Cody “Gunfighters” Take a One-Season Hiatus

cody gunfightersOn July 29, a fool participating in one of the Cody Gunfighters’ Old West shows in Cody, Wyoming, fired a cylinder of live cap-and-ball shots, fortunately missing the guys playing the other side of the gunfight, but unfortunately hitting not one but three spectators.

It was not the first incident in the long-running open-air Western entertainment, but the first in a long time. In 1983 Thornton “Todd” Darr was wounded in the hand by a blank at contact range; in 1988 Dave Boehm lost most of the sight of an eye from some blank-launched flying particle. These accidents led to a time-out; the current iteration of the Gunfighters seems to date to 1996.

The July incident is still under investigation, the Cody Enterprise reports.

Malfunctioning blanks weren’t the problem in July, however. The performer who shot the live rounds grabbed the wrong cylinder, one he normally used for target shooting, and it was loaded.

That gun, which has been sent to the state crime lab for testing, was a cap and ball type. Baker said he still has not received results of the testing. The Cody Police Department report of the incident will not be released until Baker has received the crime lab’s report.

Cap and ball revolvers don’t use modern brass cartridges, but instead use black powder loaded through the muzzle with lead round balls ramrodded on top of the charge. There is no commercially manufactured blank round for this type of gun.

While a favorite of many re-enactors, the design of cap and ball revolvers means this type of gun isn’t as easy to check for live ammunition as a brass cartridge revolver. That’s in part because cap and ball revolvers are susceptible to a dangerous condition known as chain firing. Chain firing occurs when sparks from the cylinder intended to be fired ignites black powder residue in an adjoining cylinder. This can cause the second cylinder to fire accidentally.

The writer is trying here, but he’s crossed up the concepts “cylinder,” the thing on the revolver that holds all the chambers, and “chamber,” the hole bored in the cylinder that holds a single individual cartridge or (on muzzle-loading cap-and-ball revolvers) charge. Still, he or she is trying.

To prevent chain firing, many shooters add grease to the cylinder, covering the roundball. This prevents the spark from following the powder train into another cylinder.

Again, read “chamber” for “cylinder” in the line above… and in the line below.

Unfortunately, the grease also makes it difficult to tell with a visual inspection whether there is a roundball in the cylinder. The shooter has to instead push a pin through the  grease to detect the ball beneath.

All this means the iconic cap and ball revolver, with its distinctive profile shaped by the ramrod mounted under the barrel – a gun so prized by many aficionados of classic Old West firearms – will no longer be used in the show.

The popular show will now continue with cartridge firearms only, and with blanks supplied by the show managers only.

Facing new safety guidelines imposed by the City after a July performance went awry, a spokesman for the Cody Gunfighters said the group’s shows won’t resume in 2016.

Richard Muscio, a founding member and past president of Cody Gunfighters, said the group needs more time to be in compliance with the guidelines….

 The Gunfighters do intend to be back in the summer of 2017 with a revised show.

The Cody Gunfighters carry $2 million in liability insurance.

31 thoughts on “Cody “Gunfighters” Take a One-Season Hiatus

    1. Hognose Post author

      I recall this, now, vaguely. Four time convicted felon!
      http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/re-enactor-faces-years-in-prison-for-hill-city-shooting/article_f5e38c1a-3c01-11e1-b185-0019bb2963f4.html

      Well, five time, counting this incident.

      He was sentenced to 90 months in Club Fed, and $45k in restitution, for evidence tampering (hiding his casings and live ammo). He appealed and the prison sentence was upheld, but the restitution order was sent back to the court, to reconsider his inability to pay from his location in custody.

      http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca8/13-2564/13-2564-2014-07-16.html

      The original story that you linked, Raoul, includes the safety precautions used in a similar show in Deadwood, which sounds like it might be closer to Best Practices… I have no faith in the ability of a bunch of lawyers in robes to develop a safety protocol.

      1. Raoul Duke

        Interestingly, I’d witnessed both the Hill City and Deadwood re-enactments first hand, pre-incident.

        The Deadwood one was entertaining, and went about like the story said; limited gunfire and aiming the weapons in safe directions during firing.

        The Hill City one made me cringe and want to hide behind a building corner. Plus, most of the participants seemed like they were intoxicated.

      2. Claypigeonshooter

        Deadwood is just a bunch of gambling halls and nothing remotely interesting other than the spot marked where Wild Bill Hickok was shot.

        1. ToastieTheCoastie

          The Black Hills would be a really beautiful place if it weren’t for all the billboards and tourist traps that choke the roads, but there are a few places where you can get off the beaten path. Deadwood is ok for what it is, but no need to spend more than an afternoon there.

          1. Loren

            You ought to try being there during Sturgis week as we were. It was an anniversary year too. 16 bazillion Harleys ALL in one spot. (maybe just 1.4 million, but it seemed like more).
            Funny thing was there were almost no cops – or trouble either. Compare that to Chicago on any given day. Wonder if that had something to do with demographics?

          2. Raoul Duke

            It doesn’t take much to find the real Black Hills, even at the height of tourist season. Once you hit the gravel roads or the trails, the RV’s and rentals melt away, and you are by yourself.

            It doesn’t take much hiking to find old cabins, mines, and relics of the past. The place is chock-full of them.

          3. Mr. 308

            We loved it out there, yes there is a lot of touristy crap but it can be ignored at least a bit.

            Worth mentioning, if you haven’t seen it, the HBO series Deadwood is some of the best TV that can be seen. Well worth a watch.

  1. Matt

    One of my favorite towns. I’m very sorry to hear about this. Going to cartridge only weapons is probably a good idea, if possibly less authentic.

  2. John M.

    I can think of numerous ways this could have been prevented, starting with “don’t use your show revolver for target shooting!!!”

    -John M.

    1. Tierlieb

      Yup, a show revolver with a bar welded into the barrel would be one. Marked as such. Does not need to be obvious – show revolvers could be stainless (or “dishwasher-proof” as some CAS friends call them), target ones blued.
      Hell, you could use different types or revolvers or different calibers.
      Or you could simply engrave them. Or use different grips.
      Same with cylinders: Different colors or engravings.
      Simple best practices.

      1. DSM

        Exactly. Hindsight is always 20/20 but using a “show pistol” for live ammo was stupid. I can appreciate the expense of owning two of something so the marking of the spare cylinders probably would have sufficed if not the best solution.

        1. John M.

          If you think owning two revolvers is expensive, you should check the bill for shooting three people and then having your show shut down for 12 months.

          Quality is free.

          -John M.

  3. LSWCHP

    I’ve fired a lot of guns in my time using both live and blank ammunition. In my experience, blanks just go bang whereas live ammunition makes a hugely bigger bang and recoils noticeably. This is why the whole firing squad saga where some guys get live ammo and some get blanks has always seemed bogus to me. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between say a 30-06 blank and the real thing has no business pressing a trigger.

    I’ve fired actual balls through black powder handguns, and they have a helluva “big slow shove” recoil characteristic which takes a lot to recover from after each shot. How could the shooter not have noticed the presence of recoil and stopped after the first shot, particularly given that these are slow to operate single action guns and he claims to be a target shooter? Unless he hit 3 people with one shot perhaps?

    I dunno…like so many posts on WM, it’s hard to believe this actually happened.

    1. LSWCHP

      Oh, Hognose that last line didn’t read like what I meant. I don’t mean I doubt the veracity of the stories…just the intellects of those involved in them!

    2. Tierlieb

      “Anyone who can’t tell the difference between say a 30-06 blank and the real thing has no business pressing a trigger.”

      Interesting, I used to think the same. Great minds think about firing squads all time, right? My thoughts have changed a bit, though:
      I haven’t been on a firing squad yet (and me being me, I bet if I ever do, I’ll be on the end that does not get a rifle at all). But I think even under the low stress of competition I have actually missed a squib load in my handgun, tap&racked it and actually shot it out with the next round. And on an empty AK, I’ve pressed the trigger more than once until I realized it was empty. And I am used to react properly to both sounds in practice but messed it up under stress. I guess the stress on a firing squad is worse than that.

      Then again, I would never hand out blanks in that situation anyway. I might tell my soldiers that to ease their conscience, but for the sake of the victim I’d make sure than they get shot more than once. Lying is a good thing in such circumstances, I think – I remember a story from Russia, where doctors were allegedly successful curing alcoholics by injecting them with a placebo and telling them this would make sure the next drink wold kill them. Worked for all but the suicidal ones, which then drank themselves to death (perpetuating the useful myth, I hope)

  4. Martin S

    Considering the sequence that led up to the death of Brandon Lee back in the day, I’d have expected better safety measures in place. Poor drills.

  5. Claypigeonshooter

    Wonder if that was the same group I saw in Cody about 6 years ago just out side the hotel. You’d think they would load cylinders immediately before each show and make sure bullets are not nearby if Identifying live vs. blank cylinders is difficult. If I remember right the show was a comedy more than anything historical.

  6. looserounds.com

    How the hell did this dipshit not immediately feel and hear something wrong with the first round fired?
    If the person was using live loads for live fire practice, it is safe to assume said person knew the difference in feel from a blank and a charge with ball.

  7. Aesop

    The sum of human intelligence is a fixed integer; the population is increasing.

    Notably, there is no IQ test for these re-enacting groups.
    That should be the first clue that Something Bad Is Going To Happen, Eventually.

    The simple expedient of simply not using revolvers (or cylinders) capable of live fire would seem to be a literal no-brainer.
    If you aren’t smart enough to do that, or plead poverty as an excuse that would allow the above-noted tragedy of stupidity, you’re too poor, both financially and in wits, to play at that table.

    Easy peasey.

    There’s a reason stage actors use blunted fencing implements, and it’s the same reason handing an actor (even one in a two-bit horse opera in a one-stoplight town) a loaded weapon – even with blanks – borders on criminal negligence.

    Brandon Lee and John-Erik Hexum both say “Hi”.

  8. 11B-Mailclerk

    (facepalm)

    OK. The original post cites an event that is truly “radioactive stupid”.

    On a few occasions, I helped my Father run “force on force” training in a law Enforcement environment, using Simunitions brand marking cartridges and weapons modified to fire them.

    -We- supplied all weapons and ammunition. Exercise weapons were clearly marked.

    No -live- weapons or ammo were permitted in the exercise area.

    -All- participants were -thouroughly- frisked prior to participating. Your significant other does not normally handle you that thouroughly.

    First minor “what have we here?” found at frisk and you had to participate in your boxers. Second minor offence, or anything that went “boom” and you were DQ-ed and sent away to grow up.

    Role players were armed by a weapons person, who supervised issuance of exercise arms and ammo. We cross-checked each other on reloads.

    The subjects of the exercise were handed the weapon and told to holster it, they were not permitted to even cycle the things until the stuff hit the fan. Familiarization with the gear was done with samples not used in the exercise, and outside the exercise area.

    The above may seem … excessive. However, at one event I observed 14 (of ~75), upon observing the nature of the frisk, promptly return to a vehicle to drop off whatever they had “forgotten”. One person did so -three times- before presenting himself for the frisk.

    Different topic: There are available for sale blank-firing non-gun props of Old West guns. The barrel is solid, and what would normally be a forcing cone is a wedge shape pointed at the non-steel cylinder. If you somehow force an odd live round into the odd shaped chamber, and the weak cylinder doesn’t burst, the bullet hits a chisel and goes two different sideways. Blank blast is thus also sideways. No muzzle blast at all.

    Inexcusable, radioactive stupid!

  9. TicTac

    I was a civil war reenactor in my teens, a long time ago now… Anyway, we used to have weapons inspected before the battles. With muzzle-loading arms (the 1853 Enfield and 1861 or 1863 Springfield most commonly) as part of the inspection a ramrod would be dropped down the bore. It should drop almost all the way in and bounce off the breech plug with an audible “PING” if there is nothing else in there. Once, the rifle of the guy next to me in line went “thud” instead. We used a worm to extract what turned out to be several thin skirt pieces of a Minié ball wedged together. Enough to nearly equal the weight of a whole bullet. There was a very small opening through the center, it being basically a stack of rings, and this was the only reason it hadn’t yet been fired with a blank charge. The guy used it for hunting as well as reenacting. His weapon was sidelined.
    It was my last reenactment.
    I always remember George Carlin’s line,Think of how stupid the average person is, and then remember that half of them are dumber than that!”

    1. 11B-Mailclerk

      The simple rule of “Don’t point the prop guns at the real folks” helps prevent the rule 1 and rule 2 mishaps.

      It is still a gun. Duh.

  10. Docduracoat

    The felon re enactor was just sentenced to 7.5 years as part of a plea bargain on an evidence tampering charge.
    He also has to pay restitution to the three gunshot victims

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