There was a magic attached to the Old West. Those who grew up through the 1940's saw many matinee idols created that had a pair of six-shooters on their hips, wore a white hat and sang while they rode a white horse. The villains wore black. By the 1950's and the1960's the black clothes replaced the white and our heroes looked like the outlaws. The white hat was still attributed to good and the black to evil, however. Then came television which built new legends and our view on the Old West changed. It gave us so many western shows to watch that the rest of the world believed we still lived like the "cowboy." Western movies were just as plentiful with major motion picture stars playing many of the roles of our famous and infamous men who "tamed the West!" After the "Spaghetti Westerns" and Sam Peckinpaw films an era of less violence emerged. The Old West wasn't making the box office, but it was still part of Americana. Fiction and histories on the old west were read by a large majority of fans. Western authors were filling in the gap left by the motion picture industry. By the 1980's the films began to return and with enough success that Hollywood ventured another western trend. Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" received nine Oscar nominations and won for best picture and best Director, just to name a few. This was the western that finally told it like it may have been, then. The "heroes" were vague and the deeds less than honorable. Here was the Old West with real people who, like the original folk of the era, weren't as clear cut as good and bad.
The real Old West was filled with good-badguys and bad-goodguys. Some folk were just down right evil and Hollywood over the years has made so many versions of these "based on a true story" lives that we are confused. So we read a book or find the "truth" from some source that we accept as historical fact, because it's in print. Here we fall prey to the legend once again that was created by a different media to create another lie, because the truth is less entertaining and even boring. Pulp fiction was in many forms back then. The Beale's Dime Novels were cheaply made "comic" books (without the pictures) that created people out of a fertile mind. Most of these authors had never been west of the Mississippi. As early as 1854 a man named John Rollin Ridge who was also known as "Yellow Bird" created a fictional character known as Joaquin Murieta. Yellow Bird had read in the newspapers about the exploits of certain Mestizo bandits and the name Joaquin was common among them. This "Robin Hood" of the Gold Country of California was an inspiration to many cutthroat thieves in the thirty years that followed. What began was our first adventure into the fabulous if not fictional lives of the Western Hero. "Dime Novels" would be as prolific as the "Super Hero" comic is today. They would last past the turn of the century and would inspire other would be authors to create the stories of their lives as they touched the infamous and famous alike.
So what creates an interest in reenacting this time period? Needless to say most of us grow up playing Army, Cowboys & Indians, or Goodguys & Badguys. We play with sticks if we're not allowed to have real looking toys. As "adults" we are discovering that we can play at being the Hollywood gunslinger. We can place blanks in our guns, rob a train to the amusement of the public and act like our childhood idols. But it's not enough. Who were these people and what were they actually like? Research has proven the best way to dig deep into a "truth." Reading many books and certain materials helps us sort out just who these people might have been. There are people who spend their whole lives researching one person or a town. These people and their research is always worth reviewing. History in general isn't as intriguing as specific research of a historical moment or person.
Reenacting is a way to touch slightly the lives of these people and maybe come closer to understanding why they were the way they were. It allows us to step back and do a little time traveling as we dress, eat and speak the way they did. It is also a fun way of acting out fantasies and role changing. Reenactors can be Living Historians if they place as much time researching as they do portraying their subject. The expense may reach $1000 per individual to outfit yourself and there are many ways to proceed. Reenactors bring historical locations a certain atmosphere to the surroundings and help generate historical interest by the public. Many reenactors are used for films as extras because of their period clothing and equipment. Their historical input usually will improve a film. Too many times a movie looks bad because no effort was made at making the costuming more original.
I hope that this website will bring together all those interested in the Old West Reenactment community so that we can better organize and become as respected as American Civil War groups.
-Your Pard Floyd D.P. Øydegaard, AKA Black Bart, the Legend
(It's amazing what has come to the Web since I wrote the above comments in mid 1995! These pages were the first of their kind and now the Old West has gone to many levels of sophistication)