American historians often write of a contrast between the South, a closed reactionary society, and the West, free and open and characteristically American. The dichotomy thus presented is a false one.
The West is the South. That is, to the extent that the West is a theatre for heroic action, rather than just a place to start a new business, it is the Old South transmitted to a new environment. The cowboy, to the degree that he represents the embodiment of a code of life rather than just a person who tends animals, is nothing more or less than the Virginia gentleman on the plains.
It is no accident that the most famous Western novel, written by a Pennsylvanian, Owen Wister, and set in Wyoming, was called The Virginian; nor that the most memorable character in Robert Service’s Alaska poems was from Tennessee; nor that John Wayne’s best Western movie, The Searchers, begins in 1865 with the hero riding up to his prairie home in tattered gray.