Southeastern Cowboy Festival and Symposium gives visitors bird's-eye view of old West
by Marie Nesmith
Oct 24, 2010 | 2100 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The eighth-annual Southeastern Cowboy Festival and Symposium included re-enactments of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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From toddlers to senior citizens, spectators of all ages were captivated by Saturday's re-enactment of the 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Held on the grounds of the Booth Western Art Museum, the Shadows of the Past re-enactor's 11 a.m. performance was the first of five portrayals of the notorious gunfight during the eighth-annual Southeastern Cowboy Festival and Symposium, with two scheduled for today at 1 and 3 p.m.

"We have tried to give people an absolutely correct, historic recreation of probably the most famous shootout in Western history," said Booth Director of Special Projects/Historian Jim Dunham, who narrated and wrote the script, basing it on testimony from the trial that followed the Tombstone, Arizona Territory, gunfight. "The real gunfight took 30 seconds. Three men were killed, three men were wounded and three men ran away. What I do is I turn it into a half-hour program.

"So I spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes talking about what led up to it, the reasons for the conflict and why it happened and then I talk about what happened. Then we actually run through it in slow motion to let everybody see where people stood, where they moved, who said what and who fired when. We run it completely in slow motion with no noise and then we run it at full speed with blank ammunition to give people a sense of what it was like [during] these 30 seconds when men shot at each other and lived and died. Then we talk about the aftermath. So you really get the real bird's-eye view of a historical event in a way that almost nobody ever does [because] most of these [types of] programs don't ever go into that kind of depth."

The public's interest concerning the shootout -- that turned the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday into legendary figures -- along with the script's attention to detail, Dunham said combines to make it one of the most popular offerings during the four-day festival, which wraps up today.

"We fill the seats completely," he said. "Everybody's walking around until they announce the gunfight and then 'bang' all of a sudden, everybody's in the seats. They want to see what's going to happen. It's been standing room only every time we've done it and we'll do it five times on the weekend."

The re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is one component of the Festival and Symposium, which celebrates the American West through art lectures, music, demonstrations and children's activities.

"People get a wonderful taste of what Western life might have been like or is like through the collection in the museum," Booth Executive Director Seth Hopkins said. "But through the Festival and Symposium and then also the gathering that we do in the spring, there's the opportunity to sort of broaden that experience a lot more and have people experience the music and the poetry and then the living history aspects of the West that we do during the festival and the symposium.

"The re-enactors of the gunfight, the Indian dancing and the living history encampment, all of those things really bring the stories that are in the art to life. ... And I think it goes both ways -- it gives [people] a greater understanding of what happened [and] of what the West was like but it also makes the art become even more alive. When they come back to the museum to the art collection, they can say, 'Oh, I've seen that in person before or I know what that looks like or feels like.' So it kind of goes both ways in deepening the experience with the collection."

Throughout the festival, which started on Thursday, Hopkins expects nearly 6,000 people to visit the Booth museum. Open since 2003, the Booth houses the largest permanent exhibition of Western art in the country. With the 120,000-square-foot museum averaging about 40,000 visitors each year, the venue has attracted 265,000 patrons from across the nation.

For first-time guest, Cedartown resident Rita Britt, the Festival and Symposium was the ideal opportunity for her family to visit the Cartersville venue.

"We brought [our] grandchildren over so they could see things [and how life] used to be like in the probably late 1800s," said Britt, who was accompanied by her husband, Tommy, and two grandchildren: Ashley and Britt Baxter. "We showed them the spinning [demonstrations]. We have shown them the cotton fields as we were [traveling] one day, so they know what cotton [is] and [the demonstrators] showed them how they used to spin their own yarn. Then when we finished doing that we came out and talked about how they had to cook on the open fires when the cowboys were doing their roundups and now we're learning how they used to take rocks [and] sharpen them down so they can make arrows.

"I had just never been [to the Booth] and we thought it would be a good day to bring the children over since they were having the festival. So we are going to do these activities, then we're going to go the museum."

Participating at the event since its inception, spinning demonstrator Leslie Bronson finds that talking to young patrons like Ashley and Britt Baxter is one of the most enjoyable aspects about the festival.

"We had two kids here earlier and you can see their eyes light up when they see how the yarn really forms and that's why we do this," said Bronson, who was spinning cotton fibers grown in Taylorsville. "It's really something, and the adults too, but especially the kids. They wear clothing every day of course and they just don't know how it's made."

Today, the Festival and Symposium continues with Cowboy Church at 11 a.m. and activities on the museum's grounds at 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville from noon to 5 p.m. Some of the outdoor festivities include children's activities, medicine shows, re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, American Indian dances, live entertainment, Western art and collectibles, and living history encampments.

"The core activities for the festival -- the living history village, the gunfight re-enactment, the Native American dancing, the children's activities -- all of those go on both all day Saturday and Sunday," Hopkins said. "So it really doesn't matter if you come Saturday or Sunday, you get the same experience.

"So if you missed it on Saturday ... you can still come out Sunday and enjoy it. In fact on Sunday we actually have the Cowboy Church service that's at 11 that kicks off the day Sunday and that's something unique that's only on Sunday."

Admission to activities located inside the Booth and on its grounds will be $10 for adults, $8 for individuals 65 and older, $7 for students, $3 for children 12 and younger, and free for museum members and active military personnel with ID. For more information on the Festival and Symposium, contact the Booth at 770-387-1300 or visit