Those first stirring notes of music. That familiar name in large letters. A few hoofbeats announcing that the magic is beginning. And just like that, we are catapulted back to the familiar sensations and memories of our youth. Our hero is riding the range again. He rides for truth. He rides for justice. And we ride with him.
I don’t know about you folks, but a part of me has never grown up. I still thrill to those hoofbeats and root my cowboy hero on to victory. As I see him battle the latest group of badmen in town or try to halt a stampede, I feel sure that my cheering is just what he needs in order to defeat the outlaws and restore justice. But deep down inside I am comforted by the knowledge that my hero can never be defeated. Sooner or later, he’ll come out on top.
That’s the magic of the silver screen cowboy, I think. As children we all had heroes who seemed invincible to us. Think about it. I’m sure all of you have a long list of heroes: your dad, a grandparent, a historical figure who did amazing things, that person in your neighborhood who knew just the right advice to give you and example to set. That person your young mind looked up to and said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like them.” Our heroes made us feel safe. They taught us to know right from wrong and what was really important. And we believed every word they said. Because they were our heroes.
Our cowboy heroes took us back to a simpler time. Sure, it was kind of made up. I mean, in reality, the good guys don’t always win, and wrong and right aren’t always so clear. But we didn’t care. We learned to seek out the truth, have mercy for others, honor our elders, and always fight for justice. In that wonderful, magical sagebrush world the good guys wore white hats, silk bandannas, and spurs and packed a six-shooter on each hip. Each of them had a sidekick who made us laugh at his antics and a horse that we loved almost as much as we loved the hero. Some of our heroes may not have been the cleverest guys around, but what they lacked in wisdom they made up for in sheer stubbornness and determination. Somehow they always hit on just the right trick for bringing the bad guys out into the open, and they always got the girl in the end.
We all had our favorite cowboys. I loved Buster Crabbe and Jay Silverheels. Together, my grandpa and I would watch Buster ride the range for hours. My memories of watching my cowboy hero defeat evil while spending time with one of my greatest real-life heroes are very sweet to me. This was my special connection with my grandpa. Even to this day, I call him on the phone, and we laugh and reminisce about Buster’s bravado and Fuzzy’s hijinks.
Papa also introduced me to my favorite TV show which was and is the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger himself was great, but to me Tonto was the real hero. Despite the TV Indian he was forced to speak, somehow his dignity and courage shone through. I always thought that he was the smarter of the two anyway. Seemed like the Lone Ranger was constantly doing something dumb and getting himself into trouble, and Tonto would have to go drag him out of it. Kemosabe may have been good at deciding how to put bad guys behind bars, but Tonto was awfully good at making sure everything actually worked out in the end.
My very favorite cowboy was Roy Rogers. I may have loved my other cowboy heroes, but Roy was the best. All my siblings and I were fans of Roy. We would spend hours watching his films, singing his songs, and wishing he was still alive so we could meet him. Like most cowboy devotees, we were fiendishly loyal to our hero, and woe to anyone who dared speak ill of him. Some people sang Gene Autry’s praises and said Roy wasn’t so great, but we took it upon ourselves to tell them otherwise. Roy was the best, and we knew it.
But whoever your favorite cowboy was really doesn’t matter. You too have felt the magic of seeing your hero, bold and brave, riding headlong into another adventure. You knew there was justice to be fought for. You didn’t know where or how, but you knew there was. You knew there’d be bad guys to fight. You didn’t know who or when, but you knew there were. And you knew your hero would win. You didn’t know when or how, but you knew he would. After all, wasn’t he a cowboy?
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot)
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