For the last few months, I’ve been watching a lot of Gunsmoke.
It’s on in the afternoons, and as things begin to wind down, I find myself relaxing in the company of Marshall Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty and Festus.
Secretly, Festus is my favorite.
But, I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the Old West from Gunsmoke. It wasn’t all wagon trains and cattle rustling you know.
Marshall Matt Dillon was the tallest man in the world. No one was ever taller than Matt Dillon in Dodge City. And since, apparently, Dodge City was the center of the known world, it only stands to reason there wasn’t a taller person anywhere out there. There certainly wasn’t in the Old West. I think there was one guy, a bad guy named Deke, who could possibly have been as tall if not taller than Marshall Dillon, but he died inside the first four minutes of the episode, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t count.
No one had spurs that jingle jangle jingled except Festus. The song was wrong. There was only one set of jingly jangly spurs in Dodge City, and Festus wore them. You can hear them jingle jangle every time he walks. And he’s the only one. I don’t know why he needs them – what with him riding a mule and all – but he’s got ‘em and his are the only ones that make a lick of noise.
There was a dearth of jobs in the Old West. From the looks of it, no one had anything to do. Every day, there were tons of people just milling about, waiting for something to happen and gawking when a stranger or the stagecoach came in to town. Now you can tell there are stores, and black smith shops and the many saloons, but … there doesn’t seem to be anyone actually doing anything. They sure as heck have a lot of money to eat and drink though.
Speaking of which, it’s never too early to drink in the Old West. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it’s always time for a drink. Beer before breakfast? No problem. Whiskey before 10 a.m.? Why not? Want something to drink with your lunch or dinner? I’ve got two choices for you and neither of them are tea or milk.
No one ever bled. Gunshot wound to the neck? Just a schmear of red here and there. Gunshot wound to the gut? Barely a blood stain the size of a hockey puck. The alcohol must have served as a blood blocker. Regardless, a gunshot wound, no matter where, was almost instantaneously fatal. Unless you were one of the main characters. The main characters had the best aim ever and if they shot you from 300 yards away, you would fall down dead where you stood. The plains of Kansas apparently are littered with the bones of dead bad guys and innocent by-standers. And if you were a main character, you would be able to survive a gunshot wound to the spine and not only not be paralyzed, but also be able to fight through the pain to reach a gun, just in the nick of time. Just saying. If you’re gonna be in the Old West, make your way to the inner circle. All those guys wandering around Dodge City might as well have been the guys wearing red shirts on Star Trek.
Marshall Dillon, Newly and Festus were the only people in the entirety of the Old West who knew how to use a karate chop on bad guys. They were also the only ones capable of sneaking up on bad guys ninja style to attack them from behind just in the nick of time to save the day. Similarly, Matt Dillon had the ability to ride a horse into the millions of acres of open desert and grassland there in Kansas and be able to stumble across the one person he was looking for right before they stumbled into a heat-stroke induced death. Astounding.
Speaking of heat stroke, everyone wore the same thing every day, all three or four
layers of it, except Miss Kitty. Even the women wore long skirts with petticoats and pantaloons and tops with at least two or three layers. Crazy. No telling when they washed them, or if they even did, but it’s the same outfit, with the same shoes and the same hats every single gosh blamed day. I don’t know how they stood it. The smell in the summer must have been overwhelming… if you could discern it from the horses in the streets and the dead bodies everywhere.
No matter what happened, nothing could damage Miss Kitty’s Old West make-up and eyeliner. Fall into a stream after being thrown from a stagecoach? Wet clothes, but perfect face and smile. Beaten and bruised by bad guys gunning for Marshall Dillon? Dresses and hair may be messed up and torn, but the eyeliner would be perfect. It didn’t even run when she cried. God, what I wouldn’t give for make-up like that. I wonder if she had some Indian princess tattoo it on her or something….
If you had the right nose and skin color, you could be any one of sever different ethnicities. It was only through stereotypical clothing and accents that you could tell if someone was American Indian or Jewish. And all the bad guys were easy to identify because they all looked the same. In fact, some of them looked so much alike, you would swear they were twins, if not the exact same person.
Everyone in the Old West was concerned with lots of social justice issues. Discrimination, rape, domestic violence, gambling addiction, alcoholism – you name it, they were worried about it. And all of the issues they talked about we’re still talking about now. Have we really not come that far in that long? Course, no one ever brought up Festus’ inability to read, but … there are people in America now who are in positions of power who haven’t the brain of a turnip, so… I guess things haven’t changed much.
I guess there are deeper messages that I could learn about life from Gunsmoke, but… I was a child of the 70s. Nothing really gets much deeper than Steve Austin fighting Bigfoot and realizing he was never the real enemy after all. What can Gunsmoke possibly say to top that?