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America’s Wild West

Airs Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: General George Armstrong Custer, one of the Union’s greatest cavalry officers and a man with a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage, was one of the most celebrated and controversial icons of 19th-century America.

Step back in time and onto the frontier with "America’s Wild West," a new PBS special that explores the lives of the larger-than-life men and women who helped tame the West. Rebels, pioneers, heroes, villains and icons of frontier culture, they captured the imagination of a nation and inspired a stampede of novels, television shows and big-screen dramas.

Courtesy of Missouri State

Creator of his own fame, Jesse James painted himself as a defender of southern manhood, a fighter of the establishment and a victimized farm boy from Missouri battling northern oppressors — a legend that spread far and wide.

Timeline: American Frontiers

Explore major events in America's Westward expansion in this timeline. Early European settlers granted themselves expansion into other peoples' lands. They pushed the frontier ever westward, displacing Native Americans, Mexicans, Canadians and others along the way. These pioneers traveled under the banner of Manifest Destiny, the idea that European Americans had a mission to expand the nation's boundaries and democratic institutions to the continent's Western shores.

"America’s Wild West" corrals some of the best moments from the award-winning series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and its Wild West Collection and features excerpts from "Annie Oakley," "Billy the Kid," "Buffalo Bill," "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid," "Custer’s Last Stand," "Jesse James," "Kit Carson" and "Wyatt Earp."

Featuring scenes from eight powerful documentaries, "America’s Wild West" explores the real stories behind the legendary figures whose lives and exploits take center stage in the invention of the mythic Wild West, from Billy the Kid to Wyatt Earp, from Annie Oakley to Jesse James.

Hosted by Michael Murphy, known for his many narrations of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Wild West films, the program includes interviews with the filmmakers behind the documentaries as well as insight from Mark Samels, executive producer of AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.

“There is nothing more alluring or more romantic than the West in the 19th century,” says "America’s Wild West" executive producer Laurie Donnelly. “This special presents the best of the best of the Wild West films.”

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter.

This program is part of our TV Membership Campaign. Support quality programming you depend on from KPBS. Join or renew today!

Video

America's Wild West Preview

Above: Step back in time and explore the epic stories of Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid and the men and women on the frontier who helped tame the West in "America's Wild West." Airing March 2014 on PBS.