnared and lived in rudimentary housing created from whatever the land would yield to them.

Since the large expanse of wild land between the oceans prohibited continental travel in the mid 19th century, the west coast was next to become settled. They came by boat, a six-month trip, and before long they discovered gold. When news of this reached the states, men flocked to the California territory by the tens of thousands.

Men, both married and single, assembled in towns that sprung up overnight, committed every sin imaginable, and neglected everything good they’d been taught. When women of good reputation started to follow their men to the West, then and only then did the frontier begin to tame. Men realized they could no longer live like the devil because the devil had gotten out of control. In order to protect their loved ones, the Peacemakers arrived. US Marshalls and local sheriffs came to bring law and order to an anarchistic land. Many lost the battle, but some rose to the challenge and consequently won distinction and fame. A few rose to hero status and their accolades were imortalized all across the land in the dime novel.

As we explore in depth the various aspects that make up the West in the coming months and years, there is something to keep in mind. That same determination and entrepreneurial spirit it took to populate the western half of the country still lives. It may not be as readily recognizable, but if you look closely at the small towns scattered across the West, you’ll find the shop owner who works from sunup to sundown and beyond to eke out a living for his or her family. Cowboys still ride the range, sometimes in their pickup trucks, but often on horseback. You’ll see farms on the same land that was homesteaded over a hundred years ago. The women are hearty and strong enough to withstand the harsh and diverse climate for which the West is known, and they even embrace it.

There have been many discussions surrounding the belief that “the western is dead.” I see this genre doing what it has always done. It has ups and downs, but in the end there will always be people who want to read it and write it. I think Hollywood sets the pace for westerns today. They may go several years without putting out a good western movie. During that time, those who’ve always loved westerns will continue to read them. The newer readers may go more for the lits during that time.

Then along comes another excellent movie that depicts the strength and fortitude of the early pioneers who settled the west by sheer will and grit. Western book sales suddenly go back up because people are intrigued by the stories of those who carved the west with their two hands, a few tools, and true character that often seems to be lacking in the world today. Their courage and ability to rise above all odds inspire people of all ages.

I still believe in the code of the west.


Tina Dee Books said...

This is wonderful, Jeanne! Great posting.
--Tina Dee

Patricia said...

Beautifully said, Jeanne. I love the stories about the West. The adventure of discovering an unknown land, and the bravery and grit of those who traveled the dusty trails to forge new homes and lives. Can't wait to read more!
Patricia PacJac

Deborah Vogts said...

I'm a big lover of all things western as well. Would love to belong to this blog, but I write contemporary prairie romance. Speaking of movies -- Open Range. Sigh. I will be sure to visit again. Thanks for offering this!

Vickie McDonough said...

Yeehaw! Preach it, sister! I just love books about the west, cowboys, and spunky heroines. I enjoy reading and writing about them.

Thanks for starting this blog, Tina! Great job, Jeanne!

Tamara Tilley said...

I love the West! I have written 2 books in a 4 book series (yet unpublished)set in the west. I love the time. People worked hard and valued the simple things. And, the woman were a lot tougher then some may think. I'm looking forward to being apart of this blog.

Tamara Tilley said...

I love the West! I have written 2 books in a 4 book series that are set in the west (yet unpublished). The time was so full of determination and emotion. People worked hard, and appreciated the simple things. And, women were not as fragile as some might think. I love a heroine with spirit, and of course, a rugged cowboy for her to spar with. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

I'm excited to see what you lovely ladies have begun here at Bustles and Spurs. I've written five historical inspirational romances set in the 1870s in California, two of which finaled in the Golden Heart this year. Western inspirational romances are what I buy before anything else, and my final shows me I'm not alone in liking them. Long live the western!

Off to subscribe to your blog through Google reader.

Jeanne Marie Leach said...

Ah, my point has been noted - women of the west weren't and aren't pansies. These rugged individuals deserve their recognition. Oh, of course we can't forget the handsome cowboy, miner, farmer, shop owner, lumberjack and railroad man.

I love every bit of the west. :)

Jeanne Marie Leach

Jessica said...

Besides your lovely post, I love that picture. So cool.