Voiceovers: Jack Lemmon, Richard Farnsworth, Tim Scott, Mary Kay Bergman, Nancy Boykin, Cash Scot Casey, Richard Doyle, Doug Hale, James David Hinton, Rif Hutton, Lance LeGault, Ritchie Montgomery, Hal Smith, Guy Stroman, Helen Hunt, Lyle Lovett, Paige O’Hara, Diane Adair, Becky Bonar, Bo Brundin, Larry Cedar, Ruth DeSosa, Ed Gilber, Mary Gregory, Edan Gross, Curt Lowens, Marianne Muellerleile, Annette Romano, Kath Soucie.
Ten-hour documentary from Prime Time Entertainment Network, on the western frontier from the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century, focuses on the history, myths and personal experiences of the men and women of the West.
Using first-person narratives, journal material, historical commentary against the backdrop of photographs, paintings and sketches from the time, series is well-crafted survey, modeled after Ken Burns’ “The Civil War.” While the program is far less dramatic and emotionally wrenching than the Burns docu, it is nevertheless entertaining and educational.
First two-hour segment features the stories of the cowboys who drove cattle from Texas north to the plains during the 1870s and 1880s, and the settlers who came by the thousands to the Great Plains in search of a better life.
Cowboys, as many as one-third of whom were black, worked long days driving wild steers to market for as little as $ 30 a month. The young cowboys, who mostly ranged in age from teenagers to late 20s, created the boom towns of Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City that gave the Wild West its nickname. For the most part, however, their lives were filled with hard work, drudgery and very little security.
By the late 1880s, the cattle industry had changed drastically, and most cowboys were left without a livelihood. Although many settled down on farms and in the cities, they left a legacy of cow punching that continues todayin some parts of the West.
The Great Plains settlers were a different breed. Many left comfortable, or at least tolerable, circumstances in Eastern cities to pursue the dream of affluence and a new life in the Midwest.
Often, their dreams were shattered on the wagon trail.
For the settlers who survived the trip, there were bitter disappointments as they struggled to make farming viable and to recreate the comfortable, if teeming, cities that they had left behind.
Series uses period music and voiceover narration to tell mythic story.
While the writing (by uncredited writers) is generally weak and the dramatic tone of the piece is pallid compared to other documentaries of this type, series generally delivers as entertaining, informative product.