I grew up in the glorious era of TV Westerns. Even in those limited three-network days, there wasn’t any day of the week when you couldn’t find a cowboy show.* Let the bullets fly!
And the fake bullets, too!
There was no such thing as a red-blooded American boy who didn’t have a holster and pair of six shooters. A Davey Crockett rifle. Bang!
And yet, in those placid fifties, we did not seem to be the gun-mad country we are now.
Other than on TV (cowboys, soldiers, and cops), you didn’t hear a lot about people having guns, other than cops and hunters. And kids. Only the kids’ guns were toys.
Basically, guns and their associated violence just weren’t all that front and center.
On TV, however, they were romanticized and glossed over. Our trigger-happy heroes solved pretty much everything with a quick draw. Bad guys dispatched. Good guys survived to shoot another day. If a good guy was shot, he’d call out “he just winged me,” or “it’s just a flesh wound.” If it were a really serious winging or wounding, the good guy would sport a sling for the last five minutes of the episode.
I started thinking about guns and the good ol’ west when I saw a news item the other day on a reenactment shootout at the OK Corral that went awry.
Tombstone, Arizona, is a tourist town, but before that it was a Wild West town, and the site of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” which featured a battle between the bad-guy Clanton Brothers et al. and the good-guy Earp Brothers et their al., who was Doc Holliday.
Part of Tombstone’s tourist lure is reenactments of gunfights, both in the O.K. Corral and elsewhere around town.
The reenactments are staged by two different outfits, one of which is called the Tombstone Vigilantes, a group “founded in 1946 and performs gun skits and mock hangings in the former frontier town”. The Vigilantes dress up in period costume and shoot it out, getting to play at cowboys while raising money for charity. They were doing so last Sunday, and all was O.K. until one of the actors forgot to swap out his real bullets for blanks.
Tom Carter and Ken Curtis, two actors with the group The Tombstone Vigilantes, were performing a show in Tombstone, Arizona, when Carter shot Curtis, who fell to the ground, according to a statement from the Tombstone Marshal's Office.
Another bullet fired from Carter's weapon "grazed" passerby Debbie Mitchell, said Carol A. Capas, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. Capas told NBC News that Mitchell refused medical attention at the scene. (Source: NBC News)
Ah, yes, “grazed.” Another way of saying “winged.”
Well, Ms. Mitchell grazing didn’t even require a sling. Mr. Curtis was not so lucky. He was shot in the groin, which would definitely make it a flesh wound+. Fortunately, he will survive, and it’s not sure whether there’ll be any charges lodged against Rootin’ Tootin’ Tom Carter.
Theoretically, the guns are inspected before each “skit”, but Mr. Carter was running late – maybe his horse threw a shoe – so he skipped the inspection and just started in, guns blazing.
One has to wonder just why these guys were using real guns, rather than fake guns that couldn’t possibly fire real bullets. I guess the more authentic the better.
Meanwhile, the shootouts have been put on hold until the town of Tombstone comes up with some procedures to prevent something like this happening in the future. Nothing like a tourist being blown away to put a crimp in their business. No word on whether they’ll still be reenacting hangings. (“Do I have a volunteer from the audience. How about you, sonny, would you like to put your neck in this here noose?”)
In any case, the new rules will take a couple of months to put in place, which means that the reenactment of the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” scheduled for the event’s actual anniversary – October 26th – won’t be happening.
Still, Tombstone is the “town too tough to die,” so I’m guessing that the reenactment shows will go on. Minus, I suspect, Tom Carter.
One of the Westerns was called Tombstone Territory. One of the lead characters – in addition to the sheriff – was the editor of the town’s newspaper which was, I believe, the aptly named “Tombstone Epitaph.” The theme song included a refrain with the words “whistle a tune that will carry me to Tombstone Territory”, which has now ear-wormed its way into my skull…Better that than the theme from Gilligan’s Island, I guess.