Western Articles

Marrow Bone Springs

By M. Lou Findley
From an interview with Whit Edwards

In this modern age where time travel feels truly convincing, have you ever wanted to transport yourself back to 1875, to a small western town and live “the life” for just a few days? Well, a group of people from a variety of places, with the majority of the members from Oklahoma and Texas, have figured out a way to experience stepping back in time to 1880, more or less, without that time machine. Any time from 1875 – 1890 will do.

Dr. Mike Enger, a land owner in Texas, dreamed of living in such a time. He had the means and the dream and friends who wanted to help him make the town a reality for all of them. Marrow Bone Springs became a reality. Mike wanted to play “cowboy” as authentically as possible, so he started moving in original period-piece buildings and constructing those he couldn’t find, to create on his property the town of Marrow Bone Springs; not just a fa├žade, but a town with real buildings that are livable, at least for a short time. Dr Mike is very actively involved in the Marrow Bone Springs group with the four or five characters he plays on any given weekend.

mbs_groupMarrow Bone Springs is just south of Fort Worth with 28 full scale furnished buildings. A contractor was paid to build the large main barn, made with true dimensional lumber – a 4X4 is a 4X4 and 2X4 is really a 2X4. All the sleeping quarters have wood burning stoves. The members who provide the wood get paid. If you build your own living quarters, house or cabin, you are entitled to stay there. Whit built the Phoenix house which has “rooms for rent”. In town the Dixie house is bunk house style and the McGee house is the hotel. The 36 buildings include Gunsmith with his living quarters in the back, just as with the cobbler shop and doctor’s office. Most of the businesses have living quarters. The jail has three cells. If one of the “character” is in jail and does not have a plan for a jail break, that member can change characters and get out to play another character. The town is surrounded by woods and pastures. Some members have built their cabins out in the woods. Everyone request a place to stay prior to the event. Think of stepping back to Deadwood and you could be there in Marrow Bone. It is regularly used as a place for old west full-emersion experiences; first person events from Friday at 6 pm until Sunday at noon. But you can’t go there unless you are invited.

There are 58 active members, with anywhere from 30 to 45 members attending any one event, with up to 16 guests. The officers for the group are elected. Some of the members participate in SASS but most are re-enactors only. Everyone attending has to be 21 or older since there are three working saloons in the town. And you must be invited to attend four events before you are eligible to be voted in as a member. Each member can invite a guest to an upcoming event. They have about six “re-enactment” events per year at Marrow Bone. On the concluding Saturday or Sunday there is a meeting of the members to discuss problems or activities they want to plan. The closed-door meeting is held at the church. Sometimes they vote on membership, plan work weekends for maintenance or putting up a new building. Fortunately they have some real carpenters. If the members decide to perform outside of Marrow Bone Springs, they charge those who “hire” them. They also charge movie studios to utilize their town. Marrow Bone members have dues and event fees (such as theatrical performances, boxing matches, the circus) which are period correct to collect the money to pay for their insurance and event costs.

ikestealingchipsAnd how would you know if someone was a good enough shot to hit you at 25 yards and you were supposed to be dead? Well, Marrow Bone Springs members have a live shoot on Saturday morning and after watching how inaccurate everybody is on a consistent basis, no one complains whether someone should have died or not, or if they do, it is in the members meeting at the end of the weekend, not during the weekend old west events.

One of the greatest undertakings was the driving of a herd of cattle through the town by the members! Many of the participants remember that with some fondness. Some members bring horses, some bring wagons and buggies, but most do not. Attendees eat at McGee’s Boarding House for every meal. It is equipped with a full working kitchen. It is the only eating house at the moment. McGee’s also has 2 pull chain toilets and indoor showers and is the only building with electricity. The lights are made to look like gas lights. There are also two outhouses and, of course, there are trees. All the other lights come from oil lamps and the heat comes from wood stoves. There is no air conditioning, even in the heat of the summer. In the evening, all the activities tend to be around the saloons with three different saloons selling beer, ale, or Pimberton sodas. Occasionally a Mixologist works the one of the bars.

The ladies in the group find it tougher to create a variety of women’s rolls. Some of the women have three or four characters, usually including a actress role, seamstress. They can run an ice cream parlor, bakery, or eatery. Some women love playing the part of a suffragette. Of course, there are also the soiled doves. One member consistently plays Calamity Jane. Some women just sit on their front porches visitin’ rather than go to the saloons in the evening.

Whit Edwards, who was interviewed for this article, usually uses four of his developed characters at any given event although some Marrow Bone members only have one or two and that works out just fine for them. Whit can go up to seven characters, but that means packing extra outfits for the weekend. Obviously, if you run out of characters, you can’t play any more. You can take the opportunity to create a new one from the other outfits you have brought with you. The more adventurous and troublesome characters get into a little additional mischief and need more than one or two characters to make it through the whole weekend.


Code of the West: Ladies of the West

By M. Lou Findley
From an interview with Wicked Red AKA Julia Arbaugh

Wicked Red_red hatchetBoos and jeers rise from the crowd but Doc Diamond raises his voice in support. “Let the lady speak,” he yells above the crowd! The heckling voices are lowered for a short while as Victoria Woodhull continues speaking. “Just over a decade ago I was nominated by the Equal Rights Party to run for President against Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican candidate, and Horace Greeley, on the Democratic ticket. With Frederick Douglas at my side as Vice President, we were the first woman and first black man to run for these offices in the year of our Lord, 1872. In 1871 I was the first woman to speak before Congress; pointing out that women already had the right to vote, since the 14th and 15th amendments granted that right to all citizens. We have the right, we are just not allowed to take action on that right! We tireless and dedicated women are working shoulder-to-shoulder to push through Congress the rights of women: to be able to vote, to own property and not BE the property of men. I say Be Brave, Be Bold, Conquer your Fears and stand with your sisters! It is the wave that rocks the boat and the storm that sinks the ship, STORM ON!”

The name of the group who enthusiastically presents this as one of their more unusual historical re-enactment scenarios is Code of the West, Repertory Company of California, circa 1880’s. Jon and Julia Arbaugh, AKA Sheriff Ben Thorn and Wicked Red Thorn, founded Code of the West in October 2002 and are its directors. Wicked Red states “We wished to present historically based plays to the public. We were interested in education of the public and specifically our youth. Our intention has always been to make historical presentations to schools. Living History is invaluable to telling the story of our ancestors who settled this land, all the while showing respect and giving honor to their difficult lives.” They charge for their services according to the needs of the event. Whether hauling their own town, setting up a living history encampment, providing special performing needs, or several days of entertainment, all are taken into consideration when quoting a fee. They also support many charitable fundraisers gratis. They have been able to donate to Cancer Research, Agape House and Operation Gratitude, supporting the military.

Code of the West has an extensive repertoire and rehearses on a regular monthly basis in order to make the performances credible. They have 20 plus scripts. One was derived from a poem, three based on movies, three songs were made into plays, eight are historically accurate and two were created but are plausible. They perform plays from one to six acts. Wicked Red states “We do not promote unnecessary violence. And, if history reports 3 shots were fired, we shoot 3 times. That’s all! We watch our language for the sake of the families in our audience. We do not promote drunkenness or womanizing. We have music for all of our plays. It adds a dimension to performing. It also moves the audience from one situation to the next.”

Starting in 2005, any one who handled gun was obliged to attend SASS clinics. Members earlier than that time received internal instruction. Safety is constantly reviewed and frequently conveyed to audiences by demonstrations showing what a blank can do or by the re-enactor youngsters in a safety performance, showing examples to the children in the audience of what is right and wrong behavior if you find a gun. Parents are very openly appreciative of our efforts to instruct the children; backing up the parents’ own words about safety. When performing, all gun handlers are prepared with safe avenues of fire. The audience is separated from staging area and lines of fire by restraint barriers at least 15 feet from performance and not only to front, but on either end. When necessary, it is announce over the microphone if their might be excessive gunfire. There is a standing rule that performers will stop performing if any situation or performer becomes unsafe, but to date that has not been necessary. If a performer cannot take a planned safe shot, the shot will not be taken or will be safely shot into the ground. All guns are checked by the group’s Safety Officer at the end of a performance. No one walks away with a loaded gun and all guns are put away at the end of the last performance of the day.

Being part of Code of the West has opened up new individual and group venues for members. Several performers have had bit parts in TV and movies such as Deadwood and Wild West Tech. One of the ladies has become a docent at a rancho in Long Beach. Many of the ladies have evolved into seamstresses and merchants dealing with old west merchandizing. Encampments and living the life of someone from 1882 while others are watching, such as an encampment in Calico Ghost town, is a new adventure for Code of the West performers. “We set up and portray characters to the public for a weekend.”

Ladies of the West, a sub group of Code of the West, presents Victorian and Edwardian Fashion Shows, circa 1870- 1912. The ladies worked so hard to attire themselves in period correct clothing for the performances and living history events for Code of the West that all of them had an overabundance of outfits and some not really suited for outdoor plays; they were just too fancy. So they set out to present and educate at ladies social functions. It has been a big success for the women of the group. Fashion shows and inclusion of women in all Code of the West performances is one key to the uniqueness of this group.

Re-enacting a Women’s Christian Temperance Union speech, the lady hollers out above the crowd. “While I do respect a position of peaceful protest, I say you have been on your knees in the sawdust and in the snow for too long waiting and hoping that things will change! In keeping with our fearless leader, Carrie Nation, I say BREAK DOWN THE OFFENSIVE SALOONS!” Menacingly swirling her hatchet above her head, she continues. “We cannot afford to waste any more time with praying our way to sanity and success. I say pray for those who are willing to use their hatchets and risk being imprisoned for the sake of home and hearth. Our children are suffering and family units are being destroyed by dastardly DEMON RUM! Women, your place is with Women’s Christian Temperance Union, doing all you can to secure a future for your children..” This group resounds with not only traditional and historical gunfights of man versus man but with the history of the American women.

Cowgirl Juni Fisher: A Classic Western Songster

by M. Lou Findley


The Western Heritage Awards was bestowed to Juni Fisher at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in April 2009. Juni was the 2007 WMA (Western Music Association) Song of the Year Songwriter, 2006 WMA Female Vocalist of the Year, 2005 AWA Western Female Performer of the Year, and 2005 WMA Crescendo Award 2007. She was nominated in THREE categories for the Western Music Association awards for 2008 as Female Performer of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year! Listening to her perform on stage is fascinating and talking to her intriguing. She is warm and personable and certainly willing to share her beliefs regarding the western music arena. Her western ballads are vignettes reflecting probable moments from the American West and her stirring lyrics draw you into an appreciation of life both then and now, especially focused on women of the west.

Juni’s family’s story in the album “Gone For Colorado” has been awarded the Western Heritage Award by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. This is something that she has coveted for a long time, and the award is the icing on the cake for this album. The Western Heritage Awards were granted at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum on April 17 – 18, 2009.

First presented in 1961, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Western Heritage Awards were established to honor and encourage the legacy of those whose works in literature, music, film, and television reflect the significant stories of the American West. Each honoree receives a “Wrangler”, an impressive bronze sculpture of a cowboy on horseback. Juni was very excited about this well-deserved recognition.

Her skills as a songwriter and singer came honestly from her youth in a western environment and her drive as a young girl to succeed in the music industry. In high school, June, fondly called Juni by her family, pulled together a bluegrass trio, and went on to front a dance orchestra, singing songs from a generation before her. Eventually her love of songs about the American west blended with traditional folk music to form a style and sound that is uniquely hers. She clearly differentiates Western from Country music and is dismayed by the trend in Country music for picking songs and singers by their glitzy “good-looking” video performances, not by the quality of their work.

Juni books most of her own gigs and travels around 200 days a year, four to six weeks at a time. She drives out of the Nashville area in her camper in the summer and flies to her destinations in the winter. In her CD, “Cowgirlography”, she demonstrates the full array of her talents. The over-riding theme winding its way through the album is that of a wayfaring rider (stranger) riding toward a new land. Reflective of the deep spiritual journey undertaken by our forbearers and passed on to us, it reprises its way from “Little Red Horse” to “I Hope She’ll Love Me”, the WWA song of the year in 2007.

Each song reminisces heart-felt, humorous, and thought-provoking experiences that Juni has personally had. They have been compared to classic western movies, reflective of “then” and touching you somewhere deep inside “now”. She often takes on the perspective of the person or animal she writes about such as a horse, rooster, mule, or jersey cow. While working on her craft and breaking into the business, she worked in a saddle shop, trained “reined” cow horses and showed Quarter horses and Arabians successfully. Life know-how and lost love have added into this mixture to make her music a genuine reflection of both the old west and the new, and uniquely that of a thoughtful woman’s western experiences.

For more information on Juni Fisher, go to http://www.JuniFisher.net.

Gunfighters live on in Pioneertown

By M. Lou Findley

Pioneertown lies in the Morongo Basin which is centrally in the southern portion of the Wash, Flamingo Heights, and Bullion Range, how could you not think of this place as the heart of the Hollywood west? Joshua Tree National Park is in the basin, as well as other small communities of the high Mojave Desert. Western stars including Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gail Davis (Annie Oakley), Duncan Renaldo (The Cisco Kid), Leo Carrillo (Pancho), Gene Autry, The Sons of the Pioneers, Jock Mahoney (The Range Rider) and Russell Hayden, (Hopalong Cassidy movie series) all walked these streets packin’ six guns. Gene Autry filmed over 40 of his TV western shows in Pioneertown as well as some of his feature movies.

Tom Boring, AKA Jubelum Chance, is the president of Gunfighters for Hire who perform the second and last Sunday of the month from April through October in Pioneertown, California. They represent the post-Civil War era through 1910. The group is an NRA insured 501C4 group. They have a ready-made arena in which to perform because of the generosity of the people who currently live in Pioneertown and the owners of the movie set where they perform. Props consist of different wardrobes for different characters, holsters, prop-guns, wigs, ball and chain, jailer keys, sound equipment and horses, when needed. They are there to play cowboy, inform the public about the old west and Hollywood west and talk about gun safety.

“As a group, one of our tenets is to teach our audience about gun safety. We always pick out a child to participate by asking he or she “What do you do if you find a gun laying on the ground or floor?” Hopefully the answer will be call 9-1-1, or tell your parent or another adult. For that, they get a round of applause and a gift at the end of the show. Then we talk to the audience about transporting a weapon in your car, buying a gun and making sure you know how to use it properly. We urge them to join the NRA and a gun range. We also talk about the Second Amendment and perform a re-enactment about an “unloaded” gun and the repercussions of it discharging due to the negligence or ignorance of proper safety precautions and general weapon knowledge; a gun is always considered loaded. We hand out free gun locks to any audience member that needs or wants one.”

Gunfighters for Hire and other re-enacting groups are invited to attend an annual Rendezvous of Gunfighters every May in Pioneertown. This rendezvous is for the re-enactment groups to get together, visit and perform in a “laid-back” atmosphere. This past May 2008, Frontier Army of the West joined the encampment and entertained all the re-enactors as well as the general public.

“So Chance, why do you do this?” “For the love of the American West, the history, the legends and the people who made up one of the most celebrated times of our history, the opening of the American Frontier. We want to dispel the Hollywood myths and tell the stories the way they really happened. We want people to know about the people that made up the history of the west, not just the few that get recognition repeatedly. Many of us have a connection to the west. My great-grandparents were part of the Oklahoma land rush and that land is still owned by some of my family. My grandfather told me stories about the Doolen gang in the Oklahoma territory. He remembered them from when he was a teenager. He also remembered seeing buffalo bones and wallers on the prairie when he was a kid. He and his father had a sutler store on the Kaw Indian reservation when he was older. My father became a western history professor. This is just speaking for myself. Many of our members have similar stories to tell. I guess most of us never got enough of playing cowboys and cowgirls and reliving those stories when we were kids!”