No . . . we’re not talking about the Dallas Cowboys. Because their record over the last ten years is, what . . . like 5 and 101?

We’re talking about real cowboys.

Today’s session at the Gilder Lehrman elementary teachers summer seminar focused on Western Expansion and how America has created and accepted the myth of the cowboy.

Dr. Patty Limerick of Legacy of Conquest fame spoke early this morning about how our view of the West has shifted and changed over the years. Early historian Fredrick Jackson Turner and, later Ray Allen Billington, suggests a fairly linear view of the West. One in which white America both shaped and was shaped by the frontier.

The view has changed – in large part because of Limerick, who suggests in Conquest that the complexity (especially the economics ) of the West can not be so simply defined. She also argues that it may not even be the West. It certainly wasn’t to the Spanish in Mexico or those in Canada.

So some interesting discussions. Being downstream from Colorado along the Arkansas, I was hoping for more about the impact of water rights in the West and how that may play out as more of us move into places where there just might not be enough water.

Fritz Fischer continues to amaze!

A very energetic presentation of how and why the cowboy myth developed followed lunch. With appropriate music in the background (Silverado, Bonanza, etc), Fritz argued that the myth of the rough & tumble, kind to women, tough on sissified Easterners, cigarette smoking, cattle punching, horse riding, hard drinking cowboy has affected American society in a number of ways. Perhaps not for the best.

Politics and foreign policy were two that were discussed.

We viewed images by Remington and Russell, discussed the evolution of Teddy Roosevelt and argued about how TV and movies reinforce the myth. McCain and Obama both wear cowboy hats at the appropriate times and George W. Bush takes foreign leaders to a ranch in Texas to drive pickups. It doesn’t matter that all three have little “cowboy” background.

What matters is that the cowboy myth is still around, perhaps in a different pair of chaps and boots but still part of American culture.

The problem with that is it does a disservice to the historical record and creates an atmosphere that suggests that a person can’t be a true American unless he is a rough & tumble, kind to women, tough on sissified Easterners, cigarette smoking, cattle punching, horse riding, hard drinking kind of guy. It limits how we interact with one another and others around the world.

So . . . what to do? Not sure here. I agree with Fritz. The myth is still around. It does impact, affect and shape us. But confused as to next steps. Never watch Blazing Saddles ever again?