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The movie Shane (1953) is based on the novel Shane (1949) by Jack Shaefer.

It is obvious that the novel Shane (1949) could have a precise setting date or a vague possible date range, and the movie Shane (1953) based on that novel could be set at the same time or a different one.

There are references to the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 that show that the movie Shane (1953) happens after the Civil War, like most western movies, so that is not much of a help.

And there is a scene where cattle baron Rufus Ryker says that he and other early cattlemen tamed the valley in Wyoming that is the setting. So knowing the date when Shane (1953) happens and when Riker started ranching the valley would show how correct his claim would be in actual western history, though western history in the movies can be vastly different from in real history.

According to the IMDB article on Shane (1953), goofs, anachronisms:

At Grafton's Supply Store, Joe Starrett is flipping through "Sears and Roebuck" "Catalogue 112". Catalogue 112 is dated 1905; some 20 years after Shane takes place.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046303/goofs/?tab=gf&ref_=tt_trv_gf 1

But I don't know what evidence the contributor of that goof had to decide that Shane was set in about 1885.

So I would like to know the date that the novel Shane (1949) by Jack Shaefer and more importantly the date the movie Shane (1953) is set in.

  • While not necessarily answering the question, some interesting comments, in The BFI Companion to the Western, Buscombe, ed., 1988, p. 297: "... despite its self-consciously mythic qualities, (Shane) has a sophisticated historical content. Though it refers directly to no specific time or place, the film clearly alludes to the Johnson County range war in Wyoming in 1892, an episode that figures more explicitly in Heaven's Gate." – professor_feather Jul 17 '18 at 14:41
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According to Sparknotes the novel takes place in the summer of 1889.

I haven't found anything that gives a conclusive date for the year the movie takes place. It would have to occur no earlier than 1877 though as the character Joe Starrett carries the 1877 Colt double action Lightning revolver that began production that year.

However, the goof on imdb that you link to is in itself incorrect. The Sears and Roebuck Catalogue 112 was put out in the spring of 1903

  • Of course many westerns have characters use weapons that won't be made for years after the stated dates of the movies, and many other anachronisms. Apache chief Victorio is killed in 2 different movies with stated dates of 1879 and 1880 respectively, for example. – M. A. Golding Jul 15 '18 at 20:42
  • @M.A. Golding That's true. However, George Stevens the director wanted the movie to be as authentic to the time as possible. imdb.com/title/tt0046303/trivia?item=tr0648660 – Legion600 Jul 15 '18 at 21:09
  • Anyway, if the movie happens in or after 1877 Joe Starrett could counter Ryker's claim he made the valley safe from Indians by reminding him the Indians were defeated for Ryker and not by Riker, defeated by the the US army sent by the same federal government that passed the homestead act that the homesteaders use to get their farms. Starrett could ask Ryker if he died in the Fetterman Massacre or Custer's Last Stand, or if he was present in any of the victories against the Sioux. – M. A. Golding Jul 19 '18 at 2:58
  • One of the greatest establishments of time period via firearms is in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. where the cowboy heroes are conducting a robbery in the opening you notice their sidearms are automatic pistols, M1911's, which indicate that the era of the old west is in fact behind them. – DukeZhou May 13 at 17:00
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Here is some more dating evidence.

Elisha Cook Jr. (1903-1953) played Frank "Stonewall" Torrey, and so should have been about 47 to 48 when Shane was filmed in 1951.

If Torrey was named after Stonewall Jackson that would have been after Stonewall Jackson got the "Stonewall" nickname in 1861, which would make Torrey's aged 47 to 48 in about 1908-1909, or later.

But "Stonewall" is Torrey's nickname, not a real name, so that is no clue. Since Torrey is an ex Rebel soldier, he should have been aged about 18 to 45, the age range of the vast majority of Rebels, in 1861-1865, and thus have been born in 1816 to 1847, and thus aged 47 to 48 in 1863 to 1895.

The settlers were homesteaders, and the First Homestead Act of 1862 would be the earliest possible date for Shane.

Ironically, one of the few restrictions in the Homestead Act was that the claimant had to have never taken up arms against the US government, which means that ex Rebel Torrey would not have been eligible for a homestead (unless he planned to lie), which means he wouldn't have tried to become a homesteader and would never have been gunned down, unless he was planning to lie.

Anyway, I am still hoping that someone will point out evidence in the movie that will give a more precise date range.

Added May 12 2019 - Seeing part of Shane recently, I noted that in the first discussion between Ryker and Mr. Starrett, Starret mentions that a penitentiary is being built.

The cornerstone for what became Wyoming’s first state prison was laid in 1888, two years after the territorial Legislature approved a $75,000 appropriation, but the prison itself did not open for 13 more years. Poor economic conditions caused the funding and construction delay.

https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/wyomings-first-state-prison[1]

Thus funds for the Wyoming Prison in Rawlins were appropriated in 1886 and the first prisoners entered it in 1901.

That may indicate that Shane happens in 1886-1901, a time span which includes the Johnson County War in 1892.

It is said that a federal Prison in Laramie, Wyoming was used for territorial and state prisoners before the State Prison opened. It was called the Wyoming territorial Prison.

The prison was built in 1872 and began accepting prisoners in early 1873. The facility had problems from the outset, with a fire in 1873 and recurrent jailbreaks. Of the 44 prisoners accepted in the first two years of operation, 11 escaped. By 1877 the prison was overcrowded. As the prison filled its reputation worsened, and it became less used, being considered more appropriate for those with light sentences. During the 1880s the prison was under capacity, with as few as three prisoners at one time. However, in 1889 a second cellblock was constructed, a expanding capacity to 150 and providing a central kitchen, dining hall, guards' rooms and steam heat. There were at least five cells for female inmates, and several solitary confinement cells. In 1890 Wyoming became a state and the facility was transferred to the new state, which already had planned a new facility in Rawlins. Butch Cassidy was incarcerated here in 1894-1896. Prisoners were transferred to Rawlins in 1901, The prison was closed in 1903 and given to the University of Wyoming.2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming_Territorial_Prison_State_Historic_Site2

Thus it is possible that Starrett was referring to the prison in Laramie, which would date Shane to 1872 to 1873, or possibly to earlier years if it took years to build the prison.

In that same conversation Ryker said that he had a new contract to supply beef to the reservation and so needed to use the entire valley to graze his larger herds.

The Shoshone Indian Reservation was established in Wyoming in 1868 by the Fort Bridger Treaty Council. But the Shoshones mostly stayed near Fort Bridger for several years until the danger of hostile Indian attacks lessened. in 1878 the Northern Arapaho, former enemies of the Shoshone, were also placed on the reservation, which was renamed the Wind River Reservation.

Obviously Ryker would have made his beef contract with the Indian agent at the reservation, sometime after the agency was established on the reservation, unless the contract was made with an Indian bureau official with authority over a wider area. I guess that the early 1870s would probably be the earliest possible date for making that contract.

So those are a few more clues about the fictional date of Shane.

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