The Passing of an Era
There once was a time when boys and girls had cap guns, watched Westerns on TV and dressed up as Cowboys (and Cowgirls!) and Indians. They had their cap pistols and bows and arrows and many a big battle was fought. None were ever won, just a good time for all.

These were days of innocence. Youngsters would shoot the other side and they would fall "dead." There were smoke and "bullets," but no one thought of actual violence and every toy gun was just used for fun and we knew these were merely games.

- from the Circle "N" Ranch Website, the Historical Site of Nichols Industries, Inc. and the Greatest Cap Guns Ever Made. (Click here to visit the site.)

Things are different for those who are kids today than they were when I was a kid 40 years ago. On this page, and those linked to it, I will put things that I feel point out some of those differences.
Toy Guns
When I was a kid, we played cowboys, and everyone I knew had a set of toy guns (Click here to see my toy guns). Heck, even my sisters had toy guns. And toy guns were always associated with Frontier Town - in fact, it's hard to imagine Frontier Town without toy guns. How could one of the young visitors capture a stage robber, as I did, without a toy gun? (see the postcard to the right) (Actually, as re-counted by Bob on the Memories page on this web site, it would have been possible without toy guns, but not without the spirit that caused kids of my generation to want toy guns.) Toy guns fell out of favor, however.

"Once a major part of any boy's toys, toy guns fell into disfavor as the Vietnam war dragged on, and America saw JFK, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King fall to assassins' bullets. Mattel for example had produced a nearly lifesize and very realistic M-16 rifle in 1966, apparently so kids could play "Vietnam" in the backyard. But as anti-war sentiment grew, it was quickly withdrawn from production. You could hardly buy a toy gun by 1969. (Those large realistic Mattel M-16 toys are now very hard to find, and are quite valuable!)."

- from the GPCC Toy Collectors web site. (Click here to visit the site - it "offers information and advice to help you find the lost toys of your 1950s/60s/70s childhood.")

With that fall from favor for toy guns, I think that a lot of the Frontier Town experience for kids also changed. As the GPCC site goes on to say:

"Once the Vietnam war ended and we got through the 1970s, America seemed to forget the anti-gun sentiment of the late 1960s, and again fell in love with guns. Toy guns started appearing on the shelves again, and in many cases they were more realistic than ever. Today, you will still find toy guns for sale, but now they have orange caps on the barrels to help police notice they are toys and not real weapons (what good that does is clearly debateable)."

But, I think, the damage was already done.

From what I have read, Art Bensen did not intend Frontier Town to be a wild west theme park. For instance, in "Adirondack Mountain Adventure", his history of Frontier Town, he writes:

"Things were shaping up pretty well as opening day approached, but one serious problem arose. I had ordered frontier costumes in New York City for our ladies and Daniel Boone costumes for our men. The ladies' costumes showed up all right, but we never did receive the men's costumes. Realizing that we could not greet our visitors in street clothes, Ed Ovensen made a hasty trip to Glens Falls and came back with cowboy outfits for all of the men. We made cowboys out of six North Hudson lads who although they were familiar with work horses, knew nothing about riding horses."

I believe that Art Bensen, rather, intended that Frontier Town would be a living history experience of the 18th century, much like Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts or Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, not a theme park of the 19th century. However, for me and, I suspect, the majority of young visitors during the 50s, 60s and perhaps 70s, Frontier Town was, as the Frontier Town brochures from the period eventually exclaimed (see, for example, the brochure on the home page of this web site), "The Flavor of the Old West at the time of the Civil War" and the "Best of the West in the East". And, I further believe, it was the young visitors, not adults, who drove attendance at Frontier Town.

So what fueled that interest in kids of my generation to experience the old west? A large part of it, as I mention on the home page of this web site, must have been the steady diet of westerns we received from television and the movies. But kids today do not watch westerns, and studios do not make westerns. For instance, did you know that the major studios did not release a single western in 2002? (Click here to see the article on the BBC website that I got this information from.) I don't know whether the studios don't make westerns because people don't watch them, or people don't watch westerns because the studios don't make them, but whatever the reason, I believe that this lack of westerns today removes one of the key factors that drew people to Frontier Town during its golden years.

This is an editorial I saw in the local paper from where I grew up (the paper is the News and Citizen from Morrisville, Vermont - Click here to visit their website.). This editorial appeared in the paper on 16 September 2004, and is entitled:

Bad Cowboy?

This week's comment stems from a possibly true event that may have happened recently in a local school and so wildly contrasted with the distant school days of this editor that it prompted this column. I'm making no attempt to find the facts of the matter; it would be equally worthy of comment if someone made up the story.

I've heard that for some reason young local school chiildren produced some sort of self-portraits or artwork. One young man allegedly decided to draw a cowboy. The outfit included a sixgun holstered at his side.

One imagines this is a fairly common image for Americans of a certain age, boy or girl. But there was one thing wrong with this picture - apparently this is an excessively violent world-view. The child was ordered to paste a patch of paper over the offending evil weapon, after which this portrait was okay for public display.

How things change! I attended this same school about 40 years ago. In junior high school, my friend and I brought our .22 rifles to school in the morning. The teacher kindly put the rifles in a closet and gave them back to us when school let out so that we might hoof it out back, still mostly on school property, to go squirrel hunting. We did not shoot at out schoolmates, our teachers or even remotely contemplate any kind of unholy slaughter. Maybe our world view was violent, but then watch tonight's news - see any violence?

A variety of Hollywood cowboys were our heroes as were a similar variety of fictional idols such as the comic book's Sgt. Rock and Vic Morrow, of TV's "Combat." You are going to have a tough time convincing me that these role models were all wrong. Though violent characters, the essential difference between these guys and their defeated enemies, was that we knew they were the good guys. These were the guys in white hats, Tommy guns, sixguns, helmets, cigar stubs and all. The thing we have to keep our eye on is that every one understands the moral issues involved with idols. Teach the difference between right and wrong.

For my part, this type of censorship of art, especially children's art, is not teaching. Teaching means exposing children to new thoughts, new philosophies, new everything. It does not mean narrowly channeling them to some politically correct world view. Just who gets to decide what's correct? Never mind the gun issue - the whole concept of "political correctness" is an affront to our liberties. If something is within the law, then let's write about, draw it, talk about it, photograph it and discuss it. If a boy wants to be a cowboy, it's all right. If he wants to draw Ted Bundy or idolizes the Boston Strangler - then we've got a problem. Otherwise, let him draw.