"The wise screen writer is he who wears his second-best suit, artistically speaking, and doesn’t take things too much to heart."

- Raymond Chandler
The real Josey Wales: my theory

Had a very pleasant TV evening last night. One of our PBS stations was doing one of its increasingly frequent telethons, and they broadcast the “Celtic Woman: The New Journey” concert.

I avoided “Celtic Woman” the first few times they broadcast it (I’ve never actually seen the original concert). The simple pairing of adjective and noun in the title somehow communicated an image of aggressive, ugly feminism. Betty Friedan with a harp. Gloria Steinem burning some randomly selected male in a wicker man... er, person.

What was my amazement, then, to discover that the production is actually a marvelously staged concert featuring lovely women in pretty gowns, singing their little hearts out in voices right up there in the Sissel class. And the cutest little blonde you ever saw (who obviously knows how cute she is, and works it) dances and fiddles simultaneously, to the wonderment of all.

That’s entertainment. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it the next time your PBS station begs for money (any minute now, probably).

Just don’t make a pledge.

After writing about Forrest Carter the other day, and getting my TV picture back, I decided to watch my DVD of The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Brought back memories, it did. No movie has ever invaded and inhabited my life like that one did. I saw it thirteen times, back when you actually had to go to a theater and buy a ticket if you wanted to see a movie.

It resonated with things going on in my own life at the time (including a temporary move to Missouri, which I may tell you about someday if you’re good).

And I was deeply fascinated with the Wild West, particularly the Missouri border war, at the time. I even bought a couple replica cap and ball Colts, which I practiced with a lot (the folks were still on the farm back then, and I could drive down and shoot without paying any range fees).

I much appreciated the pistols in the movie. I was constantly aware, as I watched, of how many bullets Josey had fired. Because with cap and ball, you’ve got to be aware. Those old charcoal burners can’t be speed loaded. It involves a rather painstaking process of measuring in powder, jamming the ball home, and capping the nipple, one round at a time (you also cover the chamber opening with grease, to prevent chain firing). Which is why Josey Wales carries so much iron. It’s not an exaggeration in the movie. For a man in his situation, to carry one pistol would be suicidal, and two would be barely adequate. There’s not only the issue of being unable to re-load under fire. Those caps also have a way of jumping inside the cocked hammer, getting down into the mechanism, and jamming the whole pistol for you.

Thinking about the story, and about Forrest Carter’s life story (which remains in large part a mystery), I came up with a theory about this white supremacist and speechwriter for George Wallace who turned himself into a renowned New Age Cherokee wise man.

I think Gone To Texas (the novel on which The Outlaw Josey Wales is based) is to a large degree autobiographical.

The story of Josey Wales (if you haven’t seen the movie) is of a man who has been on the losing side in a war. He has lost his family, and the entire way of life he has known has been taken away by the government. He flees to Texas, robbing a bank on the way to pay his expenses (this is a difference between the book and the movie. In the movie Josey’s young friend is wounded by nasty Union soldiers who treacherously offered the guerrillas amnesty, then ambushed them when they’d given up their weapons. In the book, he’s shot while they’re robbing a carpetbagger bank). Along the way, Josey joins up with two Indians, and then with other whites, and they all make a new life in Texas thanks to Josey’s shootin’ skills and personal integrity. In the end Josey finds peace, living under a new name.

Asa Carter was on the losing side of the Civil Rights conflict. Politically ruined, he fled to Texas too, assuming the identity of a Cherokee along the way and taking a new name. He also robbed the “carpetbaggers,” not with a pistol, but with a "big con." A huge, beautiful con that worked like a charm almost to the end.

I could wish he were a more sympathetic character, because he played the American left like a country fiddle.

He knew that in the new, post-segregation world, he could never be a big, important man as a white man obsessed with race.

But he figured out that he could become a big, important man as a Native American obsessed with race.

We hate white racists. But we love Indian racists.

He knew that he’d never get a book published and made into a movie writing as a white man who hates the government.

But he figured out he could write an anti-government book, and get a movie deal, if he moved the story back to the Civil War, when the government was Republican (Hollywood hates Republicans even a century ago, when the Republicans were the liberals. Check it out. Find me a recent movie set in the 19th Century that has a single good thing to say about Republicans, even though they were the party of abolition and rights for black people).

(As a parenthetical note, the scaly senator in the ambush scene in the movie is an actual historical character, Sen. Jim Lane (R) of Kansas, one of the slimier specimens to ever slither through American politics, which is saying a lot. He went to Kansas as a pro-slavery man, but quickly realized that prospects were better on the abolitionist side, and so “flip-flopped.” He used to make it a point to attend revival meetings on his campaign trips, and would go weeping to the altar rail, over and over again, after which he would allow himself to be baptized by the preacher. One farmer is said to have told his son, “Don’t water the cows downstream from where they baptized Jim Lane.”

Remember Mary Surratt, the woman convicted of participating in the Lincoln assassination, the first woman legally hanged in the United States? Nobody expected her to be hanged. Everyone figured President Johnson would pardon her. President Johnson expected to pardon her. But the pardon didn’t get to him, because Jim Lane and a friend physically barred the way, keeping Mrs. Surratt’s daughter, weeping, outside the door.

Jim Lane eventually committed suicide when a financial scandal caught up with him.)

Racism is a stupid philosophy, but that doesn’t mean all racists are stupid people. Asa/Forrest Carter found a way to siphon off liberal money and get his victims to thank him for taking it from them.

It must have felt sweet. When he was sober.


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Comments on "The real Josey Wales: my theory":
1. Noqah Elisi - 04/17/2011 8:43 pm EDT

No matter what color it comes in, racisim is racisism, and is evidence of a highly developed ignorance; and is violence. We (i am reservation NA)We Native Americans are the victimes and the last thing we will tollerate is someone holding a mirror up to us. Whenever we are forced into self examination, we attack and blame.

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