I was lucky enough to see The Lone Ranger before we moved to Japan when I was a kid. No TV, no films for three years. I remember being fascinated with Tonto, who was a much more interesting character in my eyes. Probably that’s where my fascination with Indians began. When we returned to the States three years later and went directly to visit my grandparents in Georgia, I remember practically the first thing she said was "You have to see this new program on Sunday night. It’s Bonanza, about a widower with three sons and a ranch in Nevada.” It’s the only TV program I remember except for “Wild, Wild West” that I watched with any regularity for the next four years we were in the States. After moving to Turkey, we were once again TV-less and dependent for films on the Embassy. (Lots of Ingmar Bergman, French films in French, etc. like the Les Parapluies de Cherbourge.) Now and then, they’d show a classic western like Ride the High Country or The Searchers. I consciously chose to watch the westerns I’d missed (like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Comanchero) and the new ones that were grittier, like Valdez is Coming, Hondo, Johnny Two Hats (with Gregory Peck!), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, and anything set in the West, when I was in college.
My four years at Ft. Leavenworth, where my dad was an instructor, were the longest I lived in one place. Ft. Leavenworth is loaded with history (we lived in the original house where Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby did), from the 1840s onward. Wagon ruts from the pioneers still ran along the banks of the Missouri River, close to our historic house. My basic understanding of American history came from those four years in a place that was pretty central to the American Westward expansion.
And then came college in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and a paper on the Western as a uniquely American genre. Game on.