When most anyone sees or hears the words “Wild West Show,” they likely think of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his traveling brand of entertainment that brought the American Old West to the rest of the world over a century ago.
It was so popular that at one point in 1899, Cody’s “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” covered over 11,000 miles in 200 days, giving 341 performances in 132 cities and towns across the United States. In most places, there would be a parade and two 2-hour performances. Then the whole show would be struck, loaded, and moved overnight to the next town.
With more than 100 years of history and heritage associated with that Wild West show, it seems fitting the historic National Western Stock Show would carry on the tradition by entertaining and educating thousands of people every year with a modern version of Buffalo Bill Cody’s brainstorm.
And just like it was more than a century ago, the effort behind the scenes to bring western entertainment to the public is an intensive labor of love.
While the NWSS doesn’t have the logistics issues of taking the show overseas or even on the road here in the U.S., the planning stage of the ticketed event still lasts most of the year.
“We start working on (the Wild West show) in June, to come up with the concepts and ideas and come up with different acts,” revealed Lora Richards, NWSS director of Horse Show Operations, as she discussed the Wild West show before its first performance in 2014. “We kind of scour the country and every event we go to (in order to) see an act or get an idea. As you get closer (to the NWSS), you solidify it,” Richards added. “We spent the last couple of weeks working real hard on the story line itself, scripting. We have technical meetings beforehand and do a full dress rehearsal. It’s a year round process. The Wild West Show is part of my weekly itinerary.”
With shows selling out or close to selling out for many years, it could be easy to assume the NWSS just lets the format coast on its wave of popularity, but quite the opposite is true. All its past success at the historic location only adds pressure to keep making it better.
“You want to keep doing better than you did last year, but you have to define what better is,” said Richards about planning the show throughout the year. “You want to build on what you’ve done, but you want to keep it fresh. That’s the hardest part.”
Keeping it fresh means bringing in big-name popular entertainment such as horseman Bobby Kerr and his Mustang Act or finding people like Texas resident Gary Trichter to come in and personify Buffalo Bill himself.
“Buffalo Bill was all about America and waving the flag and doing the right thing,” said Trichter as he readied his 17-year-old horse a few hours before the start of the first performance on Saturday, Jan. 18. “I’m kind of happy to be in those boots.”
Speaking of boots, the Texan looked the part from head to toe, sporting the trademark William Cody mustache and goatee and decked out in clothing the Western icon no doubt would have included in his own wardrobe.
“I’m 168 years old today,” described Trichter of his mindset and how he prepares to carry on the tradition Buffalo Bill brought to the world. “For purposes of this show, I’m him. I would like to warn everybody that is up on Lookout Mountain today not to fall in the hole, because I’m not up there, I’m here,” he added with a smile. “I’m here in the body of this person and in the spirit of this person and I intend to have everybody have a good time.”
While new acts are brought in to add fresh energy, veteran NWSS Wild West performers maintain their passion for entertaining the public.
“It’s just fun being together and working together,” said Max Reynolds about working with other professionals in the show. Reynolds is a 17-year fixture at the NWSS and does everything in the show from trick roping, portraying western icons and trick riding to jumping horses through a ring of flame.
“We like to see everyone do good and put on a good show,” he offered with conviction as he talked near a stall housing an immaculate white horse he would ride later in the show. “That’s the main thing. The people sitting in the stands are our main priority.”
Although the NWSS scours the country looking for acts to entertain their capacity crowds, they don’t overlook Colorado talent like cowboy mounted shooting competitor Elizabeth Clavette.
“Two years ago during the freestyle reining competition, (the NWSS) asked me to do a rifle demonstration,” she described of her path to being a part of the Wild West Show. “So I did a rifle demonstration during the intermission and I did it again this year.”
Asked what her reaction was when they offered her a chance to shoot and be Annie Oakley in the Wild West Show, Clavette flashed an infectious smile.
“I said I’d love to, thanks,” she revealed with a laugh. “It is so much fun. I love the people (in the show) and the whole experience of being able to compete and do your thing in front of so many people.”
As evidenced by their enthusiasm, the yearlong process of putting together a Wild West Show to please the public is a passion for performers and NWSS organizers alike.
“It’s personal to all of us,” offered Richards on behalf of everyone involved. “We want it to be the best it can be. It’s a big group of us that have a lot of vested interest in making this the best it can be.”
From the vantage point of Lookout Mountain, it’s easy to imagine Buffalo Bill Cody hearing those words and giving his hearty approval. ❖