On 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.