Not too long ago, Chris and I were visiting with some friends in South Carolina. Bob, Clegg and I retired to the garage to enjoy some time to talk and smoke some of my home-made cigars. The door open and us sitting partly outside with a fan blowing out any excess smoke in the cool fall air, we got to talking about our childhoods and the influence Western television shows and movies had on us. We remembered some of the old timer shows and their stars—Of course, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Arness, Jimmy Stewart, Roy Rogers, Clayton Moore, Chuck Conners all played a special role in shaping our lives as young men. There were also lesser stars like Jack Elam, John Anderson and John Dehner.
We reminisced about some of the lines in the movies. John Wayne, “You know who I am and what I’m gonna do.” Clint Eastwood, “Dying aint much of a living, son.” James Drury, “It’s a lot easier getting into this business than it is getting out.” Many of the shows had what they used to call “morals of the story” at the end. The Rifleman, staring Chuck Conners and Johnny Crawford as his son Mark, always had a brief moral at the end of the episode, usually driving home a point about right vs wrong, or forgiveness. Other shows like Gunsmoke, the Virginian, The Big Valley, High Chaparral, Laramie, The Roy Rogers Show, Cheyenne, among many others, left the moral up to the viewer, but it was quite obvious about good and evil.
One of my favorites was Wagon Train. This was the story about various individuals that interacted with a city on wheels, a wagon train headed to California. It is the ballad of rugged individualism and how these great pioneers, ordinary men and women, overcame incredible odds to make their new lives in the West. Often faced with dire circumstances of weather, battles with marauders, disease, drought, and evil men and women, the leaders of the wagon train had to make wise decisions guided by their discernment and often by their faith in God. Wagon Train showed the good, the bad and the ugly of life, but it was never reticent about proclaiming the Word of God, quoting the Bible, and demonstrating the role faith plays in overcoming extraordinary challenges everyone faces in day to day life.
Out back behind our barn on the farm were two or three frames of old horse drawn heavy duty farm wagons like the pioneers used. The wheels and frames, though being left out in the harsh winters of Northeastern Ohio for probably 75 years, were still in workable condition. I made a wooden box and placed it on the axel of the first wagon and often sat there acting out some of the adventures I had seen in Wagon Train. Bob and Clegg also shared times they did similar things. While we grew up in different parts of the country with different backgrounds, the Westerns helped shape us as adults. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Those old Westerns had a role in how we were trained as kids. Sad that children today don’t have that reinforcement.