Editor's note: An earlier version misspelled re-enactor Jim Hambleton's name.
Seventeen-year-old cowboy re-enactor Sam Doney sat and took a big swig out of his metal flask before his performance at the Prairie Rose Western Days festival on Saturday morning.
Don’t worry – the flask was filled with Dr Pepper.
“Flasks were quite period at the time,” he said. “You didn’t see a cowboy carrying a Dr Pepper can around, did you?”
He was soon joined by a cadre of other re-enactors, including Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Even when away from spectators, they spoke as if they were performing.
The Western Days festival this weekend in Benton played host to cowboy re-enactors from all over the region, from teens to people in their 60s.
“We want to give them a little taste of what it used to be,” said Randy Edens, the Buffalo Bill impersonator.
Timothy Doney, whose re-enactor name is Marshal Tobias Sharp, said he had been doing cowboy re-enactments since “many moons ago.” In other words, four years.
“When I was little, I dressed up as a cowboy,” Doney, 21, said. “I grew up and I didn’t change.”
He said re-enactors like to draw people into their shows with humor, then teach them about things such as gun safety.
Gun safety is Sam Doney’s main focus, he said, after a shooting incident two years ago that almost cost him his leg, and did cost him a pair of pants that caught fire.
“It could happen to anyone,” he said.
The longer you’ve been in re-enactment, the more money you sink into your “character,” Edens said.
“Building your character has a lot to do with your costuming – it involves a lot of research,” he said. “You start with a few hundred dollars, then you go to a thousand dollars in one character.”
All of the characters have unique names – Shorti, Knock Knot and old Whiskey Bill, named such because he likes to drink “Tennessee tea in a shot glass,” said Jim Hambleton, who plays Whiskey Bill.
For all the horsing around, re-enactment is serious business. Re-enactors have to purchase insurance covering them in case something goes wrong with the gunfights, Sam Doney said. Re-enactors are frequently called upon to be extras in movies, Edens said, because “they know we’ll work for free, or for food.”
No matter where they travel, re-enactors will usually see someone they know, Edens said.
“Nationwide, anywhere you’d go, you’d probably run into somebody,” he said. “It’s like we’re one big family.”
The Western Days festival gave the cowboys a chance to kick back and relax more than most festivals, Edens said.
“This is a relaxed atmosphere,” he said. “There are certain places, like with the Reenactment Guild of America, that your language, vocabulary, anything you say will be judged.”
The re-enactors will be at the Western Days festival for the remainder of its run, through Sunday. For more information and a schedule of events, visit www.prwesterndays.com.