John Wayne Western Ethics: Just Thought I’d Mention This…

“Chisum” is a lesser effort by the Duke for sure; I saw the Western when it came out in 1970, and it made no impression on me at all, apparently. When I watched it again two days ago, almost nothing seemed familiar. There was one scene, however, that raised my eyebrows.

The story is very loosely based on John Chisum (of  Chisum Trail fame) and his involvement in the Lincoln County War of 1878 in the New Mexico Territory. At one point in the story, British rancher and Chisum’s neighbor Henry Tunstall rides to Santa Fe to seek help from Territorial Governor  Sam Axtell in the increasingly tense range war.  Henry does not know that he has been framed for cattle rustling, and when he  is intercepted by two deputies (they are in on the plot, but he doesn’t know that) who accuse him and tell him he is under arrest, he objects strenuously.  Saying he is late, Tunstall starts to reach into a pocket. One of the deputies shoots him dead. The two then plant a gun on Tunstall to back the story that the deputy fired in self defense.

But why did he have to do that? Continue reading