- TR’s Cowboy camp at a history event
- Seeing Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Roosevelt’s eyes
- Heavenly Iowa and yet another life lesson
- New Show in Development!
- Time for a new chapter
- Myth versus Legend
- So you wanna be a cowboy in the old west
- Thank you Spring Valley
- The man behind Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Nate Salsbury
- Victorian photos
- Cowboy-up Hatters
- Cripple Creek
- Frost River Soft Goods
- Gold Bar Theatre
- Historic Eyewear Company
- Homestake Opera House
- Jon Hassler Theater
- Lanesboro Buffalo Bill Days 2012
- Lost Creek Bags
- Mantorville Opera House Theater Company
- Old West Antiques
- Oles Big Game Steakhouse
- Pansy's Parlor B&B Golden, Co.
- River Junction Trade Company
- Sheldon theater
- The Buckhorn Exchange
- The Hubble House Restaurant, Mantorville Minnesota
- Theodore Roosevelt Impersonator
I am happier than a puppy with two peter’s to announce that we are in the writing stages of our new show. The company will be adding new talent as we bring a fresh new show to the stage in either late 2015 or early 2016.
The process of writing a new show is always enjoyable, with a true atmosphere of camaraderie as we flush out the themes, the Characters and the stories. This one is going to have a foundation of humor, with some music and maybe even dance – while still delivering some of that Character history our group has become famous for. I can’t spill the beans just yet about what we are doing, but I am confident this show will be an audience favorite!
In the mean time, I will continue to write on this page just as before, with some stories and facts about the old west, or at least the sharing of facts I learn along the way.
One of the things I did this past weekend was re-watch the PBS series “Frontier House”. This 2001 TV series took three modern families and put them into Montana 1883 to live for 5 months as homesteaders. You can find the series streaming online and if you have a penchant for the old west, this is great television. It was great to see the reaction of the children who participated, to see how they felt when they started the show and when they finished. Take a look and enjoy!
There is something magical about creating a concept for a play; writing the words and then refining the characters into something that is entertaining and memorable.
Since 2008, we have brought to life William F. Cody, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Pecos Bill and the reporter Elloit Longfellow. Audience reaction has been rewarding and made the journey always worthwhile. The final result has been something we all have been proud to put our names on.
As you can imagine, coordinating around work obligations, contracting with the theaters, marketing the show, selling tickets, set-up and teardown all add to the overall time spent to put on a show. The time commitment has required many of us to miss family events, birthdays, fathers’s day celebrations and more.
New offers to do the show have been coming from further distances, requiring even more sacrafice of vacation time and expense to put on a performance. While the opportunities have been exciting, the reality is that our group was not able to adjust to the realities of our work lives. Because of this, it was decided that the show in Lakeville this past September was the last performance with the current cast of “In the Company of Legends”.
A few of us will be working on new show ideas and cowboy entertainment, so keep your eyes on this blog for updates.
To all of you who have supported our show and us with your enthusiasm, comments and applause. Thank you so much for giving us incredible memories!
If you ever played telephone as a kid – the game where you all sat in a circle and one person whispered something in someone’s ear and then it went around the room until it was given back to the person who started it – you know how a story can change. The difference between myth and legend in many cases carries the same opportunity to change with time.
There are two sayings I like: “History is lies agreed upon” or “History goes to the victors” because they are very truthful statements. When movies come out that says it is “Based on a true story” or they take one view point of history and proclaim it as gospel, the history can be changed in the minds of the public watching it. Shared with others as fact.
That’s where Legend and myth can become blurred. Let’s say that a movie used some poetic license to tell the story. They lied to make the story better, or amalgamated a few people into one character to move the story along. That perpetuates a myth that the events occurred that way. They did not. They could have happened similar to that, but never exactly like that – thus myth.
Legends can be created the same way. John Henry working his sledge against the powerful steam tractor made him a legend. But how accurate is the reality of the contest? We will never know.
We talk a lot about the idea of a Legend in the play and for good reason. To become a Legend means doing things bigger than life – or having a story written that makes you look like you are.
I am always reminded in the summer when we get ready to do an event, how incredibly hot and uncomfortable it is to be dressed in traditional old west cowboy clothes.
One summer, a few years ago, we were invited to walk in a parade dressed as lawmen. To look really authentic, we wore black. Nice, sun absorbing, black. The layers started with a cotton shirt, buttoned to the top with a nice western tie. On top of that was a wool vest with a metal badge, wool pants, full length wool frock coat and large brim wool cowboy hat. That day, the temperature in this little town had pegged out at 102 degrees. 102, Hot, humid, miserable degrees. We walked for over 2 miles that day on asphalt that sent waves of heat up with each step. We had plastic water bottles along, typically not acceptable for anyone re-enacting, but essential so that we didn’t faint right on the spot. They say wool is cooling. At 102 degrees, the only thing that is cooling is a watering hole!
I was sick for two days afterwards, convinced that I had gotten heat stroke from the experience. My fellow Legends also reported several days of not feeling their best.
The only consistent comment we got from everyone that day was “you look hot” – and they didn’t mean awesome – they meant uncomfortable, and we were.
So next time you think about the old west cowboy, think sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable, and you probably have a pretty accurate idea of what it was like. That was the real old west cowboy.
Well, our first show of the season was a success. We want to thank the nice folks in Spring Valley for their support of the show and Bakers Square for the great tasting pies! (thankfully no one threw them at us during the performance).
It’s fun to do our show in a small town and hear the great stories that the audience shares afterwards about their connection to the characters. The wonderful thing about presenting a person from history is that people can visit the places where the actual history occurred. They can tell us about how they first learned about the person or something in the play that connected to them in a meaningful way. We had a lot of wonderful conversations about the message of the play, about the fact that we all experience hardships and have things we need to overcome.
Thanks again to Debi Neville with the Brave Community Theater for bringing us in.
Nate Salsbury was the business genius behind the Buffalo Bill Wild West. It was Salsbury who created the most popular show, “the Congress of Rough Riders of the World.” for the European tour in 1892. In this show, mounted military troupes from many nations drilled in the arena alongside the American cowboys and Indians. Public interest in American military adventures abroad led to the addition of Hawaiian cowboys and Cuban, Philippine, and Japanese cavalry units.
Salsbury was an actor / comedian who created a traveling comedy troupe that proved very successful and profitable. His business acumen caught the eye of Cody, who asked him to manage business operations for the growing show.
Salsbury had a tough job because the logistics of the show were formidable. In the late 1890s, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West transported as many as five hundred cast and staff members, including twenty-five cowboys, a dozen cowgirls, and one hundred Indian men, women, and children. They all were fed three hot meals a day, cooked on twenty-foot-long ranges. The show generated its own electricity and staffed its own fire department. Performers lived in wall tents during long stands or slept in railroad sleeping cars when the show moved daily. Business on the back lot was carried on in what one reporter called “a Babel of languages.” Expenses were as high as $4,000 per day.
Circus great James A. Bailey, of Barnum & Bailey, joined Cody and Salsbury in 1895 and revolutionized their travel arrangements. The show was loaded onto two trains totaling fifty or more cars. Strings of flat cars could be linked together with ramps for loading wagons from the back forward. Besides performers and staff, the trains transported hundreds of show and draft horses and as many as thirty buffalo. The show carried grandstand seating for twenty thousand spectators along with the acres of canvas necessary to cover them. The arena itself remained open to the elements. Advance staff traveled ahead of the show to procure licenses and arrange for the ten to fifteen acres required for the show lot, preferably close to the railroad; to buy the tons of flour, meat, coffee, and other necessities; and to publicize and advertise.
In 1899, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West 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 two-hour performances. Then the whole show would be struck, loaded, and moved overnight to the next town. Europeans (and their armies) were often as fascinated by the ingenuity and efficiency behind the scenes as they were by the show itself. Not many shows could match Buffalo Bill’s in scale.
Thank you to Paul Fees, Former Curator Buffalo Bill Museum for much of this information
During the old west era, photography was a popular way to capture a moment, but the process of taking a photograph was slow and deliberate. It is because exposures were so long that you seldom see anyone smiling. Holding that smile started to hurt after a while, and as you dropped your smile, in all likelihood you moved your head too, meaning that your face would show up in the photo as out of focus.
The process of making a photo required that light exposed silver, changing the ions and leaving a latent image. After using chemicals, the silver was washed away leaving the image on a glass negative. The amount of light required was significant, so the majority of photographs were taken inside of studios in controlled environments where the photographer could get as much light into the room at once as possible. That meant that a person who wanted a photograph brought everything into the studio to try and recreate their likeness as they usually were. This was great for the real cowboy, but what about the want-to-be cowboy? Photographers back then, just like the “old-tyme” photo studios of today had props to meet the needs of their patrons. Many studio cowboy photos were staged, using props that the photographer had on hand to make the photo.
That makes it hard for the old photo collector to purchase a “genuine” cabinet card without knowing the person who is actually in the photo to determins if they were a real cowboy. There are signs of authenticity, but you really need to be an expert to know what to look for.
You can recreate the old time photo look with various apps or photo manipulation software. There are some key things to remember though if you want them to look “authentic”. Remember these tricks.
1. Don’t smile
2. Have the photographer take a long exposure. A sudden hand movement will add blurriness which will add authenticity
3. Try not to look directly at the camera. have a slightly “off in the distance” glare. If you have more than one person in the photo, be looking in slightly different directions
4. Wear old fashioned clothes, it’s more fun that way!
Final installment of how “In the Company of Legends” came to be
For our first few shows in local theaters we booked, we hired a stage magician and singer to entertain the crowd before we did the play, because we were concerned that the play itself was still too short. After the shows, we were getting positive reaction to the play and while the other acts were good, they seemed to create a bit of a disconnect for those who came to see a “western show”. We knew we needed to focus on presenting the play only, which meant lengthening the show. We also decided that to keep the audience engaged we probably needed another legend.
Scott McNurlin had been with both the Old West Society of Minnesota and the Canyon Old West Society and was well known to the Stuves’ and Tom. When they approached him about adding another character to the play, he mentioned his research into the famous Bat Masterson. Master and Earp were friends, so the fit into the show was a natural. We all met together and started working with dialogue but it soon became apparent that since both Earp and Masterson were lawmen, they had similar stories about arrests and gunfights. We needed to add a different angle to the play and Scott knew just what to do. As a real life law enforcement professional, Scott has a unique perspective on criminals and lawmen. He brings this into his portion of the show, giving us a better understanding of the old west lawman and how they and the community worked together. Bat’s addition to the show added an important element that connected the old frontier townspeople and the audience.
Soon, we were putting final tweaks on Bat’s dialogue and adjusting stage movements. It was during this time that we brought in a professional director to help us define the show and give us advice on the shows structure, timing and the ebb and flow of audience reaction. The process was very insightful and in the end it meant moving certain parts to different areas of the show, adding some more and taking some out all-together. It also meant that the reporter became a much bigger back story because in the end, he is the glue that holds the show together.
Our next few shows felt better and the audience reaction verified that. We started selling out most of the theaters we visited and added additional shows to meet the growing interest. We also figured out how to rent a theater so we don’t lose out shirts; what support we needed to put on a productions (Our technician Mike saves our hides in every show!) and the importance of our significant others!
We still find ways to improve our script, acting abilities and make the set look even better, but after all these years we finally feel like we have most of the dials set right.
We want to thank our fans who have seen the show, bring their friends and tell others. We really appreciate your support all these years!
4th of 5 installments on how the play came to be.
The boys had flushed out their characters, but struggled with how they would connect them. I can’t tell you who came up with the idea for a reporter, because by the time they asked me to read with them, his name and many of his lines had been already been written. I do know that when first presented with the idea, I was skeptical that they had written anything even remotely interesting. Besides, who ever heard of a stage show like this – honestly, was there even an audience?
The first reading for me took place in the saloon sitting around a table, each of us just read the words on the page without comment or criticism. (Boy, would I like that day back!) I read with a closed mind, not expecting much and feeling like I was wasting a good Saturday morning. However, as we read, I realized that the boys had created something unique and entertaining. I wasn’t sure I had the interest committing time to it at that point, because it was still very rough. I told them if we kept working on it and editing, I would continue.
It’s important to understand that while some of us had previous stage or professional acting experience, the majority of our “old tyme” work had been in street theater. Street theater is the kind you see when you visit an old west town and they recreate a gun fight. They are often humorous, include a few jokes, a few fake fights and a few gun shots. The sound systems are often terrible, so much so the crowd is usually straining to hear what is going on.
Theater is a different animal all-together, you need to be polished, accurate, entertaining. You have to connect to an audience and make them care about your character. The audience is there in front of you and they have paid hard-earned money to see you. This is the reason they came, you are not just a side event to something else going on. Be good, or go home.
As we worked we developed our characters further and started doing small snippets of our dialogue for friends, looking for feedback. They kept reaffirming that we had something interesting, encouraging us to keep moving forward.
In 2007, We had been booked to create much of the entertainment for the Traders Jubilee in McGregor Iowa for the 2008 event and had been working all winter with the ladies to create a vaudeville show with multiple acts. “In The Company of Legends” had about 30 minutes of content at that time and decided that if we were going to test the show, the best place was with those who did similar things. If they lost interest, or hated it, they would tell us or show us by bee-lining to the bar.
The show was received well and afterwards we collected ourselves and decided if we were going to do it, it would need to be expanded and much better. (thanks to all our friends back then for your sage advice) We also decided we needed to find our first theater and pitch the idea to see if they would book us, and then if we could sell a single ticket. With that, we started the journey (without Bat Masterson, I’ll get to him last but not least)
There is an old saying, there are two things you should never see being made – sausages and laws – they should add theater contracts to that list. We found a local theater owner willing to take us on – with us carrying the burden of risk. Ok, all of it. We basically advertised, sold tickets, did all the work and entertained and he made 99% of money including all the concessions. (I know what a boxer must feel like) We filled the house to great reviews and the theater owner confessed it was his largest money-making venture to date and he wanted to do again, soon. P.T Barnum would have been proud of his protégée. While it was a painful lesson, it was a lesson that we have not repeated since. The final installment, the addition of Bat Masterson.
Installment 3 of how “In The Company of Legends” came to be.
Pecos Bill is the king of cowboy tall-tale tellers, so no tale would be complete without the story of how he came to the Legends. It started after a heated discussion about truth vs. fiction as Tom and Dave wrote down their ideas for the play. Buffalo Bill’s life story has many gaps that are filled in with exploits, some verifiable, others “accepted fact” others, well written dramas recited so many times that they became fact in the mind of the players. It was this back and forth between the two, and the stories they were starting to zero in on that made them think, “why don’t we bring in someone so outlandish that our stories now seem more real?” who else should come to mind but Pecos Bill?
Our Pecos Bill – Rick Stuve, is a natural story-teller. He tells tales of his life that will have you on the floor crying in laughter on any given evening, so finding someone who could take a story and add a spin wasn’t hard. What was more difficult was trying to bring him into the play where he didn’t seem like a clown playing against real American Legends. This is where Rick’s story abilities really came to light. It was also where his incredible acting skills bring the character down from something crazy to someone everyone in the audience comes to love and admire and relate to.
Pecos’s tales are over the top in the play. But they cement some key points that make the other characters and the audience ponder what a Legend really is….and without him the play would lose that charm that keep our fans coming back and growing. Is Pecos Bill a real Legend? You’d have to see the play and decide for yourself.
I’ve written in this blog about the background on Pecos Bill (the character’s history) before, so just use the search area to find out how he came to be folklore.
The next installment of how the Legends play came to be starts with our Wyatt Earp, Dave Stuve. Dave has been an old west fan since he was kid growing up on TV westerns like Wyatt Earp with Hugh O’Brien. In fact, his parents bought him a Wyatt Earp play set when he was 8, which started his fascination with the man and led to his desire to portray him later in life.
The base idea for the show was actually after Dave had watched a video of the one man play “Bully” in which James Whitmore portrayed Theodore Roosevelt. He wondered “what would a one man play be like with more than one man?” That started him thinking about potential characters and conversations that might exist if a play could be created, but the idea sat idle for a time as he mulled who could play the parts.
Dave had been portraying cowboy’s in scenarios with the Cannon Old West Society in community events and local shows. He was invited by Tom “Buffalo Bill” to work with his stock company “Shadows of the Old West” in some events that his company was doing that included a re-enactment of the shootout at the Ok Corral, the main reason we know the Earp name. It was during one of these shows that Dave realized that Buffalo Bill might be the perfect complement to Earp, as the two men shared some life experiences that created a common bond, yet were so different in the path that they followed in life that the story could be intriguing. He discussed the idea with Tom and the two started sketching out the story and discussing ways that a play might work and characters that might be interesting.
In The Company of Legend’s story is really founded on the actors extensive knowledge of the characters they portray, weaved together into a story of each character’s commonalities. Stay tuned for the interesting story of our Pecos Bill and how he came to be a “legend”
It dawned on me today that I haven’t discussed how this darn play ever happened to come about in the first place. It’s gonna take a few paragraphs to get it all out, so I decided that giving ya’ll some insight into how the actors became the character might be a good starting point.
Tom Doroff started his acting career with the Old West Society of Minnesota. These are a bunch of fun people in Minnesota who love the old west and like to dress up and portray a character from history (real or imagined). They do some community shows, parades, and events and I have had the privilege of being invited to participate in a few with them and get to know the great people who comprise the organization. Tom started 20 some years ago with them portraying the legendary Tom Horn, an American Old West lawman, scout, soldier, hired gunman, detective, outlaw and assassin. On the day before his 43rd birthday, he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of Willie Nickell. Tom still portrays Horn and is called that by his friends.
It was during one spring evening, as he was shaving off his beard after a long winter that he decided to leave a small goatee just to see what it looked like. As he stared in the mirror, he proclaimed “I look like Buffalo Bill!”
That shaving “accident” as he calls it has led to Tom winning several national titles for his portrayal and resemblance of the great showman almost since the day he discovered the likeness. He has traveled the country performing for national recording artists, has been featured on more magazines and news papers than you could shake a stick at and won his fair share of contests.
As you can imagine, anytime you portray someone as famous as Cody, you better know your stuff. In national competitions you are judged in three areas: Accuracy of Outfit; Presentation and; subject knowledge (usually quizzed by nationally known authors on the subject) In 2012, Tom was named the official Buffalo Bill at the annual competition in Golden at the Buffalo Bill Birthday Bash in conjunction with the Buffalo Bill grave and museum on Lookout Mountain. Pretty impressive when you consider he was up against the best impersonators in the country.
It was an evening together with our own Wyatt Earp (I’ll talk about him in the next installment) and Tom – that started the two wondering what a conversation between Earp and Cody would have encompassed – that got the creative juices flowing. You will need to wait for the next post to see how that came about!
When friends get together at Traders Jubilee in McGregor Iowa, you are never sure what is going to happen. Along with seeing people who you usually only get a chance to connect with once a year before the busy show season, you also get to buy new/old gear for clothing or props and learn about each others events or goings on. There’s talent galore, with songs, skits and comedy and more than a few spirits – (drink and ghosts – if you believe the local Inn keepers)
This year, our Legends gang did a few unique things. Pecos Bill entered a tall tale contest and won a nice little prize, Elliot Longfellow, disguised as a cowboy did a cowboy Poetry tribute to the owner of River Junction Trade Company and our own Bat Masterson recited some cowboy poems to the delight of the crowd. All in all, it was a great weekend of fun that we look forward to every year.
We usually have a play debrief and brainstorm for the new season, but this year after driving down after a 7 inch snowstorm, we all sat outside and absorbed the Iowa warmth while we watched the bald eagles soar along the mighty Mississippi. Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.
This coming weekend, April 4,5,6 is our annual trip to Trader’s Jubilee in beautiful McGregor Iowa. This little gem of a town is at the base of the bluffs on the Mississippi River directly across from Prairie Du Chien Wisconsin. Each year, our gang uses this event as our official ice breaking of winter and the welcome of spring.
The town is perfect for dressing up in old west clothes and strolling the streets. It is filled with 1880 buildings, all reminding you of their glory days with large windows, period awnings and old-fashioned street lights. At the end of the block is River Junction Trade Company, which boasts both a women’s and men’s store where you can purchase clothing for people who are professional and amateur re-enactors, Victorian clothing hobbyist’s or the person who just wants to see what it felt like to step into a clothing store in 1880. I happened into the store probably 30 years ago on a drive south down the Mississippi river and thought back then it was a really special place, even though I couldn’t ever foresee myself ever needing anything from the store. Now, they are the official Teddy Roosevelt Live outfit maker, as well as responsible for many components to outfits in the Legends play. Besides that, Jim and Linda, the stores owners and vintage clothing experts are close friends.
If you are looking for something fun and interesting to do this coming weekend, we would love to meet you. Visit their website posted on our links and look at the event poster and you’ll get a flavor of the weekend. This is a great place to see a whole lot of people dressed in vintage gear who will be happy to teach you about the clothing and other details of the era. If you are looking for great deals on period gear this is one of the best places to locate very hard to find items with excellent prices.
Since we have been doing the play, yours truly has defended himself against a gun by using a notebook shield more times than I can remember. Elliot Longfellow, the reporter is out of his element when he travels to the old west and it shows.
I enjoyed watching some westerns this weekend where a reporter was one of the characters and I have concluded that we all play our reporter characters as – well – nervous wimps. Now, there is nothing I have found in any records to say that reporters were less than manly. I also have not found anything to say they were.
The first movie was Unforgiven, a great Clint Eastwood western where a reporter is following around a famous English shootist to write his memoirs. When he gets a gun pointed at him, he looses his bladder ability. (I don’t do that on stage, but more than one of my fellow actors thinks it would bring great hilarity).
The second was the HBO show Deadwood, where the newspaper publisher / reporter is surrounded by the harsh realities of old west everyday. When confronted, he merely turns the other cheek, which is usually due to a fist just before the turning.
So why have we decided that the newsman was the old west version of a tattle tale and not manly? The reality was the many of the newsman of the day were unfair observers, offering their opinion before the facts were even gathered. No better example exists than the famous gunfight at the O.K Corral. The two newspapers in town quickly chose sides and determined guilt and innocence. One paper called the Earps and Doc Holiday killers, the other innocent victims. Depending on what side of the story you were on, those reporters were either your best friend or worst enemy. Either way, they fought their battles not with a revolver, but with a venom dipped pencil.
That had to make for nervous reporters every time a new edition hit the streets.
If you follow this blog with any regularity, you know that we make a new show poster each year. I had attempted to make one that was kind of cowboy “artsy fartsy” that went over like a lead balloon with the Legends. It’s funny how everyone needs to make sure their face can be seen in our posters, so yet another version of the boys circa 2014.
We have 3 shows locked in for this year so far, but the 4th date we wanted to squeeze in has escaped us. I am not sure we will be able to add a 4th, as we have talked to theaters and many are booked through the end of the year. If anyone out there knows a theater within 150 miles of the Twin Cities that you think would enjoy our show, please contact us.