The American heritage Center serves as a research institution for researchers of all kinds. Any given week the reading room is filled with historians writing books to young students working on class projects. For international American Studies graduate student, Constantin Jas, the AHC has become a valuable resource to his studies. Jas took AHC’s Interim Director, Rick Ewig’s, archival methods course this spring. Jas quickly came across the Tim McCoy papers in the Center’s holdings and decided they would make an excellent topic for his research project in Ewig’s class.
“I have loved the genre of Western movies for a long time and when I was studying cultural myths and popular culture of America I even took a whole class on Western movies,” said Jas. “Yet, I have never consciously encountered Tim McCoy or his movies so far. Learning that he had a reputation as being an ‘authentic’ cowboy appeared like the perfect task for a research project as this particular genre, as well the historical era of the Frontier have been highly mystified aspects of American culture. Western movies have created iconic perceptions of how the era of westward expansion has been, but usually these perceptions and images don’t reflect the reality. Tim McCoy, on the other hand, had really experienced the actual conditions in the West as he had been living and working in Wyoming, where he did the actual work of a cowboy.”
Tim McCoy was a Thermopolis, Wyoming resident and an actor in a number of Western feature films in the early to mid-1900s. The McCoy papers contain various photographs, publicity stills, contracts related to his wild west show and TV appearances, manuscripts for “The Tim McCoy Show,” and much more pertaining to McCoy’s personal and professional life. Jas wrote about the Western perception in general and the realistic aspect of McCoy’s Western persona.
“My research paper focuses on Tim McCoy’s Real Wild West and Rough Riders of the World, his 1938 attempt of putting a realistic Wild West Show together and his 1950 – 1952 children’s television program The Tim McCoy Show, in which he presented anecdotes and tales from real Wild West history. Investigating his life experience combined with his personal research for both formats was a challenging, yet very interesting task and my core finding was that, while possibly guilty of mystifying the days of the Old West a little bit himself, McCoy indeed succeeded in making realistic Wild West entertainment.
Unlike many sensationalist and stereotypical Western formats, however, it must be stated that large numbers of audiences, back then as well as today, do not seem to have much interest in how the Wild West really was. They seem to prefer stereotypical sensationalism.”
Jas’ research at the AHC ended up being inspirational to him, and he plans to dive even more into the Tim McCoy papers during work on his master’s thesis next year.