"He rode into our valley in the summer of '89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father's old chuckwagon. I was on the upper rail of our corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond."
“In that clear Wyoming air, I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town.”
Joseph Bottum reflects on the distinguishing mark of the modern literary Western, the curiously eloquent speech of its characters: “a much greater revolution happened in 1968 with Charles Portis’s True Grit, probably the most influential Western ever published. True Grit is driven by the language its characters speak, every one of them an amateur rhetorician, fascinated by the words they pronounce with an untutored formality. “If in four months I could not find Tom Chaney, with a mark on his face like banished Cain, I would not advise others how to do so,” as Mattie Ross tells the sheriff Rooster Cogburn."
The unforgettable fictional voice of Mattie Ross in the opening pages of Charles Portis's masterpiece 'True Grit':
"PEOPLE DO not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $ 150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band. ...
If Papa had a failing it was his kindly disposition. People would use him. I did not get my mean streak from him. Frank Ross was the gentlest, most honorable man who ever lived. He had a common-school education. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian and a Mason and he fought with determination at the battle of Elkhorn Tavern...He was hurt in the terrible fight at Chickamauga up in the state of Tennessee and came near to dying on the way home from want of proper care.
Before Papa left for Fort Smith he arranged for a colored man named Yarnell Poindexter to feed the stock and look in on Mama and us every day. Yarnell and his family lived just below us on some land he rented from the bank. He was born of free parents in Illinois but a man named Bloodworth kidnapped him in Missouri and brought him down to Arkansas just before the war. Yarnell was a good man, thrifty and industrious, and he later became a prosperous house painter in Memphis, Tennessee. We exchanged letters every Christmas until he passed away in the flu epidemic of 1918. "
Coen Brothers (1987) “Raising Arizona”
The influence of “True Grit” on the Western genre is everywhere. Movie critic Roger Ebert did not like the Coen Brothers’ ‘Raising Arizona,’ complaining about the artificiality of its language: “The movie is narrated by its hero, a man who specializes in robbing convenience stores, but it sounds as if he just graduated from the Rooster Cogburn school of elocution. There are so many "far be it from me's" and "inasmuches" in his language that he could play Ebenezer Scrooge with the same vocabulary - and that's not what you expect from a two-bit thief who lives in an Arizona trailer park.”
Nicholas Cage’s H.I.McDonough says of his wife's infertility, “The doctor explained that her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”
I dunno, but maybe it is that unexpected love of elevated language spoken in the American ‘Scotch-Irish’ southern highland dialect by a two-bit trailer-park thief that makes the movie amusing and memorable?
What’s a Western without the gunfight? Is there any better than Doc Holliday’s duel with Johnny Ringo in ‘Tombstone’?
“Why, Johnny Ringo, you look like somebody just walked over your grave.”
Maybe it was the heavy footfalls of the literary Western?