I was amazed (and highly amused) to read how the 'myth' of the Wild West was put on show every day in 1870's Nevada for the entertainment of passing passengers. A tip o' the hat to reader Jim H. for sending me the link to this story.
Newspapers and the precursors of pulp fiction were spreading gory, windswept tales of outlaws, varmints and scalp-happy Injuns all throughout the eastern states. When adventurous voyagers headed west in the early 1870’s to find town after town of relative calm, some had expressed a smidgen of disappointment. One of the Central Pacific conductors mentioned this to one of Palisade’s residents. And thus, a hoax was born.
The locals decided to give the people what they wanted. Not for profit – it’s hard to hock souvenirs when your customer base is scrambling for their lives – but purely for the reaction. This may be the most fantastic demonstration of prolonged collective performance art in American history.
The villainous gentleman in that initial show was Alvin Kittleby, a resident agent and cattle buyer for a company out east. He always dressed well, and was known as the town dandy – essentially a 19th century hipster. The redhead was a cowboy named Frank West, who worked on a cattle ranch just north of town. Everyone in the town limits was in on the gag, and when it worked so brilliantly, they decided to repeat it.
And repeat it they did. Again and again.
What began as a novelty performance soon became a local obsession. Different storylines were conceived with a variety of outcomes, designed to send people scurrying in a panic, but also to enthrall the onlookers on the train who were bold enough to poke their heads up to sneak a peek out the window. Sometimes it was a personal beef gone awry. On occasion the town was hit with an Indian raid, as the nearby Shoshone tribe (who were on very friendly terms with the townspeople) pitched in and fake-slaughtered the white folk. The bank robbery shootouts were always a hit.
Women and children were being murdered in the streets. Not really, but the theatrical enthusiasm displayed by Palisade’s women and children was equal to that of the men. Every single resident pitched in on a performance here and there. People pitched in to create blank cartridges, which were fired by the thousands. The local slaughterhouse regularly contributed buckets of cattle blood to make the scene more grisly. It was beautiful.
There's more at the link.
So that's where Hollywood got the idea!