Home Law Prisons and Punishment in Texas: Culture, History and Museological Representation
The Westward Pioneer and the Hostile Frontier
Similar to the stories told about the cattle-herding cowboy, those related to the westward pioneer focus on everything but violence. While the classic western as a film genre might employ punishment-related narratives of vengeance and/or retribution and even at times subscribe to what Zimring (2003) has called the vigilante value system (see Chap. 6 in this volume), such narratives and values are not prominent parts of the Texan memory. Instead, we find that the westward pioneer—while bold, tough and able to settle in harsh and inhospitable lands—is not depicted within a hand-to-hand combat narrative, but rather in stories about the land survey techniques he would have used, the clothing he would have worn, the food he would have cooked and the cabin in which he would have lived.
Moreover, while Texas does tell some stories about Native Americans, these tend to be tales about people who not only assimilated into so- called ‘civilised’ society successfully, but who prospered as a result. These Texan sites of cultural significance remove their frontier stories from the controversies associated with what many regard as the destruction of Native American heritage; something Tinker (1993) has termed a form of ‘cultural genocide’. And, as Steiner (1995) and Wrobel (1996, 2002) argue the reality of the Frontier was one inherently about racialised violence, yet such a reality does not find expression in Texan Old West memory. It is worth noting though, that these Texan historical sites are not the only cultural spaces in which the violence of the frontier has been marginalised or entirely forgotten. One need only look to the controversy which continues to surround the development of a ‘New West History’ to conclude that the Old West is something of a protected memory. The New Western historians—which include William Cronon, Patricia Limerick, Richard White and Donald Worste—have recently sought to de-romanticise the American frontier. By discussing race, class, gender and environmental damage, this emerging body of scholarship often exposes the brutality not only of the frontier, but also of the cowboy and the pioneer (see Limerick et al. 1991), something which has caused much debate both within the media and within the discipline of American social history.
In short, the stories Texas tells about the Old West—be they about the cattle-herding cowboy or the westward pioneer—are not as punishment- rich as one might expect from watching a classic western. We are of course led to assume that both the cowboy and the pioneer might have engaged in combat due to their association with weaponry, yet we are rarely offered a narrative about who posed the danger or threat. Some displays suggest that a gun was needed to fend off snakes, or to begin a stampede when the cattle needed to be herded, but there was no suggestion that the cowboy or pioneer faced a particularly dangerous human threat.
However, it really would be impossible to see, hear and read these stories about the Old West and not associate them with the western genre of films and literature; the genre provides the orientating information. Visiting the Stockyards in particular is sold as an ‘authentic Old West experience’. The clothes worn by staff, the cattle drives, the saloon-style bars and the country music are all symbols of the Old West and locate the tourist experience within a wider cultural myth of the western (Penaloza 2001) . Rather than an ‘autonomous cultural domain’ the Stockyards become associated with—and characterised by—other cultural products of the western genre (Sack 1992) p. 27). Other western genre cultural products will no doubt help the tourist fill the gap within the Old West memory, even if the Texan sites do not explicitly fill it for them.
So the Old West memory—as it is represented in the top visited historical sites of Texas—has not actually provided us with much in the way of punishment-rich narratives. Yet it is worth exploring how characters within the Old West memory continue to play a part in the construction of a uniquely Texan self-identity. The westward pioneer in particular provides a significant frame within which contemporary Texanicity positions itself. Rather than focusing only on the stories Texas is telling about the past, we must now consider the stories Texas is telling about itself in the present. It is here we find the Lone Star State constructing continuity between past and present, and it is this continuity which reveals yet another dimension of Texas and its relationship with punishment.
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