The case of the cowboy as P.I. isn’t that far-fetched, actually. Scratch Shane, and the Continental Op peeks out…
Heck, my earliest heroes were all cowboys. I had my plastic six guns, a red felt cowboy hat and a chip on my shoulder, and anyone who asked my name would be told — with all the swagger a three-year old could boast — that my name was “Roy Rogers” and that was that.
Years later, at the ripe old age of ten or so, I may not have been quite so outspoken, but by then my inspiration for all manner of derring-do was surely Joe Mannix. After all, wasn’t that Montreal’s Jacques-Cartier Bridge he was running across at the start of every episode? (It wasn’t).
My allegiances had shifted from a cowboy to a private eye. A coincidence? I think not.
In fact, private eye authors such as diverse as Robert Randisi, Ed Gorman, Frank Gruber, Robert B. Parker, James Reasoner, Bill Pronzini, Marcia Muller, Bill Crider and Loren Estleman are all more than willing to point out the similarities. And they all just happen to have written both mysteries and westerns.
Come to think of it, doesn’t Shane seem a bit, uh, Marlowesque? And the dusty old streets of the “Old West” were probably even harsher than Chandler’s famous mean streets. As far as I can figure, that first attempt to really blend the two genres was television’s Have Gun, Will Travel, which made its debut on CBS way back in 1957. But it wasn’t the last attempt.
Although there was certainly historical precedent. The early agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency chased assorted outlaws on horseback, and the biography of Wells Fargo detective Fred J. Dodge is said to have inspired such early TV westerns such as Tales of Wells Fargo and the short-lived Pony Express.
Here are a few other (fictional) eyes of the wild frontier:
- Paladin (Have Gun, Will Travel)
- Slim Jim Bannerman by Jay Fynn
- Joshua Dillard by Chap O’Keefe
- Sam Logan (The Man From Black Hawk) by Sterling Silliphant
- Jim Hardie (Tales of Wells Fargo) by James Brooks, Frank Gruber and Gene Reynolds
- Brett Clark (Pony Express)
- Matt Clark (Stories of the Century)
- Josh Randall (Wanted Dead or Alive)
- Jefferson Birch by W.W. “Wendi” Lee
- Oscar Schiller by Douglas C. Jones
- Shotgun Slade by Frank Gruber
- Sierra Smith by Joe Millard and Alex Toth
- John Quincannon & Sabina Carpenter by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller
- Lucas Hallam by L.J. Washburn
- Mike Segretto by Scott Morrison
- “Old Red” & “Big Red” Amlingmeyer by Steve Hockensmith
- Caleb York by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins