Originally Published: June 4, 2014 6 a.m.
This past weekend the events celebrating Prescott's 150th birthday were all over downtown. I went and enjoyed some of the festivities, which were nicely done. Like most "Old West" events, it included the reenacting of shootouts. This is so commonplace that we might not think twice about it, but if you do, it's really pretty odd.
Among several groups working over the weekend, the best-known reenactors in town are the Prescott Regulators and Shady Ladies, who also put on their annual Shootout in July. The nonprofit group raises money for local charities, which is wonderful. Wearing period clothing, giving tours and putting on skits is a great way to give people a little feel for the history of the area. They capture some of the genteel aspects of the time as well as some of the rough and bawdy aspects. It's just the shooting that's the odd part.
Yes, it is part of the history, but so was the virtual slavery of Chinese workers, Native Americans and the US Army slaughtering each other, some women having no recourse for survival but prostitution, and starvation in hard times. Those are all in the history books along with the shootouts, as they should be in an accurate record, but we don't romanticize them. We don't reenact them. We don't have fun watching soldiers and Native Americans slaughter one another in the same way that we say, "This will be fun! Let's go down to Whiskey Row and watch two guys pretend to kill each other!"
Yeah, I know, it's the loudest, flashiest part of the reenactment and I'm being a wet blanket. In case I haven't already irritated every conservative in the area with my liberal views, here I am criticizing a beloved piece of fun connected with gun lore. It's not really a big deal, it's just something to note that this is an odd thing to make a focus of our history.
In the future, will Los Angeles romanticize the '80s gang wars between the Crips and Bloods? Will middle-aged guys put on gangster outfits, carry Uzis and enact mock machine-gun shootouts?
The particular scene played out last weekend wasn't even a fair gunfight. It was two bad guys about to gun down another cowboy in cold blood. They are interrupted just in time by the sheriff. They try to shoot him, but of course he's better with a gun. Then a third bad guy pulls a Derringer on the sheriff and the sheriff shoots him. While he's down the sheriff shoots him several more times to make sure he's dead. Not exactly the Matt Dillon-style "Let's see who's the quicker draw" fair fight in the stories.
It makes for great drama and loud noises, but what an odd thing to memorialize when it had little to do with the real struggles of early Prescottonians. It's an odd thing to put foremost as to where we come from, what our predecessors were about, or what they accomplished in building Prescott.
It would nice if, over time, this aspect of our historical reenactments just faded away. That people would gradually lose interest in it because there just weren't enough people who found it interesting, who found it to be the something worth putting forward about ourselves.
In the South a much worse thing was common. Whole families would bring picnics to make an event of a lynching. That faded away. Crowds watching the burning of supposed witches faded away. Some of our racism has faded away. Sensibilities change, often for the better.
We all grew up with playing cowboys in gun battles. No one gave it a thought. Grown men often like to play at the same things they did as kids. I certainly enjoy riding a motorcycle as much as I enjoyed riding a bicycle as a kid. I hope these shootouts never become a contentious issue, with people for and against it, making a big deal out of it. I don't think it needs to be. On the contrary, I hope it becomes a smaller and smaller deal, that our sensibility gradually changes and we develop a distaste for glamorized shootouts, and that the next generation will look back and realize that somewhere along the line, it just faded away.
Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.
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