My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

Cowboy Eyes if the Old West

The case of the cowboy as P.I. isn’t that far-fetched, actually. Scratch a steely-eyed two-fisted righter of wrongs, and the Continental Op peeks out…

Heck, my earliest heroes were all cowboys. I had my plastic six guns, a red felt cowboy hat and a chip on my shoulder, and anyone who asked my name would be told–with all the swagger a three-year old could boast–that my name was “Roy Rogers.” And that was that.

Years later, at the ripe old age of ten or so, I may not have been quite so outspoken, but by then my inspiration for all manner of derring-do was surely Joe Mannix. After all, wasn’t that Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge he was running across at the start of every episode? (It wasn’t).

My allegiances had shifted from a cowboy to a private eye. A coincidence? I think not.

In fact, private eye authors such as diverse as Robert Randisi, Ed Gorman, Frank Gruber, Robert B. Parker, James Reasoner, Bill Pronzini, Marcia MullerBill Crider and Loren Estleman are all more than willing to point out the similarities. And they all just happen to have written both mysteries and westerns.

Come to think of it, doesn’t Shane seem a bit, uh, Marlowesque? And the dusty old streets of the “Old West” were probably even harsher than Chandler’s famous mean streets.

And there was certainly historical precedent. The early agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency chased assorted outlaws on horseback, while the biography of Wells Fargo detective Fred J. Dodge is said to have inspired such early TV westerns such as Tales of Wells Fargo and the short-lived Pony Express, although the first real attempt to really weld the two genres together on the tube was Have Gun, Will Travel, which made its debut on CBS way back in 1957. You could also check out the early pulps, as they evolved from the dime novels, and often featured westerns right alongside detective and adventure tales, or even actual cowboy eyes such as Edward Parrish Ware’s Tug Norton.




Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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