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PBS box set chronicles the lives and deaths of the (in)famous wild west legends

Jesse James, dead
Jesse James, dead
Author's collection

America's Wild West (PBS Distribution)


The west was once wild.
And PBS Distribution has the proof. Plenty of it.
America's Wild West features those men and women who helped to tame the west–larger-than-life Americans, rebels, pioneers, and icons of the frontier culture. Both heroes and villains, they captured the imagination of a nation and inspired a stream of dime novels, television shows and big-screen darmas. Step into the past with American Experience and uncover the real stories behind the legendary figures whose lives and exploits took center stage in the invention of the mythic Wild West. This collection features Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Custer’s Last Stand, Jesse James, Kit Carson and Wyatt Earp.
Here, a sneak peek about each of the eight documentaries::
Annie Oakley
This film features the story of a five-foot-tall sharpshooter who pulled herself out of the depths of poverty to become known the world over as a symbol of the Wild West. The one-hour film chronicles Oakley’s life, from her childhood in Ohio to her world tours with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Billy the Kid
On April 28, 1881, 21-year-old Henry McCarty, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, just days from being hanged for murder, outfoxed his jailors and electrified the nation with the latest in a long line of miraculous escapes. An outlaw with a deadly reputation, the young man was finally gunned down by the ambitious sheriff Pat Garrett just a few weeks later. The felling of one of the most notorious criminals of the age made front-page news and marked the end of Henry–but it was the beginning of one of the West’s most enduring legends.
Buffalo Bill
Born in an Iowa log cabin in 1846, he fought Indians and earned his nickname while hunting buffalo to feed the construction crews of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. After the Civil War, he scouted for the U.S. Army along America’s vast western frontier. In 1883, just as that frontier was disappearing, he transformed himself into a master showman, creating and starring in a world-famous traveling show that brought the “real” Wild West to life.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Long before they were immortalized on screen by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid captivated Americans from coast to coast. In the 1890s, their thrilling exploits–robbing western banks and trains and then seemingly vanishing into thin air–became front page news and the basis of rumor and myth. But who were Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh? What really happened after they formed the Wild Bunch gang?
Custer’s Last Stand
This documentary follows Custer from his memorable, wild charge at Gettysburg–one that turned the tide of the battle–to his lonely, untimely death on the windswept plains of the west. Why, time again, did the supremely ambitious son of a blacksmith ricochet from triumph to disaster, from battlefield heroism to impetuous escapade?
Jesse James
The story of Jesse James remains one of America’s most cherished myths…and one of its most wrong-headed. James, so the legend goes, was a Western outlaw, but in reality, he never went west. He has been called America’s own Robin Hood, yet he robbed both rich and poor, and was never seen to share his ill-gotten gains. He was also known as a gunfighter–but his victims were almost always unarmed. Less heroic than brutal, James was a product, from first to last, of the American Civil War–a Confederate partisan of expansive ambition, unbending politics, and surprising cunning–who gladly helped invent his own valiant legend. A member of a vicious band of Missouri guerrillas during the war, James sought redemption afterwards. But as this American Experience reveals, year by year he rode further from it.
Kit Carson
To some, he was one of America’s greatest heroes: a brave and loyal guide who laid out a path for the westward-moving nation, an Indian tracker who could follow any trail, and a fearless warrior featured in dozens of bestselling novels. But to others, Christopher “Kit” Carson was a villain who waged a merciless crusade against one of the West’s greatest Native American tribes. “Kit Carson” brings the legendary trapper, scout, and soldier to life and provides a lens on a pivotal but little-understood era in American history.
Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp has been portrayed in countless movies and television shows, but these popular fictions often belie the complexities and flaws of a man whose life is a lens on politics, justice, and economic opportunity in the American frontier. As a young man, Wyatt Earp was a caricature of the Western lawman, spending his days drinking in saloons, gambling, and visiting brothels. He gained notoriety as the legendary gunman in the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, and shortly after his death in 1929, distressed Americans down on their luck transformed him into a folk hero. Wyatt Earp examines how he became the legend that lives on today.

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