15. Silent films presented the enduring image of the western lawman
Films reinforced the image of the strong, silent, incorruptible western lawman in the white hat, or riding a white horse, as symbols of his purity of heart. Later films added a bit of ambiguity to the image, but the idea of moral courage against impossible odds remained. The lines between crime, the law, and just punishment of transgressors were clearly established. The American west was presented as being ravaged with criminals, stage robbers, train robbers, bank robbers, rustlers, horse thieves, and worse, eventually brought to justice by a dauntless lawman, with the assistance of his deputies and a posse of townspeople.
In truth, in the American West, the lines between criminals and lawmen were often blurred. Men like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickock, and many others were often equally comfortable on either side of the law. Often, they were hired as town marshals or deputies during times of local crisis, only to find themselves forced to hasten out of town and the jurisdiction of local law after having committed some indiscretion or other. Scrupulous adherence to local law, especially as it applied to gun restrictions, was commonin the towns of the American west, though virtually ignored in entertainments based on its frontier days.