Pull up your bootstraps and take a ride back to the Old West

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Civil War soldier reenactors participate in a skit with the Old Town Temecula Gunfighters during the annual Western Days gathering at Sam Hicks Park in Temecula, Saturday, Sept. 14. Shane Gibson photo

Gunslingers, soldiers, outlaws and cowboys took locals back to a time when the Old West was in its prime.

“We want to keep the Old West and Civil War history alive,” Tim Kimble, aka Dynamite Dick Clifton, founder of Old Town Temecula Gunfighters, said.

He had a bullet casing poking out of his left ear.

“I have to be able to hear, and it lets me hear a little bit while blocking some of the sound when shooting,” he said, laughing.

Old Town Temecula Gunfighters and several other groups put on Western Days at Sam Hicks Monument Park and at the historic Hotel Temecula in Old Town, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14-15, honoring a time period that was known for its gunfights and rich history.

“Every show that we do, and our friends do, we’ll do a little gun safety demonstration,” Kimble said. “A 0.22 can blow a hole through both sides of an aluminum can,” he said.

All of the groups participating used blanks, though they can still do damage if they aren’t careful, Kimble said.

“We have blanks, and 8 feet away, if we put a piece of white paper up and we shoot directly at that paper, there will be no specks anywhere,” Kimble said. “So, here’s my audience; there’s the bad guy, and I don’t point it at him, I point to the side. The audience doesn’t know that,” he said.

The groups never point their guns at the audience, as a precaution, Kimble said, adding that for as long they’ve been around they have had a 100% safety record.

A large part of the shows involve writing scripts, which is something that John H. Arbaugh, one of Code of the West’s founders, enjoys doing according to his wife Julia Arbaugh.

Each member has an alias name for these events. John H. Arbaugh, aka Sheriff Ben Thorn, and his wife Julia Arbaugh, aka Wicked Red Thorn, have been coming to Temecula for the past 10 years or so.

“Accuracy is really important,” Julia Arbaugh said. “We were in a couple other groups that didn’t do history, and we really wanted to do history so that’s how Code of the West got started. We have (scripts) where my husband does a synopsis off a movie and takes the whole thing and puts it into a 20-minute script.”

Many of the members make their own costumes. Glenna Joy McCutcheon, aka Joy Jangles, picked up many of her rings and jewelry for her character’s costume at antique shops. She joined Code of the West with her husband Charles McCutcheon, aka Dandy Rand, in 2002.

“We were doing cowboy shooting with live ammo, and different scenarios where you were timed with your guns and dressed Victorian,” Joy McCutcheon said. “We met up with Ben and Red and thought it sounded fun, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

Code of the West member John Whalen, aka Bowie Knife, carried a large, handmade fossilized walrus tusk knife.

“I’m in character all the time. I can be in and out,” he said, pointing to a knife hanging around his neck.

“This goes to the bank with me, to the store with me. I have several others I wear around my neck, and they are my cutting edge necktie,” he said, smiling.

Last October, Code of the West went to Tombstone, Arizona, to reenact a shootout between outlaws and lawmen during that time of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

“We performed on the main street of Tombstone where all that history happened,” Whalen said. “I died on that street where the shootout gathering began, and I refused to shower or change my clothing that I fell in, all day and night.”

“As a reenactor, that’s kind of the epitome of being able to do something in an actual place where it occurred, and to reenact that as best we can through all of our research and documentation to be able to portray it properly,” another Code of the West member, Joe Mortimer, aka Sarsaparilla Joe, said.

Sarsaparilla Joe’s character is a veteran of the Civil War who contracted a blood disease during The Battle of Gettysburg.

“During that time, the sarsaparilla leaf was used as a blood agent to be a cure for blood borne illnesses, so once it became a drink later on, he got a hankering for it so he kept on drinking it and drinking it,” Mortimer said.

Another member, Barry Clark, aka William Travis, choose his character name in honor of his son who had died, Travis Clark.

“We stumbled upon these folks (Code of the West), and my boy had loved the Old West, so we started talking with them and next thing you know, that was 2009,” Clark said.

The plays and reenactments they perform are meant to be an accurate portrayal of the time period.

“If the research history says there were three bullets, we do three bullets,” Phyllis Whalen, aka Sapphire Rose, said; she has been with the group for 10 years.

“I like to call it my Western Cinderella because I get to put on beautiful clothes and tell history, real, true stories,” Whalen said.

The plays are meant to be thought-provoking and to tell a piece of history the audience may not have heard before. While doing reenactments, members from different groups set up Civil War encampments where they would be sleeping overnight.

The day was filled with music from The Blacksmith Boys, a bluegrass and country band, preferring the term “CrabGrass” to describe the style of music they played. They met nearly 20 years ago blacksmithing together.

“They’re also doing a school teaching the kids what it was like back then, Old West reenactments and a Gatling gun demonstration, a type of rapid fire from the Civil War,” Kimble said.

Whalen’s impression of the audience is that they’re engaging them.

“It’s meant to resonate,” she said, “So that people will go back and look it up and realize that it’s another piece of history that perhaps they didn’t know before.”

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.