Going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon in the 1940s and 1950s meant that you became acquainted with some of the most famous cowboys of the day. All cowboy movies had some things in common regardless of who was starring on the big screen. Good morals always prevailed. Good overcame evil. The good guys always wore white hats and tipped them when speaking to women. Villains wore bandanna masks. All carried six-shooters but those guns usually fired more than six bullets. Most “bad guys” were wounded but not killed.

The two most famous cowboys were Roy Rogers, the King of the Cowboys and Gene Autry. Roy’s wife, Dale Evans, The Queen of the West, starred in many films with him. Their theme song was “Happy Trails.” Roy’s horse, “Trigger,” and Dale’s horse, “Buttermilk,” were almost as well known as their owners. Gabby Hayes and Pat Butrum were two of Roy’s sidekicks.

Gene Autry was known as America’s favorite Singing Cowboy. His theme song was “Back in the Saddle Again.” “Champion” was his horse and Smiley Burnette was his sidekick. Gene Autry at one time owned the California Angels baseball team and at the time of his death he was the vice president of the American Baseball League. While serving his country in World War II, he was the only officer permitted to wear his cowboy boots while in uniform.

Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, famous as they were only appeared in three films together — “The Old Corral,” “The Big Show” and “The Old Barn Dance.”

Another cowboy appearing on the silver screen in full length full films was Hopalong Cassidy, played by William Boyd. He always wore a white hat and had a white horse named “Topper.”

Wild Bill Elliott was best known for the cross-two-handed draw of his six-shooters. Instead of his gun handles facing his back, they faced forward thus allowing the cross handed draw.

The Durango Kid was another favorite cowboy of movie-goers. He was an exception to the rule of good guys wearing white hats since he always dressed in black from his hat to his boots.

Clayton Moore played the Lone Ranger who was the sole survivor of a group of Texas Rangers who were ambushed. He and his Indian partner, Tonto, played by Jay Silverheels, fought to bring law and order to the plains of Texas. Each of their adventures ended with him leaving a “Silver Bullet” as he and Tonto rode off into the sunset. The people whom they helped would always ask the question, “Who was that masked man?”

Other cowboys during this era were Johnny Mack Brown, Red Ryder and Little Beaver, The Cisco Kid and Poncho, Tim Holt and Rex Allen the Arizona Cowboy.

The relationship between these cowboys and their audiences was real. One almost felt as if you knew them personally. It was a time when kids could sit in the darkness of a movie theater and fight alongside their heroes knowing that good would reign over evil, at least for a Saturday afternoon.

Robert Snell is a retired Ottumwa educator.

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