The Kentucky Long Rifle Demonstration

I had the extremely good fortune to spend three consecutive summers working in a western theme park as a gunfighter and a guitar player in the saloon show. The first summer was between graduating from high school and my freshman year at college. It was my first extended time away from home. I was paid seventy five dollars a week and a room to live in. The hours were long. We worked from ten in the morning until nine at night six days a week. The season started on Memorial Day and ran through Labor Day. The Fourth of July was always the most heavily attended.

In addition to acting in the gunfights, the gunfighters took turns giving a demonstration of the Kentucky long rifle. It was a thirty minute show that consisted of the presenter giving some of the history of the Kentucky long rifle while loading it with a blank round which he then allowed a member of the audience to fire. It made a loud noise, lots of black smoke, and impressed the ladies and children. Then the presenter would reload the rifle, this time with a live round, and attempt to shoot a paper cup full of water to demonstrate the destructive power of the weapon.

The cast of the town were mostly college students working to save money for school and getting experience as actors. Most of the gunfighters were not particularly outdoorsy. They were, for the most part, theater majors, good at memorizing lines and playing tough hombres.

Then there was Ed. Ed was a gifted comedian. He had pitch perfect timing. His comedy skits in the saloon show had people laughing until they cried. He was tall, about six three, and had long blonde hair. Now that I think of it, he reminds me of the actor Jack McBrayer.

One day Ed headed out to the back of town where we conducted the Kentucky long rifle show. Most of the rest of the cast were sitting around on the front porch of the saloon “dressing the town” as the producer who paid our salaries liked to call it. We were laughing and joking, waiting for the inevitable boom from the blank shot. When it came, it sounded a little louder than usual but we continued talking among ourselves. We knew that we had about another fifteen minutes before the end of the show when the audience would troupe back to the middle of town for a gunfight and a saloon show.

Antique Kentucky long rifles are valuable. In the interest of profitability the theme park management had decided to purchase inexpensive Italian replicas of the Kentucky long rifle. It was not unheard of for there to be incidents with them so we had several of them on hand. As we were standing on the porch talking one of the gunfighters pointed at the path from the Kentucky long rifle area. Running at full speed toward us was Ed. His hands and face were smudged black. Someone yelled, “Oh my god! Ed’s shot a tourist!”

In fact, he had not. In fact, the barrel of the cheap Italian replica had split with Ed standing right next to it as the tourist shot it. Everyone was no worse for the wear but after we determined that no one was hurt we all laughed so hard that we had to hold our sides. Ed’s timing had delivered a perfect slapstick performance once again.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.