Cowboys take over museum
If one had somehow awoken from a deep sleep on May 22 at the Kern County Museum, it would have seemed like they had been transported back to a time when the frontier was untamed and everything seemed to be cooked in a pot over a camp fire. Once a year the museum invites visitors to relive the Old West in what can be described as a day in the life of those who settled the frontier — the cowboys. Known as the Western Heritage Festival, the museum became home to dozens of 21st Century cowboys who still carry on the traditions of their counterparts from the 1800s.
It started with the spectacular Parade of Cowboys, featuring the famous Wells Fargo Stage Coach, cowboys in beaded and fringed outfits with horses to match, as well as those wearing the everyday attire that a westerner of two centuries ago displayed in the general store or out on the prairie. Western Heritage Festival presented history as though it was happening right now. Typical of that were re-enactments of Old West incidents that really occurred on the streets of Bakersfield, such as a mock shootout with outlaw Jim McKinney and local lawmen.
Yet, the shootout was only a grain in the history of what went into the settling of Kern County. Present were those who could demonstrate the music, literature and craftsmanship that inspired, calmed and entertained those of yesteryear and continues to do so today. You didn’t have to be born on a ranch or grow up in a rural community to appreciate Lafitte, a magician who spun tales of the Old West while amazing onlookers with his slight of hand. Certainly, there are few around who can duplicate Sourdough Slim’s claim to fame — a yodeling, cowboy singer/comedian who had young and old alternately applauding and laughing. Benny Martinez had young children, senior citizens and everyone in between gazing in amazement, awed by his ability to perform trick roping while riding his wonder horse, Napoleon.
While the novelty performers certainly drew their share of attention, so, too, did the more traditional, such as the Buckaroo Balladeers — a duo offering everything from ballads to folk humor — making one wonder what life as a stand up comic in the 1800s must have been like. Dave Stamey was living proof to visitors that what was good back then is still popular today, as he belted out a succession of songs that have made him Western Music Association Male Performer of the Year.
What many who attended the day-long event came to realize was that the cowboy has produced his fair share of writers who, through poetry and music, have been responsible for chronicling the history of the Old West. Some of the best — Randy Hamill, Rick Clark, Bud Karrer, Molly Flannagan and Pat Richardson displayed their talents at Western Heritage Festival.
Besides being entertained by what they saw, children were given the interactive opportunity to join right in to find for themselves what it was like to be a cowboy. For years, Jim Brooks has been coming to the festival to teach youngsters the art of calf roping. His version is safe. No live cows. Children just had to try to rope a still elusive wooden sawhorse that bore a resemblance to a calf. Then, the young ones could enter themselves in the “Little Range Riders Roping Contest.”
Adults had their professional event — a mounted horse shooting competition — combining the difficulty of guiding a racing horse with the accuracy of hitting targets on the move.
Exhibits of rope and saddle making grabbed the attention of the curious.
“Western Heritage Festival 2004 was wonderful,” said Lana Fain, museum program manager. “Our Frontier Life area was very popular and people were able to take a step back in time and have a hands-on experience with life as it was then. Of course, the cowboys were the hit of the day and gave us that Old West ambience that made the perfect back drop. It’s always rewarding to be able to present the history of Kern County in an enjoyable manner where young and old alike can learn and have a lot of fun at the same time. Hopefully, the public will see what our docents and interpreters do at the museum and come out and sign up as a volunteer.”
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