From the time of "Dead-Eye Dick" and the early editions of the Police Gazette to our own era of "Rawhide" and Ranch Romance the cowboy as symbol and myth has been very much with us. We in our day are no less caught up in the psychology and shooting of the adult western than were the readers of the 1880's and 1890's who devoured Beadle's pocket library editions of cowboy stories.
Many have tried to puncture the myth by pointing to the historical cowboy as a figure whose world "was corrupt and rotten. Its heroes, vaunted for their courage, in fact showed only the rashness of the alcoholic or the desperation of the cornered rat." But most Americans still see in the cowboy, as did Owen Wister, the embodiment of "the best thing the Declaration of Independence ever turned out . . . the same creature who was the volunteer on both sides in the Civil War—the son of the soil, whose passion and intelligence and character made him able to fight battles almost without need of captains, . . . that is the fellow . . . and the plains brought him again to perfections only latent in civilization." Thus it is that the mythical cowboy still rides as the personification of the American dream of self-reliance, individualism, and freedom.