How the West Was Won (1962)
Starring: James Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and others
Directed by: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall
Written by: James R. Webb & John Gay (uncredited)
Want to watch a wholesome pro-white move? A movie that is a classic of artistic excellence? I offer up the 1962 epic, How the West Was Won.
It must be stated upfront that the movie is a masterpiece with a flaw. How the West Was Won was filmed and presented using the Cinerama process. This meant the scenes were filmed with a special three-lens camera whose combined images would be presented on a wide and curved screen. In a theater with such a screen the movie is marvelous, but the film is less so when it is transferred to the television set. Because of the three-lens camera, the actors really struggled on set to look in the proper direction and convey the emotions correctly. Thus there is a mild wooden feel to the scenes and dialogue. Additionally, too much action in Cinerama can make the audience sick so there were some limitations in that regard.
Otherwise, the film well conveys the story of small and valiant people overcoming vast prairies, wide rivers, and high mountains. This movie also highlights the cultural confidence of white America prior to the present 1964 Civil Rights Act dystopia. The film is refreshingly free of an awkward shoehorning in of a sub-Saharan character that gives the “wisdom of the Congo” (or whatever) to the pioneers.
The film was inspired by a 1959 Life Magazine feature called “How the West Was Won,” and the screenplay was written by James Webb with uncredited help from John Gay. Louis L’Amour wrote a novelized version of the screenplay which was published in 1963.
Many the actors, such as John Wayne, Carolyn Jones, and Debbie Reynolds were of old-stock white American ancestry. Agnes Moorhead, who played the matriarch Rebecca Prescott in the film, was a proud supporter of Ronald Reagan, the actor and politician who fought Hollywood’s legions of Communist sympathizers and was ultimately elected president to turn back the “civil rights” disaster. (On that count his revolution is unfinished.) Moorhead was also of old American heritage – Pennsylvanian.
There is also a sense that the film affirms the Republican Party’s political platform of 1856, “. . . it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism–Polygamy, and Slavery.” (i.e. Southerners and Mormons). Southerners in the form of Colonel Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennen) and the Confederate deserter (Russ Tamblyn) are portrayed as treacherous, and Mormons aren’t mentioned at all although they were a very important part of America’s western expansion. This aspect of the film is a bit of a cheap shot against both groups.
The film comprises five parts:
The first part, The Rivers, was directed by Henry Hathaway. It introduces the Prescott family, whose patriarch is Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden). The Prescott family are headed west along the Erie Canal. They meet up with a Scottish family headed by Alec Harvey (Tudor Owen).
We discover that Zebulon is headed west because his farm mostly “grew rocks.” While Zebulon is clearly using hyperbole, there is some truth in the statement. Many of the western pioneers were New England Yankees looking to upgrade their less-than-productive farms in Vermont.
The Scottish characters are an important part of the film and true to what actually happened. The thrifty, literate, and hardened Scot that had connections to Edinburg’s financial industry were perfectly suited to developing the American West. In the West, the Scots complimented the Yankees. There was frequent intermarriage of Scots to old-stock New Englanders. Both had the same basic views on religious, business, and economic matters. 
Once at the terminus of the Erie Canal, the Prescott and Harvey families build a raft to float down the Ohio River. This is a Hollywood version of reality in How the West Was Won; a merged version of what really happened. The Erie Canal doesn’t directly connect to the Ohio River. Northern Ohio was populated by Yankees coming from the Erie Canal. Those coming down the Ohio River to settle that river’s valley were mostly American (Scots – Irish or German) pioneers originating from Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Virginia. Some in the valley were Yankees though – you can read about them here.
There is another Hollywoodism in The Rivers. The story starts at a time when the American Flag held 26 stars – sometime between 1837 and 1845. By that time all the territory of the Ohio River Valley was politically organized. Kentucky was admitted to the union in 1792 and Illinois in 1818. There was even a bank housed in a Greek Revival-style building making loans in Shawneetown, Illinois at the time.
The timeline is thus a bit off. The American conquest of the Ohio River Valley started at the Forks of the Ohio in 1754. Point Pleasant, West Virginia was taken in 1774. The Illinois Country was captured by Virginian George Rogers Clark and his regiment in 1779. Some of the veterans of that campaign are buried near Saint Louis.
As the pioneers head down the Ohio, it turns out that a store tucked in a cave on the river bank is actually a trap set by pirates. A great fight scene ensues. There is something of Wilmot Robertson’s Majority defeating minorities in this scene, two of the river pirates, brilliantly played by Bridgid Bazlen and Lee Van Cleef, are dark and costumed – sort of like gypsies. Meanwhile, the Prescotts are blond Nordics.
It is important to note that young Abraham Lincoln of Illinois did have a fight with river pirates in 1828. His attackers were sub-Saharans though.
The second portion of the movie is The Plains. This section isn’t so much about the settling of the Great Plains after the Civil War, but crossing the plains before the conflict. It provides some decent action but mostly highlights the musical ability of Debbie Reynolds, shows that all business ventures are a gamble, and provides romantic drama.
There were several trails across the plains in the 1840s and 1850s. The movie only describes the Oregon and California Trails. Both trails basically follow the Platte River in Nebraska, but went in different directions in Wyoming.
There was also the Mormon Trail. It was on the opposite side of the Platte from the Oregon Trail. Of the two, the Mormon Trail was the better trail. The Mormons graded many of the steep slopes and helped each other out the entire time the trail was in use. The ethos upon the Oregon Trail was every convoy for themselves from beginning to end. There was no trail improvement or grading, and the Oregon Trail side of the Platte had frequent cholera outbreaks.
The film shows the hardships of crossing the plains. One thing that the film gets wrong is horses vs. oxen. If one tried to cross the plains with horses pulling the wagons rather than oxen, it would go badly quickly. The horses would give out. The horses probably wouldn’t die, but they would weaken to the point where they could no longer pull the wagon. One would need to ditch the wagon and use the horses as pack animals.
John Ford directs The Civil War portion of the movie. The straight jacket of Cinerama probably limited what could have been outstanding battle scenes. The barrage of cannon fire dazzled the audiences in a Cinerama theater, but the effect is less impressive on the small screen. The main character here is Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard), the son of a mountain man Linus Rawlings (James Stewart) and Eve Prescott (Carroll Baker).
The Civil War makes for interesting reading and is an outstanding backdrop to any epic film, but I can only look back upon this event with sadness. The Civil War was a waste, it would have been better had it not been fought at all. As Wilmot Robertson wrote, “The decline of the American Majority began with the political and military struggle between the North and the South.”
The Railroad, directed by George Marshall, continues the story of the Prescott family. Second Lieutenant Zeb Rawlings, now assigned to the US Cavalry, must protect the Indians from the settlers and the settlers from the Indians. Complicating matters is the transcontinental railroad, being constructed by the ambitious and focused engineer Mike King (Richard Widmark).
There is an outstanding scene involving a bison stampede. The sound of the thundering hooves is simply fantastic. How the West Was Won, was awarded three Oscars, one for best sound. It must have been an enormous effort to get the bison in place and stampeding on cue during filming.
The stampede – initiated by the Arapaho – destroys the railhead and kills many of the settlers. This leads to a serious and angry philosophical conversation between Lieutenant Rawlings and Mike King. Rawlings is furious that the railroad company’s actions have provoked a destructive attack. Since the railroad will continue to be built, King merely sees, “new life going on.” The conversation reflects the conflict between traditional ways of life such as that of the Arapaho, and the Social Darwinism of the WASP business elite in the late nineteenth century.
The final segment of the movie is called The Outlaws. Lilith Prescott is now widowed. Her only remaining property is a ranch in Arizona. She must get her nephew Zeb Rawlings, now a prominent citizen, veteran, and sheriff, to run the place. But before Zeb can take over the ranch, he must face Charlie Gant, (Eli Wallach). Wallach is Jewish, so the last portion of the movie continues the subtle minorities vs. American Majority conflict.
The confrontation between Rawlings and Gant begins next to a deep shaft that is still being actively drilled. This shows an important part of the winning of the West. Technology must be used to bypass the limitations of climate. The climate of the Great Plains is called cold semi-arid (BSk). There are fewer trees, fierce storms, a constant fire risk, and less rain. The settlers had to invent new ways of farming and use new technologies to make a living. The railroad, the metal windmill, summer fallow, barbed wire, pipelines, and fracking are all products of white genius applied to a new environment. The pioneers even updated a form of law called riparian rights to take account of the limited water in the region. The techniques learned on the Great Plains will one day be used to bring civilization to different planets.
The fight between Rawlins and Gant is on a moving train and the stunts are quite exciting. It is even worth the time to watch a documentary on the stuntmen involved in the movie.
How the West Was Won is simply delightful. The final scene where Lilith Prescott sings to her grandnephew ties the story of the Prescott family and their journey to the West together. In How the West Was Won the girls meet and marry their guys and right triumphs over wrong. By the end of the film, burning deserts become replaced with cool lakes and rude settlements have become great cities – to rank among the great ones of the world. It’s fun to honor one’s heritage, and this move does exactly that.
* * *
Counter-Currents has extended special privileges to those who donate $120 or more per year.
- First, donor comments will appear immediately instead of waiting in a moderation queue. (People who abuse this privilege will lose it.)
- Second, donors will have immediate access to all Counter-Currents posts. Non-donors will find that one post a day, five posts a week will be behind a “paywall” and will be available to the general public after 30 days.
To get full access to all content behind the paywall, sign up here:
 For further reading on this, I suggest: Scots in the North American West, 1790 – 1917 by Ferenc Morton Szasz.
 Robertson, Wilmot, The Dispossessed Majority, Howard Allen Enterprises, Inc. Cape Canaveral, Florida, 1981, Page 80
Adult Cartoons Are a Disaster for Western Civilization, Part 1
Field of Dreams: A Right-Wing Film?
Memories of Underdevelopment: Revolution & the Bourgeois Mentality
Jon Stewart’s Irresistible: An Election in Flyover Country
It’s Time to Wind Down the Empire of Nothing
Salon Kitty: The Ultimate Nazisploitation Movie
Remembering Leni Riefenstahl (August 22, 1902–September 8, 2003)