The Cavalry And Indian Story

The new writer is often tempted to do this as Ouster's Last Stand, using Indians as immoral savages who harass and torture the good cavalry men. At one time, indeed until quite recently, this was permissible. Today, the average reader has read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (by far the best research work on the horrible war against the American Indian) or its equivalent and is aware of the true relationship between the cavalry and the Indian. More often than not, the cavalry was the persecutor, the Indian the innocent victim. Before attempting to write a Cavalry and Indian story, you must do intense research in order to understand the true situation of the American Indian in the Old West.

No matter which Western plot you employ, you must research customs, slang, dress, and day-to-day chores before putting Word One down on paper. A Western is an historical novel, and it must be true to its period of genesis. (Besides adult and juvenile books on American history and Western history, one excellent reference is Western Words: A Dictionary ofthe American West by Ramon F. Adams. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, it is a rich source of cowboy vernacular.)

We have already mentioned a few of the taboos a modern Western writer must be aware of, but let's list them in more orderly style:

The hero who cleans up a town because he believes in 'justice," and for no other reason, is taboo. He must be a sympathetic man with his own problems, fears, hopes, and dreams and with a sound personal reason for everything he does.

Racial Westerns in which the Indians or the Mexicans are portrayed as mindless savages are taboo. The modern reader demands authenticity and honest treatment of all your characters.

No modern Western author can succeed when writing stories based on sloppy research or on no research at all.

The story ofthe lone cowpoke who rides onto a new ranch beset by troubles, reveals that the foreman is a crook, and wins the rancher's daughter, is taboo. This is such a cliché that the regular Western reader would flinch the moment he recognized it.

The story ofthe shoot-out on Main Street, in which the opponents are out to prove who's the best man, or in which one of them is determined to prove his manhood in a sort of rite of passage, is taboo. It is cliché unless you can give the plot a very original twist.

Misinformation about handguns ofthe 1865-1899 period is taboo. Regular Western readers will know how many shots were carried in a gun you just described, and they'll know what its capabilities were. If they catch you in a fundamental error, they'll not believe anything in the rest of the book and will, justifiably, put it down without finishing it.

A sympathetic outlaw who loses in the end to prove that"crime doesn 't pay" is taboo.

The hero who stands in the way of progress—railroad, telegraph, stagecoach line—merely to preserve the untainted West, comes offas an idiot and is taboo. There was no ecological crisis back then; no industry was contributing to an unnecessary and dangerous pollution of the land.

Just a final note to assure the potential Western writer who is a woman that not all Westerns are written by men, though most publishers insist that women who write Westerns assume a male pen name or at least use only the initials of their first and middle names. Western by-lines you have seen, which are covers for women, include Lee Hoffman, B. M. Bower, Eli Colter, and Stewart Toland. Women often have a talent for research and a feel for historical periods that make them outstanding Western novelists.

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