Westerns take place in the American West, and are usually set between the 1850s and 1900. There are many different characteristics of the Western genre, as the genre itself is very distinct. In general, these characteristics might be grouped into two main themes: the untamed frontier and law and order. As such, works created in this style are typically known for action and adventure. Some of the most well-known elements that make up Westerns include cowboys, the conflict between settlers and Indians, and lawmen in a small, new town on the frontier.
An important characteristic of the Western genre is the setting. Westerns take place in the untamed frontier, an open landscape of mountain ranges, rugged lands and vast plains. Settlers build isolated homesteads or live in small towns, which often boast a main street; main businesses of these small towns include a jail, a livery stable and saloons. Settlers are just as distinct as the setting, the men wearing boots, spurs and Stetsons. Other prevalent imagery of the West includes wearing bandannas, denim and Colt 45s.
One icon associated with the genre is the cowboy. This person is a hired hand whose work revolves around cattle. Essentially, owners of ranches hired cowboys for cattle drives, which is the process of moving cattle from one area to another. Since much of the area between towns was still unsettled, cattle drives were a dangerous undertaking. This is because, even though settlers were new to the West, Native American Indians lived in this area during the time period, and tensions between settlers and Indians were high.
The untamed frontier is filled with hostile environments, with the conflict between settlers and Indians as well as the ongoing fight between lawmen and outlaws. Lawmen protect the towns from outlaws who might commit crimes, such as bank holdups, stagecoach robberies or train robberies. While upholding the law, guns often come into play, with shoot-outs and showdowns being a common occurrence in the fight between the good guys and the bad guys.
The importance of law and order in an untamed frontier brings out the concept of heroes. In addition the local lawmen, heroes are often cowboys, marshals or skilled gunfighters. They are usually courageous, masculine and tough, as well as being honorable, having integrity and holding onto a moral code. In addition, heroes are often adept at a variety of skills, which includes handling horses, shooting a gun, and using a lasso. Some have a trusty sidekick and might even have a favorite horse.