About 25 years ago I painted these cheap Pound Store copies of Airfix 54mm Cowboys and Indians into a home-made DIY western play set. It was made as a jokey present for a western movie enthusiast daughter of a work colleague. This was recently passed back to me 25 years later for safekeeping.
I was reminded of this DIY Wild West Vintage playset box by a recent American chart topping song. I also thought of this box whilst researching my recent scouting related blogpost on segregation and the idealised, romantic Native American cultural influences on early Boy Scouts Of America as part of my Scouting Wide Games tabletop project. https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/10/more-original-scouting-handbooks-boy-scouts-and-girl-scouts-of-america/
The Wild West. Independence. The Frontier. These are the seductive and selective histories and stories that countries tell about themselves, to their young and to others. The pioneers, the frontiersman, the noble savage …
A familiar cast of stock Western characters – and then someone comes along and subverts this all with a jokey pop music video
American music charts for the last three to four months have been dominated by a country / hip-hop crossover track called Old Town Road by young hip-hop artist Lil Nas X and Country and Western star Billy Ray Cyrus.
Warning – It is the perfect earworm and in crossing two distinct genres of music has caused controversy and divided musical opinion. Is it Country and Western? Is it hip hop or rap?
Controversy? “Cyrus sent a tweet to Lil Nas X after Billboard decided that the rapper’s song, Old Town Road, was “not country enough” to be on its Hot Country chart. Billboard said the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version” despite its twanging banjo. The removal of the song sparked a fierce debate — white country artists like Florida Georgia Line use hip hop beats in their songs, why can’t a black artist embrace country beats?“
So Billy Ray Cyrus stepped into the remix and the music video ‘movie’ to make it a little more country.
I like the tongue-in-cheek western movie pastiche that was made as the music video. It features black cowboys in 1889 falling through time into the blingy 2019 modern equivalent of fast cars in place of horses, line dancing, designer label cowboy hat and boots.
Time tunnel? Interesting gaming scenario, pure pulp fiction and “Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur” in reverse?
What it suggests about the reality of cowboy life is quite interesting – many cowboys were in fact Black or Hispanic. Not quite the rugged Hollywood 1950s myth making.
Classic and much pirated / copied Airfix figures, still around today in clone form.
I packed inside this all into an old decorated shoebox with their favourite cowboy novel and a simple set of rules for gunfights (roll a dice or split a card deck – highest value wins) or decided via using scissors / paper / stone. Each cowboy and Indian (Native American / first people) had a name on the base of famous historical or western movie characters. (Subrule – Clint always wins). I wonder if the gunfight rules were ever used quietly when no one else was looking?
I wonder – Where have all the cowboy movies gone?
Various cowboy film and dime store novel images were decoupaged onto the box, wrapped in Western wrapping paper.
The Old Town Road song has inspired some curious and destructive tourism in the USA:
Billy Ray Cyrus mentioned in interviews – “I’ve never had a writing/recording session like this,” 57-year old Cyrus said in a video. “I used to play as a kid in this town called Argillite, Kentucky and there was an old, covered bridge outside Argillite called Old Town and there was the road that led to the covered bridge was Old Town Road. I heard this song and I go my gosh I just love what this is saying, plus I can relate to this.”
For more about this song and its controversy https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Town_Road
For more about this covered bridge (I do love a nice covered bridge): https://www.kentuckytourism.com/oldtown-covered-bridge/
Part memory or part myth, maybe lots of people have their own Old Town Road in their heads. It all makes me want to to go look up my favourite photo blog of vanishing Americana, Forgotten Georgia https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/dutchy-and-dade-the-confederate-history-of-forgotten-georgia/
Back to the earworm …
Posted by Mark Man of TIN on his Pound Store Plastic Warriors blog, 14 August 2019. Boogety! Boogety! Boogety!
6 thoughts on “Black Cowboys on the Old Town Road”
Donald Featherstone’s Skirmish Wargaming has a chapter on Old West gunfighting along with WWII, Napoleonic, English Civil War, etc. There’s also a section on running the game solo I’m thinking of trying. Next week I’ll be running a round of it for the club, set in WWI East Africa. The rules were loosely based on a series of Western gunfight rules from about 1970, which were also borrowed by Gary Gygax as the initial basis for what became Dungeons and Dragons and a host of other role-playing games.
I hope this goes well as a club game – I found these gunfight rules a little awkward when I last tried these with others in the 1980s (although I liked the pictures and Scenario). I can see the link towards becoming D and D. This is also the book section with the suggested conversion of Airfix Footballers into saloon girls. I tried this a year or two ago, again the outcome was a little Clunky!
I’ve been running a slightly simplified version of it with eight-year-olds at work – they handle it surprisingly well, with (so far) up to three figures apiece, and getting through thirty “turns” in an hour. The number of minis I have and the number of people I expect will give each player probably five figures at most. While Featherstone credits them with the initial idea, he’s cut it down somewhat. Except for the Western scenario, which has a dozen different weapon types, there aren’t too many variations on equipment, which in turn worries me that the game will go TOO quickly. DnD combat can take forever, but there aren’t loads of different equipment and skills, and rules for surviving injury in Featherstone’s rules – it was early days.
Looking at the charts again on the Skirmish Wargaming book – I can still see why I couldn’t take to it unlike Featherstone’s other simpler rules.
However I liked the original scenarios and photos because they were often Airfix etc figures that I could relate to as a youngster. The recent John Curry reprint uses different photos but adds unpublished space and fantasy chapters from Don Featherstone.
I believe that Mike Blake (lifes-a-botch.blogspot.com) on the 54mm Little Wars Revisited forum (that you and I are both on) is part of the original trio of Skirmish Wargames who inspire and worked with Don on this book. The 1970 original western gunfight rules are also republished by John Curry http://www.wargaming.co/recreation/details/westerngunfight.htm
Mike might be interesting to chat to about your library game versions of the Skirmish Games rules with youngsters.
Additionally to extend or vary the games, you could add the Lil Nas X ‘Old Town Road’ unexpected events and distractions special rules:
A – run for cover under gunfire into an old mine and fall into 21st century America.
B – become affected by an earworm which distracts you from doing or concentrating on anything / taking part in any thing for X number of turns.
C – become distracted by an argument about whether the saloon bar music is pure Country and Western enough, ditto X number of turns
D- become distracted by line dancing, ditto X number of turns
E – run for cover into a clothing store and become distracted by the sight of the new Wrangler Old Town Road clothes ‘bandwagon’ collection, ditto X number of turns …
And so on …