"These characters don't seek violence" But the notion that it's sometimes necessary" is the Western's most fundamental ideal." -Screenwriter Craig Storper, OPEN RANGE
by Kevin Stoda
I believe that our generation--more than any generation before it--must wrestle with, appropriate, transform and reform most of our national mythologies. However, this must not be undertaken in the manner of the Alt-Right.
We need to dissect the assumptions behind myths and the assumptions we have embedded in continuing to support our own myths and memes today.
MYTH OF GOOD AMERICAN DRAGGED INTO BATTLE
With the film, OPEN RANGE, Costner and Storper had lifted up a fundamental American Western myth. This myth claims that men (the good Americans) never sought violence but that it was thrust upon them by circumstances and others (the bad ones). However, the fact is that every single American war--even the "War to Win the West"--was not likely in fact necessary. Likewise, violence on the plains and in the West were not likely as necessary as they seemed at the time.
"My students often asked about the relevance of studying the combat of these wars. Today's students can easily relate some war history to contemporary events, but they often do not see the point in devoting significant study to the frontier wars, as they seem so remote in terms of time as well as methods. Not to mention the fact, the generation we're teaching did not grow up watching the Western genre in movie theaters, or at least Westerns that dealt with Indians. I always answer by showing them photos of Indian warriors like the famous shot of Geronimo and three of his comrades, which shows a variety of weapons ranging from a muzzle-loading musket to a cavalry carbine to a couple of lever-action repeating rifles. They're armed with some good technology for the time, able to travel fast and given their experience and knowledge of their environment, would prove to be elusive and hard to pin down."
The author Vance Skarstedt then asks: "How did the U.S. Army deal with this kind of foe? With horse-mounted cavalry traveling in groups ranging from regimental size to small detachments of perhaps a dozen or fewer soldiers and Indian scouts. While these tactics never achieved the all-time decisive victory Americans for some reason see as the only way to end a war, these tactics kept pressure on their Indian targets and eventually, when it became clear the Americans weren't going to go away, the fiercest American Indian warriors, including Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Dull Knife, Red Cloud and Little Wolf, surrendered in the closing years of the frontier wars and represent the last of the American Indian generations that fought the U.S. government."
Naturally, such an omission by Vance Skarstedt falls into the American mythology trap of assuming that Americans from the East could not reside peacefully with any of the hundreds or thousands of tribal peoples found on the North American continent.
Nonetheless, with such a dominant worldview in the post-Civil War west, men or characters like Charley, -the Civil War veteran in the film OPEN RANGE, were needed to take on the formidable foes of American imagination if the USA was to pacify resistance over a 20- to 30-year period (between 1865 and 1895).
In OPEN RANGE, a Kevin Costner film, Charley is the former soldier who has fought in the Civil War and now feels guilty about his past as a killer for either the blue or grey forces with whom or against whom he fought during the American Civil War.
Charlie had been a sort of American Sniper, long before the terms Sniper and PTSD were still more popular in post-invasion-of-Iraq America (2003). Charley likely was suffering from PTSD and could find no help in the East, his homeland. Not feeling comfortable living any more in the East of post-Civil War America, Charley chose to abandon that homeland (or could find no home in his homeland at the end of his assassin days as a sniper and and burner of farms and villages).
Charley knew only to fight like a soldier in a small regiment-striking quick and marking territory over decades. He did not know how to build a just-life in post-Civil War America.