The Question Corral

Q & A's About the Old West and Western Movies

Several pards have asked questions about the Old West and Western Movies. I answered their questions by email, but I have decided to pick the best questions and also answer them in this section of the Bunkhouse.

If you have any questions about the West or Western Movies, please click on the e-mail button below.

(If you use web-based email, use the following address, but please delete the anti-spam word "west" before sending your email:

Please note: I do my best to answer a question, but I don't pretend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of these subjects. If time permits, I will consult either a book or a friend who also knows something about the subject being discussed. If you would like to join a panel of "experts" to be consulted when a question stumps me, please let me know. (I will give full recognition to anyone who gives an adequate and hopefully verifiable response.)

Click on a topic to go the discussion below.
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A Revisionist Western
Novelty Western Short
"Mystery Photo"
Old West Videos
Old West Shootouts
John Wayne's Movie Death Scenes
Nineteenth Century Prices
Johnny Mack Brown's Gunplay Skill
An Old Bulldogging Technique
Old West Re-enactor Clothes
Western Guitar Music
John Wesley Hardin
African-American Cowboys
Does "Dicehouse" mean "Saloon?"
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Western Movie Horses
Hanging Horseshoes
Old West Remedies
Western Movies in Public Domain
Cowboy Bandanna
Old West Alias

Revisionist Western from the Fifties

Can you please help me find and buy the movie Run of the Arrow. It is not available for purchase on amazon .com.

Run of the Arrow I saw Run of the Arrow (1957) on a television late show some time ago. Written, produced, and directed by Samuel Fuller, it tells the story of a Confederate soldier--portrayed by Rod Steiger--who joins a Sioux Indian tribe right after the Civil War. Understandably, he supports his adopted tribe when it is threatened by the white man.

This movie isn't currently offered for sale, but it has been shown on the Turner Classic Movies cable network. Here's a TCM article about the movie.

Until Run of the Arrow is available on video, we'll have to content ourselves with Kevin Costner's very similar film Dances with Wolves (1990).

Novelty Western Short

Old b/w western that had monkeys, actually those "organ grinder" type, as the cast. They rode dogs instead of horses, had a sheriff, a bad guy with a handlebar mustache, dance hall girls, & a bartender. Human voices were dubbed in, I think. I can't remember the name of this short movie. Any idea, or recommendation on where to look?

Some time ago that particular little movie was featured on this site as the novelty western short that it obviously was meant to be. If you would like see it once again, just click on this realmedia file link to download it.

Who is in the photo?

I recently bought this photo of what appears to be a western actor. Can you identify him?

The actor, whose name I didn't know, looked very familiar--I was pretty sure that he portrayed the young member of the gang in Johnny Guitar (1954). I also brought out my video copy of The Rose Tattoo (1955) and there he was on the back of the box in a sailor suit. Thus, I was positive that the "mystery man" is Ben Cooper. I also was able to find a more recent photo and some background information here. Born in 1932, his first movie appearance was in Side Street (1950). He was most active in the 1950s (mainly in westerns), but he has appeared in various movies and television shows through the years (including 1994's Lightning Jack). In the 60s he formed "Celebrity Speakers", a group of actors who tour the country on the lecture circuit.

Old West Videos

I'm looking for a video documentary about old TV Westerns or a video documentary about the old west or Cowboys. Any ideas?

Although I don't pretend that this list is complete, here are a few recommendations.

TV Westerns:
"TV's Western Heroes," hosted by Will Hutchins ("Sugarfoot").
Produced by GoodTimes Home Video Corp 16 East 40th Street, NY, NY 10016.
(Enjoyable, but mainly a collection of clips. I saw this a few years ago--don't know if it still is available.)

Old West--two series I recommend:

"Wild West" miniseries narrated by Jack Lemmon (VHS only)
Click on these links for more info from (a new browser window will open):

Cowboys and Settlers

Gunfighters and Townspeople

Dreamers and Wayfarers

Searchers and Mythmakers

"Adventures of the Old West" narrated by Kris Kristofferson

Adventures of the Old West--boxed set VHS

Adventures of the Old West--boxed set DVD

Old West Shootouts

I have been spending all day trying to find pictures on the web of an old west style 2 man shootout. I would really appreciate it if you could point me to a web site that has pictures of this classic old west showdown confrontation, either two armed men staring each other down or them blasting away at each other.

Although I do have photos of the original Old West folk on my site, I don't have any such "real" shootout images. (Click here for an old drawing that illustrates that the mass media of those days did its best to glamorize the gunfighters.)

Even though we reenactors do have such altercations on a regular basis when we "re-enact", obviously we also are caught up in the romanticized legend more than the fact--and we know what the public expects. At least we try to dress in a much more accurate manner than the actors did in most of the old movies and television shows.

If you would like to read some very interesting books about gunfighters, etc., I suggest that you get hold of James D. Horan's books, which include "The Outlaws", "The Lawmen", and "The Gunfighters." Here's a quote from the introduction to the latter book:

"Yet, for all this international attention and magnification, an examination of their lives yields the commonplace conclusion that crime does not pay. They were men of evil, ruthless killers who could scorn fair play and shoot from ambush...."

John Wayne's Movie Death Scenes

1) In the film The Shootist (1976) John Wayne was killed. I've tried to find out for months the name of the actor who shot him in that film. (He played the bartender.) I work with a few films buffs but we cannot seem to be able to get this info. I have a full credits list but there is no references to a bartender.

In order to answer this question, I again watched the Duke's final film--in which a famous lawman/gunfighter is dying of cancer. In order to rid the west of three evil men, he arranges to have a gunfight with them in a saloon. He manages to defeat all three--only to be shot in the back with a shotgun by the bartender. The actor portraying the bartender is not a familiar face to me--and he is not listed in the credits.

I'm going to conclude that the actor requested that his name not be listed because of the perceived "jinx" that attached itself to anyone who "killed" on screen such a great national icon. Also, as you probably know, many folks irrationally feel that actors who portray "bad" people in theatrical productions are villains in real life as well--and who would be want to be seen as the "killer" of John Wayne?

7/22/2003 Update:
This update is courtesy of Dale Vinzant, who checked to see if the IMDb (Internet Movie Database) had updated its page devoted to The Shootist, and sure enough, it now lists Charles G. Martin (1912-1998) as playing the (uncredited) role of Murray the bartender. Mr. Martin's lists of credits is a short one--probably all minor roles as well, so his face is pretty unfamiliar to just about all of us--except this one particular role, of course. I still suspect that he chose not to have his name listed because of his not wanting to be known as the "killer" of the Duke. In fact, according to the IMDb he never appeared in another production.

2) In which of his movies did John Wayne die?

Unlike some other big stars, the Duke was willing to "die" in several of his movies. According to James Arness in the documentary "John Wayne, Standing Tall", Mr. Wayne died in eight of his films (which he doesn't enumerate). I have been able to make this list (see update below):

Central Airport (1933), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), The Fighting Seabees (1944), Wake of the Red Witch (1948), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Alamo (1960), The Cowboys (1972), The Shootist (1976)

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Mr. Wayne's character dies before the movie begins: A white-haired U.S. Senator and his wife have returned to a small western town to attend the funeral of an old friend (Duke Wayne) who has died of natural causes in virtual obscurity. We only see the coffin. The rest of the movie is told in flashback, with the Senator (James Stewart) recounting his coming to town as a young lawyer. (Thanks to Mike-K and Lynn David for reminding me about the first part of the movie. Since I hadn't seen it for many years, I also watched it again--Lee Marvin certainly does a great job.)

8/19/2001 Update:
Bob Tuttle, a big John Wayne fan, offered some more information about Duke Wayne's career: "With regards to Duke's film deaths, he did die in eight films, they were: Central Airport (1933)--He drowns in an airplane crash (this was an uncredited role); Reap The Wild Wind (1942)--He drowns battling a giant squid; The Fighting Seabees (1944)--He is shot by a Japanese soldier; Wake of the Red Witch (1949)--He drowns; Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)--Shot by a sniper; The Alamo (1960)--killed with a soldier's lance; The Cowboys (1972)--Shot in the back, and his last film, The Shootist (1976)--Shot in the back by the Metropole bartender.... Wayne also appeared as a corpse in 1931's The Deceiver, and his character died in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). "

Nineteenth Century Prices

The students in my class are studying westward expansion and the wild west. In my math class, I'd like them to plan a budget for a journey via covered wagon based on prices and wages from the nineteenth century. Any help or suggestions in obtaining these prices would be appreciated.

Are you familiar with "The Oregon Trail" computer "game"? It is full of information (accurate, I believe) about the pioneers crossing the country in wagon trains. I fired up my copy of the game in order to get some 1858 (you can choose from several years) prices.

Here are a few of them:
ax 1.07, coffee pot .40, compass 3.79, Dutch oven 1.70, 25 lb keg of gunpowder 6.05, pound of bacon .05, 5 lb tin of biscuits .99, pound of cheese .35, 10 lb sack of dried beans .33, 5 lb sack of dried fruit .33, 5 lb sack of dried vegetables .22, 10 lb sack of flower .22, 8 oz jar of preserves .09, 20 lb sack of rice 1.08, pound of salt pork .11, 20 lb sack of potatoes .42, 5 lb box of yeast cake .59, 8 oz bottle of camomile .08, 16 oz bottle of castor oil .38, rifle 21.98

If you would like to purchase a copy, click on the following link to the latest version of The Oregon Trail.

As for wages, thus far I've only found typical cowhand wages of the era (1860-1885): they ranged from $1.50 to $2.00 and also depended whether room and board was included. While "The Oregon Trail" doesn't list typical wages, it does suggest how much money a person in a particular occupation (such as a blacksmith) could afford on a move to the west.

Johnny Mack Brown's Gunplay Skill

Hope you can help! I am 61 and fondly remember Johnny Mack Brown`s prowess in gunplay display in some movies. I bought two or three and there is none of his skill displayed. Do you know of any titles that I can purchase?

As I'm not familiar with a great number of Mr. Brown's films, I forwarded the above question to Greg Luce at Sinister Cinema and here's his response:

"There are several Johnny Mack titles I would highly recommend: DESERT PHANTOM (He's a trick shooter in this one, plus it's got a nice creepy plot line), COURAGEOUS AVENGER, BETWEEN MEN, and EVERYMAN'S LAW (this is a brand new release and not in the catalog, yet). There are some others as well, but these are the ones that really come to mind. I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. The Bob Steele Supremes (same studio) are also very good, too. My prints on these are all beautiful!"

An Old Bulldogging Technique

Recently I was visiting Texas with several co-workers. We were discussing cowboy facts and info that we knew (very little). I brought up how the branding process called for one of the branders to bite the lip of the animal. I explain that this most likely drew the animal's attention to the lip as opposed the the hot iron. My co-workers disagreed. Do you know about this fact/fiction or know were I could read about this?

It certainly is possible that a cowhand would bite a steer's lip in order to cause it to "freeze"--this technique was perfected by the famous bulldogger Bill Pickett (c. 1870-1932), who invented the sport of steer wrestling. Apparently he observed that when bulldogs bit the upper lip of a steer it would immobilize the large animal--and thus make it easier for a cowhand to capture an animal that eluded his rope in the brush. This biting technique is no longer accepted at rodeos (the yuckiness of it combined with the concern of humane groups).

Thanks to Ace Ford, we have an update for this answer:
"Yep, Bill Pickett (good ol' boy from Taylor, TX) did that just before inventing bulldogging. I always suspected ol' Bill musta been a lousy roper to have to have come up with that idea. But as for as the lip "squeeze", people still use the technique everyday working livestock...we just call it "twitching" now and use a twitch (loop of rope on a stick) to do it. It's less "yucky" that way."

Old West Reenactor Clothes

Can you tell me when belt loops became commonly used on trousers? Did they appear at all on old west trousers? Were period trousers cuffed or uncuffed? What were the appropriate period hats (western style) and do you know where they may be purchased? Also, which Old West groups do you belong to personally? Thanks for any help you can provide.

I suggest that you check out the clothes on the cowhand portraits in another section of the bunkhouse.

Belt loops: Although at the moment I can't say exactly when they became common, I do know that they weren't seen much (if at all) in the Old West that re-enactors usually portray. They are very common in old movie westerns, but so are buscadero (looped belt) gun rigs--which were a later development. The typical cowboy either wore tight pants or suspenders (I typically do the latter--although my vest covers the suspenders in the front).

Cuffs: I suspect that they certainly existed (I've a a picture or two with them, but can't put my hands on those photos just now), but hemmed pants seem to be much more common. I hem my own pants--and probably have the slightly uneven look that a do-it-yourselfer cowman would have. Actually, I usually wear chaps, which cover my pants. Also, often men tucked their pants into their boots.

Kerchief: I have yet to buy a silk one, but they definitely were used. The Old West suppliers have the big ones--which you want, rather than the "regular" ones you find in the stores today.

Suppliers (of period hats, etc.): There are MANY! However, most of them have pretty steep prices. When I became serious about this hobby, I ordered a pile of catalogs and found River Junction Trade Co. in Iowa to be one of the very best in authenticity as well as prices. Jim Boeke is the owner--one of the founders of NCOWS. Tell Jim that Teddy Blue (Life member of NCOWS) from Northern California sent you!

Membership: SASS, NCOWS, OWLHF, as well as a couple of local gunfighter groups (Links are on my site.) Since I shoot blanks mostly, I'm more active in the latter groups.

Western Guitar Music

I just recently started learning how to play the guitar and would like to learn some old cowboy songs. Any suggestions about where to find help with this?

I recommend that you head over to a site called "COWPIE Bunkhouse". Greg Vaughn is the head song wrangler. Here's a quote from the site: "COWPIE's purpose in life is to allow guitar players who enjoy country music (and it's many substyles) to contact one another and swap songs, techniques, and information without wading through all the mixture of musical styles covered in the usenet groups."

John Wesley Hardin

I'm trying to find some information about the infamous gunfighter named John Wesley Hardin.

Even though he probably was the most prolific mankiller of the Old West, there has yet to be a famous movie about him--and thus many people don't know much about him. (Rock Hudson portrayed him in the 1952 movieThe Lawless Breed.) Although I have yet to read a full-length book about him, a chapter of James D. Horan's The Gunfighters is devoted to his story. This book probably is in your local library and is still in print--I picked up a copy a few months ago. Here's some basic info: born May 25, 1853 in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas, son of a circuit riding preacher. His first killing was of a Negro hand named Mage--Hardin was only fifteen. His total number of killings was around forty. When he was twenty-one he killed Deputy Charles Webb in a Comanche saloon. This killing was his final one--he finally was captured, tried and convicted. He was in prison for sixteen years--finally pardoned and released on February 17, 1894. He studied law and became a fully qualified attorney. He was shot in the back of the head while in the Acme Saloon on August 19, 1895, by John Selmon Sr. who himself had a violent past--Hardin had insulted Selmon's son when the latter had arrested Hardin's love interest, the newly widowed Mrs. McRose.


Can you tell me anything about the chuckwagons that were used on cattle drives?

Those sturdy wagons obviously were very important on the long drives, which could last for months. In 1866 cattle baron Charles Goodnight's cowhands used one of the first ones that incorporated the standard features (large water barrel, canvas covering, tool box) as well as an innovation: the chuck box at the rear, which was combination storage and worktable when the hinged lid was let down. Eventually, commercial wagon builders began to make these wagons, which sold in the $75-100 range.

While we're on the subject, let's list some of the printable nicknames that were given to the trail-drive cooks by the long-suffering cowboys: "greasy belly," "biscuit shooter," "belly-cheater," "gut robber," and "dough boxer".

African-American Cowboys

I'm curious about the number of African-American cowpunchers in the Old West. I read that the the number was considerable.

What you read was correct. While the actual numbers were never recorded, a high estimate cited by Richard Slatta in his "The Cowboy Encyclopedia" is "63 percent white, 25 percent black, and 12 percent Mexican or Mexican-American cowboys" participated in the trail drives out of Texas from 1866 to 1895. There is a museum in Denver devoted to telling the story of African-Americans in the Old West--The Black American West Museum and Heritage Center. The address is 3091 California St. Denver, Colorado 80205 (303) 292-2566. Mr. Paul Stewart is the curator.

Teddy's Blue's "Ram Pasture"?

Recently I read a Old West book that used the term "dicehouse". Was the author referring to a saloon?

Probably not. Most likely the author was referring to a ranch bunkhouse, where the cowboys often gambled at night after a hard day's work. Other terms that were synonymous with "bunkhouse" were "dive", "doghouse", "ram pasture", and "shack".

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

What can you tell me about the early western, The Great Train Robbery (1903)?

Director Edwin S. Porter took two days to shoot it in Edison's film studio, the Lackawanna freight yard in Paterson, New Jersey, as well as the "wilds" of the same state. While not the first western, it definitely was the most famous early movie with a western story. Only twelve minutes long, it told a complete story with fourteen scenes--the now classic (and often used) tale of a train robbery, the robbers temporarily eluding the law, but their final capture as they split up the loot. It ends with a startling (for its day) shot of a bandit shooting directly at the camera. One of the players went on to become the first Western star in numerous short films--Bronco Billy Anderson. For a very complete look at this early film, go here.

Western Movie Horses

My uncle and I were talking about the names of the horses in the old cowboy movies. We know Roy Roger's Trigger and Gene Autry's Champion, but we're not so sure about the others. Like Tom Mix's horse.

For an illustrated answer (with thumbnails) to this question, go here. Here's as complete a list that I can give at the present: Tom Mix-- Tony, Ken Maynard--Tarzan, Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd)--Topper, Dale Evans--Buttermilk, Buck Jones--two horses: Silver and White Eagle, William S. Hart--Fritz, Hoot Gibson-- Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo)--Diablo, Pancho (Leo Carillo)--Loco, Monte Hale--Lightnin' or Pardner, Lash Larue--Rush, Jack Hoxie--Scout, Whip Wilson--Silver Bullet, Charlie Starrett--Raider, Rex Allen--Ko-Ko, Eddie Dean--Copper, Flash, or White Cloud, Johnny Mack Brown--Rebel, Smiley Burnette--Ring Eye/Black-Eyed Nellie, Wild Bill Elliot--Thunder and Sunny, Buster Crabbe--Falcon, John Wayne-Duke, Fred Scott--White Dust, Tex Ritter--White Flash, Sunset Carson-- Cactus, Tonto (Jay Silverheels)--Scout, Jimmy Stewart--Pie, Bob Baker--Apache, Tom Tyler--Ace, Allen "Rocky" Lane--Black Jack, Bob Steele--Brownie, Bill Cody--Chico, Don "Red" Barry--Cyclone, Andy Devine ("Jingles")--Joker, Rod Cameron--Knight, Tim Holt--Shiek, George O'Brian--Mike, Kermit Maynard--Rocky, Tom Keene--Rusty, Jack Hoxie--Scout, Wally Wales--Silver King, Dick Foran--Smoke, Bob Livingston--Shamrock, Jack Perrin--Starlight, Tim McCoy-- Starlight or Midnight, Jimmy Wakely--Lucky and Sonny, Bob Wills--Clover (Thanks, Pappy!), Guy Madison (Wild Bill Hickok)--Buckshot, Buck Benny--Partner.

Hanging Horseshoes

This may be a silly question, but what is the best way to hang a horseshoe on a wall? I keep seeing them with the front pointing up in books and on web pages.

Let me tell you a story: Two pardners found a robber's hidden loot--a pile of gold coins--in a precarious spot in deep, dark cave. After they divided the loot into two piles, one pard poured his share into his hat and carried it safely out. The other galoot also put the coins in his hat--and put in on his head in sloppy sort of way, promptly losing most of the coins as they fell into the abyss. Perhaps you could say that his luck "ran out."

An Old West Remedy?

My sister in England is doing a quiz and one of the questions relates to the Wild West: "To what end was hot water and dried jackrabbit droppings mixed in put to in the 19th century American Wild West?" The answer is one of the following three possible replies: a) fertilize the vineyard, b) to ward off phylloxera, or c) a hangover cure. The reference to the wild west makes me think the men were so wild they might just about have been desperate enough to try such a hangover cure!

Thus far I have found no reference to the jackrabbit dropping remedy in any of my Old West reference books. My dictionary defines phylloxera as "any of several small insects of the genus Phylloxera related to aphids,esp. P. vitifoliae, a widely distributed species harmful to grape crops." Thus, either the author of the quiz considers grapes a "wild west" type of plant (Maybe he remembers with fondness Barry Fitzgerald tending his vineyard in the western movie "California" (1946), or he wants to confuse us with two references to grapes. Until I hear otherwise, I'll agree with you that it sounds like a most potent hangover "cure"--and readily available to the folks on the range.

While on the topic of frontier medicine, let's list a few common ailments and the treatments often used, courtesy of Denis McLoughlin's book "Wild and Woolly":
Aches and pains: Morphine and laudanum were easily available during the Old West days, thus they were used to "treat" all the aches that afflicted hard-working (and not so hard-working) folks. The "cures" sold at the popular medicine shows often contained generous quantities of such ingredients (as well as alcohol). Not surprisingly, the aches and pains "went away". For a while, at least.
Stomache ache: Oil of peppermint or mustard in hot water.
Rheumatism: Rattlesnake oil, bear oil, or goose grease was rubbed wherever such pains were felt. Flicking the afflicted area with a switch of nettles was an alternate therapy. (Ouch!)

Old Western Movie Source

My father is an old western fan and I need to know if there are any catalogs I can get to order some for him. They would make a wonderful Christmas present.

Here's a catalog I recommend because of its large listing of old time westerns (as well as other film genres, including silents): Foothill Video, 42257 6th St., West. Bldg #306 Lancaster, CA 93534 Tel (805) 726-7533 (805) 726-7534 FAX (805) 726-7535

Another excellent source: Sinister Cinema. Go to its web site and check out the large list of "B" Westerns--despite the company's name, it includes other genres as well.

Cowboy Bandanna

Why did cowboys wear those large bandannas?

The kerchief or "wipe", was an important part of a cowhand's gear. It served as a mop for wiping one's face, a mask to filter out the blowing dust, a tie-down for one's hat, an earmuff in cold weather, a means of protecting one's hands when holding hot items (brandingirons, etc.), a water filter, an emergency sling, and even as a way to protect a cowboy's eyes from snow blindness in winter. Another use--to cover the eyes of a skittish horse while it is being saddled.

Reenactor Alias

My friend recently joined a reenactment club. He is searching for a good AKA. Is there a list somewhere on the internet that we can check out? I need a list with some history.

I know what your friend is going through--he wants an AKA that has some history, but isn't being used already--at least in the same group. It partly depends upon what character and profession he leans towards--gunfighter, cowboy, gambler, etc. Cowboys often gave each other nicknames that referred to a habit or physical "distinction". ("Big Nose" George Parrott comes to mind--he was both a cowboy and a noted criminal.) Of course, outlaw/gunfighter names can be found in books about Western desperadoes--such as James D. Horan's excellent The Gunfighters, The Outlaws, and The Lawmen (all still in print and most likely available at the local library). The Single Action Shooting Society will sell you a "SASS Alias Registry and Available Alias List". Even if your friend doesn't join SASS, the list is a good one to look over. Also, if you follow the above link, you will find a listing of the SASS members on the internet--this is the best listing of aliases on the web of which I am aware.

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Recommended Western Movies and Books

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