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I'm trying to think of a word for the kind of person in western movies (I mean like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" etc) who is a gunfighter who does not have a group affiliation. The closest I can come is "ronin" but I'm thinking there is an English equivalent and I just haven't thought of it yet.

Some possibilities: drifter, wanderer (doesn't suggest agency or capability of action), gunslinger (doesn't say anything about affiliation), outlaw (lawful or unlawful not immediately relevant here).

Thanks for your help, I appreciate it.

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    Are you looking for a specifically Western-movie word for that sort of person, or a more generic term that translates the Western-movie trope into other situations?
    – Alex P
    Mar 10, 2017 at 20:47
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    @AlexP I'm thinking in terms of western movie vocabulary in particular. Mar 10, 2017 at 22:14
  • Sounds rather like The Lone Ranger.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 11, 2017 at 13:46
  • More like Have Gun--Will Travel than The Lone Ranger Mar 14, 2017 at 23:29

4 Answers 4

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It depends on what exactly you mean by "unaffiliated:"

  • A character who will join any side of a conflict for money, like a mercenary, is a hired gun.

    • If they're someone who tracks down criminals for money, they're a bounty hunter by profession.
  • A character without community ties is a loner, wanderer, or drifter. (Sometimes the townspeople will call them "stranger.")

  • A character who lives outside the legal and moral codes of society is an outlaw or desperado.

    • If you really want to emphasize that they support themselves through criminal activity, especially as part of a gang, they're a bandit.
  • If you're looking for an analogue for the principled ronin, the warrior who was highly devoted to something that doesn't exist anymore, the closest Western trope is probably "the veteran" (who could also be a hired gun, drifter, &c.), but be mindful that, because of the history of the genre, it tends to imply that the character was a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War, unless specified otherwise.

If you're not sure, I recommend you look up a movie with multiple gunslinger characters, like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly or Magnificent Seven, and see how people describe the character that most closely matches the archetype you have in mind.

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    "see how people describe the character" = The Blondie. Very minor nitpick: bounty hunters compete for bounties, so they are not generally hired.
    – Yorik
    Mar 10, 2017 at 21:17
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Hired Gun:

One, especially a professional killer, who is hired to kill another person.

American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Ed.

Also used currently for any newly added specialist on staff.

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The OP should look no further than his own question -- the word is gunfighter. The iconic unaffiliated hero of Western movies is Shane, and Shane was called a gunfighter.

Wikipedia:

Shane (Alan Ladd), a skilled, laconic gunfighter with a mysterious past, rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled state of Wyoming, some time after the Civil War. (emphasis added.)

Shane was one of the all-time great Western movies. The source linked above says:

Shane is a 1953 American Technicolor Western film from Paramount, noted for its landscape cinematography, editing, performances, and contributions to the genre. The picture was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie, Jr., based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal Griggs. Shane stars Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur (in the last feature, and only color, film of her career) and Van Heflin, and features Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Ben Johnson.

Shane was listed No. 45 in the 2007 edition of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list, and No. 3 on AFI's 10 Top 10 in the 'Western' category.

In his review of Shane, Roger Ebert called Shane a gunfighter:

Yes, on the surface, Shane is the gunfighter who wants to leave his past behind him, who yearns for the sort of domesticity he finds on Joe Starrett's place in the Grand Tetons. Yes, someone has to stand up to the brutal Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), who wants to tear down the fences and allow his cattle to roam free. Yes, Shane is the man--even though he knows that if he succeeds he'll have to leave the valley.

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Maverick captures the 'unconventional' part, which also implies 'unaffiliated':

Dictionary.com

noun : 2a) a person of independent or unorthodox views

Word Origin C19: after Samuel A. Maverick (1803–70), Texas rancher, who did not brand his cattle

(It doesn't say anything about the owner being a gunfighter)

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