Though less popular today, cowboys were once a favourite subject for all manner of toys, films and comics. With an abundance of cowboy figures of all sizes, it was natural that one of the early sets from Airfix would be of these men, and this set appeared in 1961.
Cowboys were hard-working labourers who moved and tended the enormous amount of cattle on the wide-open spaces of the American West. However popular imagination and endless films from Hollywood have portrayed a more glamorous image, and these figures are clearly more to do with this image as none of them are suitable for driving cattle. Instead, they are shown using their firearms and therefore presumably either fighting amongst themselves, breaking or upholding the law, or battling with the set of Indians released at the same time. Though as civilian figures there is no real 'right' or 'wrong' poses, the poses that are included are reasonable and quite lively. The man firing his rifle from the saddle would consider himself lucky to hit anything unless he was firing at bison at close range, but some nice lively scenes could be created with these figures. Although some cowboys certainly carried two pistols, there is no evidence that they ever held and fired both at the same time - only a reasonably ambidextrous man could hope to achieve much with a pistol in his wrong hand, so the two-gun man in the top row is pretty much fantasy (or perhaps for show). Equally the man running holding a rifle has two pistols, which would be seen as heavily over-armed by most at the time. In fact by the later years of the 19th century the threat from natives was so reduced that many men usually carried no gun belt, though a weapon may well have been to hand in the saddle bags or nearby wagon. Lastly it is hard to think what could be done with the crawling cowboy in the second row. Sneaking up on someone perhaps, or clambering on a rooftop during a gunfight?
Costume was of course civilian, and while there are common features to be seen in contemporary photographs each man wore whatever took his fancy, with durability and practicality usually being the most important considerations. All of these figures wear pretty typical clothing, with one man wearing a long coat and smart hat that could imply a rather more gentle occupation than that of the cowboy (and indeed Airfix themselves identify this figure as 'banker, held up'). One man wears a fringed hunting shirt, and most have a waistcoat, which is fine, though the variety of clothing was much wider than these figures suggest. This applies particularly to the headwear, since everyone here wears a stetson-style hat when many other types were also to be seen, particularly when not actually on a drive.
The three horse poses are the usual ones found in so many Airfix sets, and they suffer from the same problem, which is a very thin separate base into which some very thin and short pegs just barely fit, making it hard to keep animal and base together. The saddlery and bridles are very poor, and do not reflect the reality at all.
As should be expected from a set of this vintage, the sculpting is not of the highest quality. Though a good amount of detail has been achieved, the nature of the subject does not require a lot in the first place. These are better than the first sets from Airfix, but the figures are still fairly basic, with hands that are lumps without fingers and faces that lack expression. The general shape of the horses is particularly bad, so substituting horses from other sets might be advisable here.
Airfix never choose to retool this set, and as the whole history of the white-man's activities in the West became perceived as both far from heroic and very non-politically correct, these figures spent a lot of time on the 'discontinued' list. Many happy childhoods were spent innocently playing with these figures, but for anyone wishing for a good set of figures depicting this sort of subject our advice would be to look to the more recent output from companies such as Revell and IMEX.