9

GENDER AND THE WESTERN BOY HERO

“Boys was born to be licked, I s’pose.”
- From The Shawnee's Foe, page 11

<em>The Shawnees' Foe; or, The Hunter of the Juniata</em> (Beadle's Frontier Series no. 1)

The Shawnee's Foe (Beadle's Frontier Series no. 1), originally published in 1866.







Though second-generation boy heroes tended to temper the radicalism of their iconic predecessors, they also introduced new methods of resisting societal norms which were often connected with their position as adolescents. Deadwood Dick Jr., for example, occupied a middle ground between the childish or feminized boy character in early dime westerns and the stoic masculine hero that the original Deadwood Dick embodies. In doing so, he defined new boundaries for acceptable gender in a western hero.

Early boy characters in Western dime novels were far from manly heroism in both looks and behavior. The secondary boy character Josh in The Shawnee’s Foe is described unflatteringly as having “an enormous head” and “flabby cheeks, distended by loud howls for mercy.”1 He keeps house and cooks meals for an elder scout while avoiding danger and fights at all costs. His cowardly behavior and feminine, domestic role makes him essentially comic relief. In contrast, for Deadwood Dick Jr. to “be branded a coward … was something foreign to his nature."2 Dick Jr.’s introductory description highlights both heroic and feminine/boyish aspects of his appearance: “His face, round and plump as a schoolgirl’s, was decidedly handsome, flushed as it now was, and devoid of a beard. His mouth was firm, but pleasing, his eyes of brilliant brown hue, and very magnetic and expressive.”3 He is not too stoic to show emotion - his series opens on his mother’s death, and he “[weeps] until he [can] weep no more."4 But he is also undeniably a hero designed for adolescents to identify with, not a browbeaten sidekick.

1. The Shawnee's Foe, 10.
2. Deadwood Dick Jr., 40.
3. Ibid., 19.
4. Ibid., 17.