Historical fiction. A fictional story set in a recognizable period of history. As well as telling the stories of ordinary people's lives, historical fiction may involve political or social events of the time.If I have any kind of modest ambition for my writing, outside of writing good books that people will enjoy, it's to write something that successfully disproves that second definition. Better yet, something that successfully combines elements of both genres - for most booksellers do list them as two entirely separate genres, although there is a little muddled crossover here and there. Louis L'Amour hit the nail right on the head when he said, "If you write a book about a bygone period that lies east of the Mississippi River, then it's a historical novel. If it's west of the Mississippi, it's a western, a different category. There's no sense to it."
Western. Genre with a setting in the West, usually between 1860 - 1890, with a formula plot about cowboys or other aspects of frontier life [my emphasis].
You could talk and speculate a good deal over what gave the western genre its present reputation. I think it may actually be because the western was so hugely popular in the earlier part of the 20th century - the demand for more probably led to flooding the market with a lot of hastily-written books that did indeed have formula plots, and moreover, I think a 'popular' movement in culture tends to be dismissed as trivial once it's died off a little. Certainly some popular things deserve to die off. But that brings me back to where I started, because I don't think the western deserved it. It was more than just a popular trend; it's a part of American history. And like L'Amour, I think it's an important part of our history. Yes, we all know there's legend and myth mixed with the facts, but they've become a part of our culture the same way King Arthur and Robin Hood - part fact, part legend - are instantly identifiable with old England. And there is a lot more besides the myths. The "stories of ordinary people's lives" from the frontier are just as significant and fascinating as the legends.
Perhaps another reason is that there is not a notable Western-set novel among the 'great books' (admittedly a subjective term) of American literature. There are certain novels that are considered the finest of the western genre, but how often do they show up on lists of great American literature in general?
I guess that leaves an opportunity for the present-day author. The place is empty...so why not try to fill it?