I have seen different terms, cowpunk, weird west, and westernpunk, but I prefer the later. One of the greatest examples of Westernpunk is the old television show, Wild Wild West. Though a western, all the 19th century high tech spy gadgetry made it Steampunk. Even though James West and Artemus Gordon didn’t fly on an airship, they lived in the luxury compartment of a steam powered train. That wasn’t the only western that had Steampunk influences before Steampunk was cool. In the 1967 movie, The War Wagon, with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, the duke drove a stage coach with metal sides and a Gatling gun mounted on it as they crossed the wild, dangerous west. The perfect vehicle for a westernpunk story.
Keep in mind people wore goggles in the west on wagon trains to keep the dust out of their eyes. And of course trains run on steam. Nineteenth century locomotives were bigger than life with huge grills in front and towering smoke billowing out. Their long, powerful iron bodies were adorned with decorative brass, gleaming in the hot western sun as they cut across the wild, spacious west. They emitted an orchestra of musical sounds, including the steam whistle and the chuffing noise of the train. All of these things add to the ambiance and settings of Westernpunk stories.
There are several western states you can set a Steampunk story in but you might want to look at Texas. As a Texan I can say lots of weird, fantastic, and strange things occurred in Texas in the 19th century and are great inspiration for Westernpunk tales. You may not know but it was a Texan, Jacob Brodbeck, who built and flew the first airplane. He called it a flying machine. The first take off occurred in 1866 in Gillespie County, Texas. It ran off a powerful clockwork motor and a series of gears. This large motor didn’t build up enough power for the machine to take off on its own. Brodbeck built a ski-jump type ramp on the side of a hill near Fredericksburg, he’d take his flying machine to the top of it, and as it gained speed sliding down he’d start the motor. He could fly for three or four minutes with power, then he’d glide to a landing.
Another weird piece of Texas history is the alien UFO crash of 1897 which took place in Aurora Texas. A cigar-shaped UFO plowed though a windmill, destroying it. The good folk of Aurora discovered a space alien inside, who died upon impact. They gave him a Christian burial. Someone stole the space alien’s tombstone but the state of Texas erected a historical marker at the cemetery, which reads, “This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash was buried here.”
The Dallas Morning News printed the story and it can be read online. It stated an airship hit the tower of Judge Proter’s windmill, blew into pieces in a terrific explosion scattering parts of the UFO over several acres, wrecking the windmill and water tank, and destroying the Judge’s flower garden. The pilot, the only one in the spaceship, died upon impact and though his body was badly disfigured it was evident he was not an inhabitant of this world.
Then they’re the ghost lights of Marfa Texas. Ghost lights occur around the world, with orange the most common color. The Marfa lights are usually orange, red, white and yellow, but green and blue have been reported. In addition to numerous sightings, the lights have been documented many times in photographs and video images. Several videos of the lights can be viewed on YouTube. Every night, onlookers, hoping to spot the lights, stop by the circular viewing center, located about eight miles east of Marfa, it includes a picnic area, restrooms, and a parking lot. A recorded sighting of the ghost lights in Marfa Texas was first published in 1957, but many claim observations of the lights go back at least to the 1800’s. Some say the Apaches who lived in the area spoke of them though there is no hard evidence of that.
Also Texas was its own country for a while, with its own president and its own money. Texas wanted to join the U.S. but what if it didn’t? What if Texas stayed a country? As for that idea, think of all those places in the U. S. originally owned by Spain and France. I know when my Fife ancestors originally came to Mississippi in the late 18th century they had a Spanish land grant. What if some of those areas never became part of the U. S. You could have Spanish or French territories surrounded by U. S. states. That would make for a good Steampunk story. It reminds me of the Steampunk book, The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming.
Then there’s the shoot-em-up wild west. Would the addition of Steampunk weapons make it more lawless or less? Obviously it would depend on who had the biggest, baddest guns. What if Native Americans had high-tech weaponry?
As you can see the American west makes as good a setting for Steampunk as Victorian London does. Cherie Priest (Boneshaker) and Devon Monk (Dead Iron) have had great success with using the west for their Steampunk takes. I wish the same success to any Steamed readers setting a Steampunk story in the wild west.