An American Myth
It is not really American, the roots for us come from Europe. I believe it reached its zenith in the U.S. during the John Wayne era. You may or may not like John Wayne. The important aspect is to realize the myth behind the character– The Hero. Western culture has a unique figure as the hero. Not only must he save the day, he must be chaste and pure of heart. The basis of the hero model comes from the Western concept of Romantic Love. Much of my information comes from reading I have done from Robert Johnson, a noted Jungian writer, and others of that vain.
The short outline on Romantic Love, it is the model for the young girl in the West, being in love with love. Her hero has no flaws and he will walk through fire and slay dragons for her– Not for sex, but for love. Romantic love roots are in Courtly Love, the practice of loving someone without any physical contact. Heroes of Romantic Love in the knightly times are reported to have worn the symbols of their woman into mock battle, the joust. Victorian guilt separates us from that past. So, I am not sure how pure the romantic love was in actually practice In the U.S. Over time, that quality was attached to the role of the cowboy in the Old West. Dime novels portrayed them as selfless heroes bent on beating the bad guys. Yes, pulp fiction existed during the Old West. The knowledge of its existence prior to then escapes me as I write.