Did you ever place dress-up as a kid? I remember trying on my mother’s shoes and throwing her purse over my arm and pretending to be a grown up. There is something powerful in the act of putting on a costume and pretending to be someone else. Perhaps someone you wish you could be for just a short time.
I think that is one of the reasons readers (and authors) love historical novels. We get to step into the shoes of someone who lived in a different era and imagine what it would be like if we had lived then. And it’s not just novelists and readers. Think of all the living history museums there are around the country. How many reenactors dedicate months of their time and significant dollars from their bank accounts to recreating battle scenes from the civil war. How many historians make presentations in costume to help bring their topics alive to their audiences.
At one of the writing conferences I go to every year, there is a genre dinner on the first night where authors have the chance to dress up like one of their characters or in a way that represents their genre. I typically wear a denim skirt, boots, and cowboy hat, but I secretly long to become more authentic in my dress-up.
I recently found a website that offers professionally made historical costumes, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. A rather expensive candy store . . . but there were so many delights, I stopped caring about the price tags.
I’ve decided to start saving my pennies. Maybe by next year, I’ll be decked out in the outfit below.
Shoes – $50
Cameo Brooch – $20
Crinoline for underneath – $50
Professionally made Polonaise set – $275
Getting to step back in time and live for a few hours as one of my characters – Priceless
I love Temecula, Southern California’s premiere Wine Country (think Napa up north), and I visit every month or two with a posse of gal-pal wine aficionados. Since Temecula is several hours from home, we manage to spend the weekend, and last time, we arrived just in time for the annual Western Days festival! Temecula has a rich history which is preserved in “Old Town.” Enjoy the fun re-enactors pix today!
First off, the name of the valley comes from the Luiseño Indians and basically mean “where the sun breaks through the mist.” The tribe has been in the area since at least 900 AD.
The first “white man” to set foot is believed to be Father Juan Norberto de Santiago while leading an expedition in 1797 to found a new mission.
Forty years later, American fur trappers moved in, and not long after, provincial governors granted a large tract of land to Felix Valdez, and Rancho Temecula was born in 1845. The “rancho” era of California bloomed with a romantic aura that lingers still.
In addition to romance, the area saw its own historic violence. A nearby canyon was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Mexican War in 1847.
The local tribe captured and executed eleven Mexican soldiers. However, the Mexicans conspired with an enemy tribe, the Cahuilla, to settle some scores with them. In short, the common grave of the dead Temeculans is still visible from a major highway.
And true to legends of the wild west, Temecula had run-ins with bandits and bad guys. In 1857, outlaw Juan Flores killed a shopkeeper (his second in the area) and with his gang, hid out on a nearby peak, eventually killing a Los Angeles sheriff. These events sparked California’s greatest manhunt. (Flores was finally captured in Simi Pass 110 miles north, and hanged.)
Stagecoaches began to arrive that same year (1857) and an alleged hold-up occurred. In 1858,the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Line scheduled stops there its route from St. Louis and San Francisco.
California’s second-ever post office soon followed.
January 1882 brought the first railroad service, but tracks washed out in an 1883 flood, and the train station became a barn. Not to worry. Temecula started quarrying granite in the 1890’s (although the industry died out about 1915–cement was easier). Many curbs and fences built of this stone are still extant today, even in San Francisco some 470 miles away.
By the turn of the century, Temecula became Cowboy Town–the shipping point for cattle!
By the 1970’s, the Long Branch Saloon had become a meetinghouse, and the Stables Bar, retail boutiques.
Test vineyards were planted in 1966, leading to a dozen wineries by 1990 and at least 35 today. The “microclimate” caused by good soil, seabreezes from 65 miles away, and 11,000-feet high mountains is perfect for wine grapes. Yay.
Two notable authors resided in the valley. Erle Stanley Gardner, of Perry Mason fame, lived at Rancho Del Paisano from 1937 until his death in 1970; a model of his ranch can be seen at Temecula’s History Museum.
Massachusetts native Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), long an activist against federal mistreatment of the native peoples, stayed in the area around 1880 and became friends with Temecula merchant Louis Wolf–a mixed-race/half Indian, and his wife Ramona. Their store inspired a setting in Jackson’s novel Ramona. Although the 1884 book–romantic and realistic both–was written mostly in New York, it’s a California classic.
I hope you enjoyed these tidbits today. Anybody else ever visited Temecula or like wine tasting?
Sixteen months since the foolish death of her husband, attorney Rachel Martin aches to move on as much as she fears the future. Cutting back on her practice and moving back to her childhood ranch means her three-year old son has all the attention he needs. Finding love again is the last thing on her mind…until she meets Brayton Metcalf.
After ten year’s of self-blame for his wife’s death in a plane crash, successful businessman Brayton Metcalf is instantly drawn to Rachel when he brings his his daughter to Hearts Crossing Ranch for therapy riding lessons. But Rachel backs off at his impetuous personality. He whittles away at her doubts…until he jumps head-fist into a business decision that will affect her family. Rachel, her trust in Brayton endangered, turns to trusting in God. Can the couple’s shared grief and guilt permit them to see daylight once again?
Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Romance Writers of America national conference in San Antonio, TX. I came home with a suitcase full of new books, a brain full of great information, and a camera full of pictures. This was the first time my hubby tagged along for the ride at one of these conferences, so he and I had a lot of fun exploring in the evenings. The River Walk was gorgeous, of course, and the Alamo is a classic not to be missed, but my favorite attraction of the week was the chuck wagon dinner and wild west show we treated ourselves to at Enchanted Springs Ranch.
The Wild West lives on at the ranch with an authentic old west town on this 86-acre working cattle ranch. They have a heard on longhorn cattle as well as many exotic animals. For example:
Pet alpacas named Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Wild oryx and zebras we saw on our tractor ride to the fun feathered friend strutting down main street in all his plumed glory.
The ranch boasted numerous buildings. A church with it’s own graveyard. Two saloons. A gunsmith. A dressmaker. A general store. The blacksmith. Even a Texas Ranger office filled with museum worthy exhibits.
My hubby and his finger gun and the gunsmith shop.
The buildings were so much fun to explore and proved great fodder for the imagination. However, there were two true highlights of the evening for me.
The first was the singing cowboy who entertained us while we feasted on barbeque chicken, brisket, warm potato salad, and peach & blueberry cobbler.
Dressed in cowboy gear and playing guitar, our host sang the greatest cowboy songs of all time. Everything from The Streets of Laredo to Home on the Range to Happy Trails. His voice was smooth, his guitar melodic, and in between, he gave us a little history lesson regarding the origins of each song. Fabulous!
After the supper dishes had been cleared away, we all gathered around the corral for a rootin’-tootin’ wild west show in the style of Buffalo Bill Cody. The show featured Pistol Packin’ Paula. She was a tiny little thing, but she sure packed a wallop! She is an honest to goodness, two-time world champion pistol twirler. She spun those pistols around her fingers faster than a blink, in and out of the holsters, over her shoulders, around her back. Whew! It was crazy. Then she started in with the trick shooting. She even reproduced Annie Oakley’s famous, over the shoulder rifle shot with a hand mirror. Her horse Jake did tricks as well.
Overall, it was a fabulous evening. It was hot as blazes with temps in the upper ’90s but no one seemed to care. If you are ever in the San Antonio area, make the short trip to Enchanted Springs Ranch and treat yourself to the chuck wagon dinner. You’ll be glad you did!
What is your favorite hidden vacation gem?
Any western-themed places you would recommend for a visit?
I’m not much of a TV watcher and until GRIMM started this year (coolest paranormal series), I never watched any particular show on a regular basis. But my hubby makes up for my lack of tube time, recording a ton of shows all day, every day, to watch at his leisure. Tonight he was watching a backyard make-over show (he’s been building this massive patio structure in our backyard for the past two years–almost done!) when the words “frontier”, “pioneer”, and” reality show” drew my attention away from my computer screen. I had the hubby rewind the commercial (gotta love satellite TV) so I could get all the details. Don’t know how many of y’all get the DiY (Do it Yourself) Network channel, but if you do, you gotta check out this show!
Frontier House airs this Sunday.
Three modern families are dropped in the Montana wilderness. Together they build cabins, raise livestock and form a strong, yet dysfunctional community.
I don’t know if there will be more than the four episodes listed on the DiY website.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS: (May 6) Three families are chosen for one of the most extreme sociological experiments captured on film. They will shed their modern lives and step back in time to the Montana Frontier, circa 1883. Shock sets in as the pioneers start their journey.
PROMISED LAND: (May 13) After a tough trip back in time, the homesteaders arrive at Frontier Valley. The harshness of their new reality sets in. First task: building shelters. Daily chores test their will and character while stormy weather and personalities clash.
CRACKING UNDER PRESSURE: (May 20) Rumors fly about how some of our homesteaders have snuck in modern supplies, causing tensions to rise in already-strained relationships. Focus shifts from shelter to food as worries of starvation overshadow life on the frontier. A rare summer snow storm wreaks havoc on Frontier Valley.
FAMILY AFFAIR: (May 27) The children steal the spotlight, as they prove to be valuable resources for survival on the frontier. The pioneers realize they are not alone in the Valley. Lions, coyotes and bears make their presence known.
The show kicks off this Sunday night. I’m so glad for that recording feature on our TV because my baby boy turns 17 this Sunday and we’re christening that new patio structure that has soaked up so much of my hubby’s blood, sweat and tears.
As I’m in the midst of building my fictional town for a new series, I’m really looking forward to this visual glimpse into the past. I recall a show similar to this on PBS six or seven years ago where three families were dropped off in Montana wilderness for three months and had to build houses and start storing up food and supplies for winter. Historians graded their progress at the end and proclaimed they all would have frozen or starved to death before spring. A lot of insight can be gleaned from watching these re-enactments. Though I mostly recall the cold storage box they had tied to a dock to keep milk and butter cold, and how their stockings were hard and crunchy in the morning and they beat them against a chair or something to soften them up before putting them on. I have yet to incorporate crunchy stockings into a romance novel 😉
I have a feeling this show is going to reinforce my appreciation for the comforts of modern times.
Hi y’all! Today I’m writing about Cowboy Action Shooting, one of the fastest growing segments of the shooting sports. This sport has been around since the 1970s when a group of California shooters began shooting “cowboy style.” The idea grew and spread, leading to the formation of SASS (Single Action Shooting Society). Today, SASS in an international organization with over 50,000 members, with my husband being one of them. SASS members share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and competitive shooting.
One of the unique aspects of Cowboy Action Shooting is the requirement regarding costuming. During competition, competitors are required to wear an Old West costume of some sort. Clothing may be historically accurate for the late 19th century or may just be suggestive of the Old West. My husband wears pin-striped pants with suspenders, a shirt with no collar, cowboy boots and hat. SASS puts a great deal of emphasis on costuming because it adds so much to the uniqueness of the game and helps create a festive, informal atmosphere that supports the friendly, fraternal feeling that is encouraged in the competitors.
Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, a Hollywood western star, or an appropriate character from fiction. An alias cannot be duplicated and cannot be confused with another member’s alias. My husband’s alias is The Salinas Kid. He chose the name because he was born in Salinas, California.
SASS/CAS requires competitors to use firearms typical of the mid-to-late 19th century. Competition in a match generally requires four guns: two period single-action revolvers (holstered), a 12-gauge shotgun, and a lever action rifle of the type in use prior to 1899. There are specific standards for ammunition.
Competition involves a number of separate shooting scenarios known as stages. Each stage typically requires 10 revolver rounds, 9-10 rifle rounds, and 2-8 shotgun rounds. Typically, targets are steel plates that clang when hit. In some stages, steel knockdown plates or clay birds are used. Some elaborate stages include props, such as chuck wagons, stagecoaches, oak barrels, swinging saloon doors, jail cells, etc. Each match is different, but all are timed events.
Another important piece of equipment every cowboy action shooter needs is a cart for toting around his or her firearms and ammo in. Some carts are elaborate (i.e. cactus, tombstone, stagecoach) and are art forms in their own right. But most people are satisfied with a basic 3-wheeled buggy. That’s what my husband has, and it does the job just fine.
As Cowboy Action Shooting has evolved, the members have developed and adopted an attitude called “The Spirit of the Game.” It is a code by which they live. Competing in “The Spirit of the Game” means the member fully participates in what the competition asks: dressing the part, using the appropriate guns and ammo, and respecting the traditions of the Old West. If you haven’t checked out an event, I encourage you to do so. It’s as much fun to watch as it is to participate.
Thanks for stopping by today. And thanks to the fillies for having me back. Anyone who leaves a comment will be entered in the contest to win a hardback copy of my newest release, “A Haunted Twist of Fate.”
Feel free to check out my website for what’s Coming Soon: “Big Sky” February 10, 2012 and “Tularosa
Moon” sometime in 2012, both from The Wild Rose Press.
Colonel Jean Alexandre François Le Mat was a Paris-born aristocrat–and Creole physician–who designed firearms in his spare time. On October 21, 1856, he was granted United States Patent No. 15,925 for a unique design of the first multi-shot percussion revolver with an 18-gauge grapeshot barrel fixed beneath it. The lower barrel was 5 inches long, and an extension could be attached to it to form a true shotgun. The shooter could fire nine cartridges then, with just a flick of the thumb, hit his target with a single blast of buckshot.
It still wasn’t a fast-loading or easily transported weapon. The LeMat was designed as a single-action weapon. Shell casings were removed with a slide rod ejector. That means no flipping open the cylinder and flinging out the empty cartridge casings like you see on TV.
The pistol was mostly a novelty until the start of the Civil War, when Col. Le Mat, a longtime Southern sympathizer, offered his invention to the newly formed Confederate government, who placed an order for 5,000 of his pistols. When he couldn’t find an acceptable manufacturing facility in the South, he traveled to France in hopes of having the weapon manufactured there.
The journey almost ended before it began. He booked passage on the British mail packet Trent, whichwas stopped and boarded by the Federal warship San Jacinto. The two Confederate officials traveling with LeMat were arrested. Despite his Confederate ties, Le Mat was not detained.
After a couple of false starts, the Birmingham Small Arms Company in England ended up producing the guns, which were given to Confederate officials in Britain and France, who then had them slipped through the Union naval blockade that barricaded the Confederate coasts.
It wasn’t necessarily an ideal weapon for an army. The LeMat Revolver didn’t take the Confederate standard .44 caliber percussion (and later centerfire) cartridge that was the standard for Confederate handguns. That meant anyone who carried a LeMat that hadn’t been converted to use the standard ammunition also carried specialized cartridges. Since the unloaded gun weighed 3.1 pounds, all that brass was a lot of extra weight to haul around.
The original .40 caliber above 18 gauge model was used by the Confederate Army until the end of the war. When the Confederate Navy saw the Army’s new weapon, they ordered a lighter .35-caliber pistol equipped with a 28-gauge (.50 caliber) shotgun barrel. But the contract was soon canceled.
Famous Confederate officers like Major Generals Braxton Bragg, J.E.B. Stuart and Richard H. Anderson carried a LeMat.
Le Mat’s guns continued to be popular until the late 1870s, when they suddenly and unexpectedly went out of fashion. Le Mat died shortly afterward, in 1883. But that doesn’t mean you’ve never seen one. Since reproductions are still being made, the LeMat has appeared often in Hollywood.
TV Gunslinger turned Sheriff Johnny Ringo, carried a LeMat revolver. Played by Don Durant, Johnny Ringo aired for one season (38 episodes) in 1959-60.
Jayne Cobb, a character from the television series Firefly and the movie Serenity, uses a handgun based on the LeMat Revolver.
Dr. Theophilus “Doc” Algernon Tanner in the Deathlands series of novels has carried two different LeMat revolvers.
Bruce Willis’ character in the movie 12 Monkeys was equipped with a LeMat for a time-traveling mission into the past to assassinate a bioterrorist.
Swede Gutzon is armed with a LeMat in the film The Quick and the Dead.
Inman, the main character in the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, carries and uses a LeMat.
Bufe Coker, a character in both the novel and miniseries Centennial carries a LeMat revolver.
Ezra Justice in the novel “The Justice Riders” written by Chuck Norris uses a LeMat revolver.
Red Dead Redemption, a video game set in the dying days of the old west, includes the LeMat revolver as an available weapon in the later part of the game.
Jonah Hex, a film based on the comic, with Josh Brolin playing the title character, uses a pair of LeMats in the film.
If you want more information, here are some of my sources:
> The LeMat Revolverby Floyd Largen – originally published in the October 1996 Military History magazine
Two weeks ago I and my hubby T.L., brother-in-law Timmy and sis Roberta (l-r in the pic above) had the experience of a lifetime, taking a wagon train around the Tetons with an amazing group, Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventures headed by wagonmaster Jeff Warburton out of Jackson, Wyoming. He’s a true cowboy and a gentleman and will be a guest here in Wildflower Junction in the near future.
We’re still in 7th Heaven about our adventure. To celebrate, I’ll send a pdf. copy of my fictional wagon train adventure Hearts Crossing Ranch to one commenter today after a name-draw. So come on down, ya hear?
Yep. We spent four days circling the Tetons through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest bordering Yellowstone bear country. We didn’t see any bear despite everybody’s secret longing. Likely the thundering horses and our noisy group skeered ’em away.
We got our start in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a bus-load full of cityslickers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois, us Californians..as well as Bermuda, Japan, and Brighton, England! There were about forty of us ranging in age from five to—eighty one!
First stop on the bus taking us to the wagons were photo-ops of the Grand lady herself..followed by her neighbor Mount Moran reflected perfectly in a oxbow lake.
These scenes were practically perfection in itself..but all breath stopped when we reached The Wagons.
After a delicious lunch—there’s nothing quite like chuck wagon cooking in the open mountain air—Jeff called, “let the wagons roll” and we were off to our camp for the night.
Pulling them were magnificent draft horses, Percherons and Belgians. They are named in teams, such as Lady and Tramp, Gun and Smoke, Sandy and Sage, Jack and Jill. The first name is always the horse on the left. These glorious beasts are capable of pulling up to 4,000 pounds as a team, and they love to work. In winter, they lead sleighs to the elk refuge outside Jackson.
While the wagons do have rubber tires and padded benches, the gravel roads are nothing like a modern freeway. As driver Marisa told us the first day, I get paid extra to hit as many rocks and potholes as I can. Most times our route was called the “cowboy rollercoaster.”
I’ll always hear Kathy (below on the right) saying, as she drove the wagons, “Lady, Tramp, step up.” Jeff’s daughter Jessica is on the left. Jessica leads trail rides.
Jeff’s family owns and runs the business and the ranch, and his son Michael, with me below, is an important member of the crew.
Most of the other wranglers are college students who work the ten adventures run each summer. Foreman Nathan and Camille got married last spring in a Western-themed wedding…Chuck cooks Celeste and Carrie kept us fed. Each adventure starts on a Monday and ends on Thursday, each new trip reversing the course. The crew members take turns two-by-two remaining with the horses for the weekend until the next adventure starts.
This week, sadly, is the last week for 2010. These young people are amazing, multi-talented, multi-taskers who knew each and everybody’s name within ten minutes. The crew members typically work two or three summers before leaving for internships, graduation, or marriage. Jeff himself was a a crew wrangler himself as a youngster, met wife Cindy here, and was able to purchase the ranch and the wagon train adventure business a few years later.
I think everybody’s favorite “crew member” was Buddy, probably the cutest dog ever. He accompanied every trail ride after following the draft horses from camp to camp…he romped in every stream and lake, caught mice, and totally stole everybody’s heart. BTW, he’s probably the first dog ever not to snarf down bacon. He loves the wagon adventures sooooo much that, Jeff says, Buddy’s pretty disgusted to become a backyard dog after the summertime.
Our tents were comfy—all sleeping essentials are provided–, and there was nothing so fine as a cup of Arbuckle’s to warm us up on a chilly evening. After supper—cowboy potatoes, Indian frybread, and raspberry butter are among our favorites—we gathered around the campfire for Jeff’s tall tales, historical accounts of the Old West, guitar strumming, cowboy poetry and songs, S’mores, and terrific skits the natures of which I can’t reveal. I don’t wanna spoil the surprise for those of you who might find yourself traveling along with Jeff and the crew in future. Suffice it to say legends, history, drama, mountain men, melodrama and gunfire played enormous parts in the entertainment. Delish Dutch oven desserts such as peach cobbler and cherry chocolate cake were dished up each night and served to the ladies first.
One of the nicest parts of the meals was Jeff leading us in a blessing first. Nobody had to join in…but seems like everybody did.
Paper is burned in the campfire and only one Styrofoam cup is allotted per day, as everything brought in the wilderness must be taken out. We wrote our names on the cups and hung them between meals on a cup line.
I totally loved this paper napkin holder.
Everywhere surrounding us, the Wyoming landscape was full of lakes, greenery and blooming wildflowers. Nights after the camp quieted down were almost beyond description: the stars are endless, multi-layered, sparkling on forever and ever amen. What a sight.
But the most fun of all was riding horses! Folks either rode, hiked, or wagonned it to the next camp each day. My favorite mount was Copper.
In camp, I threw hatchets, never once hitting my target, and roped Corndog., the pretend cow. Now, even though the proof is on a video camera, I can’t show you today as we haven’t mastered lifting a “still” off of the video. Jeff taught me all about the “honda” and the “spoke” of a lariat, and I nailed Corndog on my third try. Honest.
(My kids were not as impressed when they realized I was afoot and not riding a bucking bronco while roping Corndog, but myself, I am mighty awed.)
Our last day, the Pony Express rode through camp and brought us all mail.
Me and mine, well, we had the time of our life.
As Jeff said when we left, “There’s always be a campfire burnin’ for ya here in Wyomin.”
(Note from Winnie: Our guest blogger today is Janét Vincent Lee – an actress, singer, costumer, western re-enactor and most importantly, my friend. She and I go way back (I won’t say how many years 🙂 ) to our high school days and have just recently reconnected via facebook. She very generously agreed to cover for me today while I am away attending a writers’ conference. In honor of her visit and as a thank you to all of you who I know are going to make her feel right at home, I am going to giveaway a book (choice of any book from my backlist) to one person randomly selected from those who post comments for Janét.)
There is no finer way of relieving stress in a marriage than shooting your husband with a shotgun. At least once a week!
I don’t think there was any wife in our re-enactment troupe who didn’t enjoy opening up with both barrels on her spouse now and then. Fortunately, the audiences’ favorite shootout skits were always those where the bad guys created havoc, the sheriff and his deputies either were killed or ran away (depending on whether it was a drama or a comedy), and the ladies of the town had to take down the villains on their own.
In the 1990s my then-husband and I managed a troupe of re-enactors known as the Cross Creek Cowboys, based in San Juan Capistrano, California. The group began with a handful of members from the Living History group at the fabled Mission San Juan Capistrano. Some of our members were actors but most were not. Our roster included a physics teacher, a professional cook, an entrepreneur, a bird rescuer, a graphic designer, a mechanic, and diverse others, with our common denominators being a passionate love of the Old West and a burning desire to keep its memory alive.
Over the course of several years, we had expanded to 22 members and had done hundreds of performances at festivals, parades, fund-raisers and civic events. We made numerous television appearances, were featured in a number of newspapers and magazines, and amassed a collection of awards and honors for performance and costume authenticity. Ultimately we produced a half-hour film, shot on a western set in the high desert, featuring all of our members. But most of all, we had a lot of fun.
We acquired and constructed enough sets, props, costumes, weapons and supplies to fill a two-car garage and a storage trailer. We spent untold hours loading and unloading trucks, traveling, pitching and striking tents, designing and sewing costumes, repairing gear, cleaning guns, reloading blanks, doing safety training, researching, writing and rehearsing skits, and, always, looking for more indispensable old goodies. Most of our free time was spent together. While performing was undeniably fun, the best part of re-enactment was camaraderie with hundreds of other Old West enthusiasts. Re-enactment is more than a hobby, it becomes a way of life.
Our troupe were all members of the Single Action Shooting Society, an international organization which formerly held its annual shooting championship in Norco, California before relocating to New Mexico. The last of these Norco events drew 2500 competitors and over 20,000 members of the public to a five-day encampment. In addition to wild-west shows, television and movie stars, vendors, artisans, cowboy poets, western musicians, chuck wagon cooks and suffragettes on parade, there was a rambling town set where our troupe and others performed re-enactment skits several times a day.
At the end of the day the gates would close to the public, all weapons would be stowed, lanterns would be lit, and friends would gather around campfires to share a cup of hospitality and rehash the events of the day. These were the finest times of all. After dinner there would be music, dancing and socializing in the main tent or the saloon tent, but the campfire visits stretched on into the night until weariness finally dictated that we all retire to our tents, trucks or trailers for the night.
Though some of these multi-day encampments such as End of Trail and Marching Through History no longer take place, the San Bernardino Harvest Fair is still held every November. Many local troupes of cowboys, townies, mountain men, 7th Cavalry, native American scouts, Buffalo Soldiers, Civil War re-enactors and musicians perform throughout two weekends.
Several excellent annual events are also still held in Tombstone, Arizona, including Wyatt Earp Days in May, and Helldorado in October, which commemorates the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral. Re-enactors and tourists from throughout the western states gather to bring Tombstone alive with the sounds of spur jinglebobs on boardwalks and gunfire in the streets. Although carefully coordinated and approved by a safety committee, gunfights appear to break out spontaneously, and tourists gather on the boardwalks to watch.
The bad part of doing shootouts in Tombstone is “dying” on the street that is, literally, hot enough to cook an egg, and can raise blisters on any unexposed skin that happens to touch it. Fortunately, our troupe was often invited to perform in the town’s amphitheater, where horned toads skitter across the dirt stage and hide in the shade of the wood-plank bleachers. The famous Bird Cage Theater is not used for performances but is a museum and legitimate time capsule from the 19th Century, having been sealed for 50 years before reopening as a museum.
A favorite memory of mine is of standing alone on the deserted street in front of the Bird Cage, with yellow lamplight in the street and a full moon above. I heard faint music and laughter from Big Nose Kate’s Saloon a block away, and the clip-clop of hooves of a lone horse walking unhurriedly into town. It whinnied several times before coming into view at the corner of Allen Street, and the cowboy rode it up to the saloon, tied it to the hitching post and went inside. It was a magical moment, frozen in time.
There are things I don’t miss about re-enactment. I don’t miss setting and striking tents in the rain, or dodging horse apples while “dying” in a shooting show on a parade route. I don’t miss having the police called by neighbors who heard gunfire and hadn’t been informed that there would be a shootout show (“Oh, it’s you guys! Call off the other car; it’s the Cross Creek bunch again.”). I don’t miss performing all day in corset, bustle and petticoats in 110-degree heat in Cucamonga. I don’t miss loading and unloading truckloads of gear as if I were in training as a carnie. But, as life will do, it parted us and we drifted in different directions, and I miss the countless hours spent with my comrades in arms, bringing the Old West back to life and stepping through the veil of time to live there for a while. Because, basically, everyone enjoys dressing up and playing cowboy with our friends.