Extra Curricular Cowboy Activities

By Chico Cheech   SASS 35548L / TG  -  SASS® Cowboy Chronicle, Summer '05


As all who read this can attest, Cowboy Action Shooting is a great sport and a fun activity that can be enjoyed by the whole family and all ages. We sometimes call it a ‘Fantasy Sport’ because many of us remember dressing up as Cowboy and Cowgirls, and having that Ole’ West adventure when we were younger.


In the case of the Gila Rangers of Silver City, New Mexico, something happened about four years ago that gave new and expanded meaning to the term ‘Fantasy’. Captain Eli McDaniel, SASS# 30600, the club President at that time, came to me one day and said “Chico, friends of mine at the County Fair asked us to set up a booth, and show some Cowboy Action Shooting to the local visitors”. Being an ex-Shop Teacher and carpenter that he was, he built a building facade of a ‘Ranger Station’ on the back of his 16 foot trailer. He explained that since we couldn’t really shoot live ammo at the Fair, we could bust some balloons with Black Powder Blanks, perform firearms safety demonstrations, display our weapons, and tell people what fun we were having in the hobby/sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. Myself, and a small group of club members readily agreed. We all dressed in our CAS western duds, and made the appearance that fall at the 2001 Grant County Fair in Cliff, New Mexico. We were a great hit, with hundreds of visitors stopping by our display and demo wanting to know more. At the conclusion of the Fair, we transported the bulky facade out to our Range in the Mimbres Valley and incorporated it into our developing collection of range facades and props.


Around that same time, the local Chamber of Commerce solicited our involvement in the receipt and assembly of a gift from Actor/Director Ron Howard (‘Opie’ from The Andy Griffith Show). A log cabin and all of its contents from the Ron Howard movie ‘The Missing’ was donated to Silver City. The cabin site selected was barely 50 feet from the actual homestead of Catherine Antrim, where she and her teenage son, William H. Bonnie ( a.k.a. Billy The Kid) resided from 1873 to 1875. We assisted the movie production prop crew sent from Santa Fe, in the first day of its rough assemble. Upon their departure that same evening, only the cabin’s log walls were in place. Seeing the unfinished dilemma, the Gila Rangers ‘adopted’ the Cabin, and over the next few weeks, completed the assembly and later volunteered to be the Cabin’s maintenance caretaker.


As time went on, we began to think that the off-site demo was both good for the club and the sport. (Not to mention how much fun it was to dress-up and wear our hardware in town and out in the general public). We contemplated a repeat performance at the upcoming 4th of July festivities which would feature the dedication of ‘Bill The Kid’s Cabin’. Being the repressed carpenter I was, I built a flat mobile stage on a 4 x 8 trailer that folds out to a 16 foot long 8 foot high old west General Store.


Again, the traveling Rangers made the appearance, and were a big hit with the inquisitive crowd shooting balloons attached to the General Store, performing firearm safety, and posing with visitors at the cabin. As before, we got several interested spectators that subsequently came out to one of our shoots, and joined the club. But before the day was over, several other organizers of local community events were asking for our attendance at their activity or festival.


By the next year, the Gila Ranger ‘Road Show’ had a spring-to-fall appearance schedule for five public events. They included the Wild, Wild West Day, which is conducted on the last day of the Pro-Rodeo, the 4th of July Festival, Fort Bayard Days Historical Exhibit, the Pinos Altos October Fiesta, and the County Fair. We began calling our traveling trailer our ‘Stage On Wheels’, or ‘SOW’ for short.


Just before the Wild, Wild West Day in 2004, the event coordinators asked us to go ‘out of the box’ again. In an effort to excite the waiting crowd before the historic non-motorized horse and wagon Parade came down the main street, he asked us to perform a mock re-enactment to capture ‘Billy The Kid’. I told him that we were not a re-enactment group, but he convinced us to give it a try. So there we were… riding onto main street in a reproduction stage coach. Four Marshals dressed all in black get out, and walk abreast down main street looking for ‘Billy’, who was played by a younger member of our club. The search ended in the center of town, words were exchanged, guns were a-blazin’, and next thing you know, the Marshals were loading a wounded Billy The Kid into the stage to take him to the Silver City Jail. The crowd was thrilled. We then returned to the Heritage activities at the park, where we had set up the SOW, and proceeded to do our Road Show demo. Again, lots of visitors and interested shooters at our display.


Earlier this year, a former member of our club living in Arizona, contacted us for the Pride Society of Duncan, Arizona. She had heard of the traveling show, and next thing you know, we’re in Duncan, as the main attraction at their ‘Duncan Rampage’. This revised charity event featured sports and activities for young and old. With the SOW sitting on a horse race track in front of a huge grandstand, we did our safety and balloon busting demo, while we featured Mounted Shooting directly behind us in a superb Horsemen’s Arena. Another dazzled crowd and more interested potential Club and SASS members. There was even talk of a CAS club getting together in that area. The Pride Society invited us to return next year, and made a donation to the club to entice us to put the ‘Duncan Rampage’ on our appearance schedule.


As fate would have, about six months ago, our popularity got us directly involved in the 2005 Wild, Wild West Day (WWWD) and even into the Pro-Rodeo that sparks the event. The former organizer for WWWD thought our group could assume all of the Saturday activities on June 4th  for WWWD. And again, several of the Gila Rangers raised their hand at the ‘wrong’ time. The next thing you know, we’re making calls, sending letters, getting permits and visiting people to produce a day of western Heritage activities, Arts and Crafts, food, entertainment, and a non-motorized Parade. The Pro-Rodeo began on Wednesday night, and we acted as gate attendants and grandstand ushers during the first two Rodeo nights… in full Cowboy attire of course. The Rodeo organizers loved the job we did, and the reaction of the crowd at our costumed presence. By Saturday morning, all of the WWWD activities we had planned were beginning to assemble. But to start them off, we executed another re-enactment. Episode II… ‘The Escape of Billy the Kid’. Only this time, there were more than a dozen Gila Ranger re-enactors, and a dozen more club members dispersed within the street crowds. A 15 minute show followed that really got the spectators involved and cheering things like… “Don’t take him out of town!” and “Hang him here!”. We even had wireless microphones and a dozen guns smoking up Silver City downtown streets in a confrontation with Billy’s gang of Lincoln County Regulators. Another great success for the fun and excitement of the Cowboy life, and more club notoriety and potential interested members. Billy did finally make his escape, but fallen Lawmen and outlaws littered the streets.


This all started as a way to expand the time we could dress-up and play like Cowboys and Cowgirls, and somehow get involved in community events and heritage activities. We figured it would be good for the areas public interest and tourist economy, and may even help the club grow. Who would have guessed it could make such a difference?


Now, Silver City, New Mexico has a population of about 14,000, and Grant County about 35,000. But if you meet someone around town, or at a gathering, or go into a business and mention that you are a Gila Ranger, everybody knows who you are. Rumor has it… 2006 Wild, Wild West Day might see Episode III… ‘Revenge of the Kid!’.


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The Gila Ranger’s escapades can be followed, in print and by photos, at our website www.gilarangers.com.