Blessed Sacrament couple brings the Old West to life
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — You’ve seen it played out in countless TV and movie Westerns.
It’s high noon on a dusty street somewhere in the Old West. Two men face each other, hands twitching over holstered six-shooters. Suddenly their hands fly to their guns and they trade lead — one gunman faster than the other.
Another cowboy gunfight, and a new tenant for Boot Hill.
Only, it didn’t really happen that way, mostly.
“The classic movie gunfight . . . where they meet out in the street and all that, I know of one instance of that actually happening, and that was with Wild Bill Hickok,” said Rob Brannon, an electronics technician with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Oh, and the place? Not Deadwood, or Tombstone, or Dodge City, or even down in the West Texas town of El Paso. It was Springfield, Mo.
“Most of these gunfights occurred in saloons,” said Brannon. “Alcohol was involved. And most gunfights took place at the range of two or three feet. There was lots of back shooting and dirty tricks.”
Brannon ought to know. He’s the chairman of the Kansas Vigilance Committee (a local unit or posse) of the National Congress of Old West Shootists. The NCOWS will hold their national convention from Feb. 15 to 17 at the Jack Reardon Civic Center in Kansas City, Kan. The event is open to nonmembers, however, and everyone is invited.
Rob and his wife, Monica Brannon, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan., got involved in cowboy stuff in the late 1980s. They had been involved in Mountain Men (and women) reenactments, but when Rob got involved in some cowboy action shooting, he was hooked.
“Everybody wants to be a cowboy, so most people think that this is pretty neat,” said Rob.
Despite the name, NCOWS is not all about the guns. Monica doesn’t even shoot. It’s more about the romantic history of the Old West, the wearing of faithful reproductions of period costumes, and, of course, a little socializing with like-minded enthusiasts. In fact, members tend to do an incredible amount of historical research to ensure their costumes are completely authentic.
The local posse, which numbers about 35, meets once a month on some private land near Garnett, where they both shoot some targets and shoot the breeze around the old cowboy campfire.
“A couple brings a chuck wagon, and the guys put on shoots. At night, we kick back, relax,” said Monica.
What Rob wears depends on what character he is portraying. Sometimes he’s a prospector, who wears flannels with suspenders, a plain cotton shirt and Indian moccasins. Sometimes he’s a cowboy and wears cotton pants with a button fly, a long-sleeve cotton shirt, vest, bandana, and a hat. Sometimes he plays a townsman, with a suit and a bowler hat.
Do you remember the fancy-stitched “cowboy” outfits in movies of the ’30s and ’40s? Pure Hollywood fantasy, he insists.
“All that extra stuff weights a ton, and most of them couldn’t afford it,” said Rob. “A real cowboy was a working man and he didn’t make a lot of money.”
Monica tends toward the lush Victorian bows and frills.
“I have several Victorian outfits,” she said. “Some are more casual, that a woman would have worn if out in town. And I have some very fancy outfits of silk, taffeta, and velvet.
“I have quite a few hats, some quite fancy. Cameos were very popular, cameo earrings. Most of the women would have had a reticule — a little drawstring purse.”
But that “S” at the end of NCOWS does stand for “shootists,” and Rob is properly accoutered with appropriate firearms as well: several percussion cap revolvers, a Henry rifle, a Spencer carbine and several other Civil War guns, and the classic that everyone thinks of when they think of a cowboy rifle — the Winchester ’73.
“They’re all modern reproductions, because if you had an actual antique, you wouldn’t want to abuse them by shooting them as much as we do,” said Rob.
And no, Rob is not a quick draw. He is, however, an accurate shot.
There won’t be much shooting at the convention, however. A small indoor shooting gallery will be set up, but the ammunition will consist of wax bullets in a powderless cartridge, the projectile propelled by the primer only.