news-9260325-ar-0-0.jpg
The State of Jefferson Vigilance Committeeís Wild ën Wooly, also known as Gary Nelson, participates in Jacksonvilleís 150th birthday celebration on Saturday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Blast from the Past

Things were about to get ugly at high noon on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Real ugly.

Bare Bones Smith, a surly cuss itching for a fight, had just bellied up to the bar. The whiskery fellow packing two six guns swore he'd only settle for the good stuff, not that watered-down slop sold to fancy-pants dudes.

The nattily dressed bartender named Checota handed him a bottle. Bare Bones took a slug, then spat it on the floor.

Before you could shout, "Wild Bill!" Checota pulled his iron and shot the "varmint" dead.

"I can't abide a man that has bad tastes," Checota declared.

Unfortunately for the barkeep, the hairy-faced hombres at the nearby poker table weren't about to tolerate bad beer. They grabbed leather, blazing away until poor Checota had more holes in him than a salt shaker.

"That'll teach him to give us beaver beer," snarled Wild 'n' Woolly just as a wild west firefight erupted in the saloon, leaving bodies willy nilly.

But the smoke had yet to dissipate before the "dead" picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, reloaded their guns with blanks and prepared for the next skit.

They were 20 members of The State of Jefferson Vigilance Committee, a group of re-enactment gunslingers, law "dogs" and loose women all dressed in period clothing.

The re-enactors drew a large crowd along Third Street on the last day of Jacksonville's 10-day, 150th birthday anniversary celebration, which was capped with fireworks Saturday night. Other activities throughout jubilee week ranged from an archaeological dig to a musical based on history to a murder mystery and outhouse races.

Yet not since 2009 during Oregon's sesquicentennial birthday — when the re-enactors last shot it out — had Jacksonville seen such gun play. Indeed, the Jacksonville body count hadn't been so high since the 1972 filming of "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" featuring Cliff Robertson and Robert Duvall as members of the James gang.

And before that, well, historians will tell you such gunplay never really happened in Jacksonville.

In real life, Bare Bones is Rick Smith of Rogue River, Checota is Fred Arnett of Medford and Wild 'n' Woolly is Gary Nelson of Medford. Their skit? Bad Bear, of course. It was one of half a dozen they acted out on Saturday.

"This is great — love it," said retiree Richard Vanleuwen of Stewart, Fla., who was taking in the action along with his grandson, Kyle.

"A lot more of the historic towns ought to do stuff like this."

They were among the tourists and townspeople watching bad guys like Treacherous Jack, Purgatory and Rogue Rascal. And there was also one saloon woman who appeared to have robbed a bank in one skit. She shot at the sheriff but didn't even wing him.

"It's all in fun — everybody likes doing this," observed event director Bob Carney, 53, a retired air traffic controller living in Eagle Point. "It's fun entertainment."

When he's in a shoot out, his handle is "Runnin Wild." His wife Mary is dressed as a lady from a bordello who answers to the name, "Ima Horsin Around."

Like many of the participants, Carney can tell you about wonderful hours as a youngster reading westerns by the likes of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour.

Sams Valley resident Gary Parish, 51, who goes by the name of "Parishio," works for a computer firm when he isn't slinging a six gun.

"We don't kill anybody," the 1977 graduate of Crater High School says of his day job.

Nor do they during their re-enactments, taking extreme care with the firearms because even a blank can be extremely dangerous up close, he said.

"This is a great group of people to be around," Parish said. "Besides, I've always been a cowboy. I've always loved riding horses."

His wife, Kelly, is dressed as a bawdy saloon girl in a low-cut red dress. You can call her "Miss Kelly."

"It's a lot of fun but we are also constantly learning about the period in our history," she said, noting all the participants make sure they are in correct period attire.

About that time Johnny Dingus went down snarling in a hail of bullets. The bad man was heading for Boot Hill. Until he jumped up and sauntered over for a chat, that is.

"Most guys want to play the sheriff so I'm a bad guy a lot," said Dingus, who in real life is Vince Williams, 57, of Grants Pass.

"They have a hard time keeping me under control," snorted the ruffian Wild 'n' Woolly before he became congenial Gary Nelson of Medford, a retired television company manager who now produces the skits.

His wife, Rosalie, played Sasparilla Rose in a buffalo dress, complete with a corset.

Later, Gary Nelson transformed into a sheriff, then an undertaker.

"But I'm always Wild 'n' Woolly," he insisted.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story