The western is the myth of America. It is also an entirely manufactured one. In the contentious wake of the Civil War, a divided country tried to reunite by forging a future in the West. There were Native Americans to be fought; cowboys who rode tall in the saddle; heroic gunfighters quick on the draw; and legendary bandits who played by their own laws. In the compelling storytelling of the western, Union or Confederate, Americans could construct a new identity.
But beneath its surface, divisions festered and wounds never completely healed. As a result, they haunt us today. In Dead Man's Burden, I explore the rifts that linger beneath the myth of the West, and how they affect the choices we make. This is a western that pits the actual relationships that make up life against those beliefs that drive it.
The Civil War broke the McCurry family. When Wade was forced to choose between his view of justice and his loyalty to his family, he chose the former. He headed north to fight for the Union. His father Joe chose to protect his pride over his relationship with his son, threatening death if Wade ever returned home, and telling the rest of the family that Wade was already dead. Now Martha has a fateful choice to make. Will she do whatever is necessary in order to reach her dream? And when Wade arrives at the family homestead to reconcile with the only family he has left, will his determination to bring any killer to justice ultimately destroy the family? Only Martha's husband, Heck, seems really willing to put family first, doing whatever it takes to make Martha happy, but even he might be undone by his raging bias against Northerners.
Divisions: manifested in ideology, pride, and dreams, transforming our own strongest beliefs into burdens. It is how Wade and Martha bear those burdens, how they face those responsibilities, that will determine if a family so divided can survive. And if it can't, can a country? America, beautiful and angry, may never heal from its mythology, but that doesn't mean that those myths aren't still worth telling.