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Wagon Days
For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Ketchum shootout revival

Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang makes a comeback

Cochran said the purpose of the shootout is not to make a statement about guns or the Wild West, but to entertain. "It’s something to draw the tourists. If you can get the right reaction from the crowd, you’re doing something right."

Walt Cochran, leader of the Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang

Express Staff Writer

Prepare yourselves for a kinder, gentler shootout.

The Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang is on the rebound, returning to this year’s Wagon Days festivities with a revised script.

The shootout achieved nationwide notoriety from the media last fall when the Wagon Days Committee, which organizes and oversees Ketchum’s Wagon Days festivities, attempted to oust the shootout from the holiday weekend. Now, the gang is gearing up for what the group’s leader, Walt Cochran, says will be the best performances the group’s ever put on.

"I’m looking forward to it, and I think it’s going to be better than we’ve ever had," he said.

Cochran wouldn’t disclose any details about the shootout’s rewritten script, merely saying it’s "a little bit new, a little bit old."

Ketchum theater aficionado Cathy Reinheimer, who helped rewrite the script, offered a smidgen more.

She said she put together what she thought were the best parts of the scripts from the past five years, but didn’t change the story "at all."

"I certainly wanted to take some of the gratuitous violence out," she said.

Rewriting the script didn’t come without some prodding, however.

Because the city of Ketchum technically owns the Big Hitch Parade, the issue last fall of ditching the gunslingers from Wagon Days was turned over to the Ketchum City Council, which eventually decided to keep the gang’s theatrics if members agreed to clean up their act.

The council originally solved the issue by passing the buck to Ketchum residents. An advisory ballot was put before Ketchum voters during last November’s city council election, and the tally was overwhelmingly in favor—562 to 173—of keeping the shootout.

"I was told that [last year’s Wagon Days shootout] was going to be the last year," said Cochran, who’s been part of the shootout since it began in 1962. "I didn’t argue. I just went to the group and said this is going to be the last one. I was kind of ‘so what.’ I’d been doing it for so many years. I wasn’t ready to put up a fight."

The group’s members, however, were ready to protest, and protest they did.

Several weeks later, shootout group members had amassed 2,762 petition signatures in favor of keeping the event. Those signatures, in part, prompted the city council to put the issue before the voters.

Cochran said the purpose of the shootout is not to make a statement about guns or the Wild West, but to entertain.

"It’s something to draw the tourists. If you can get the right reaction from the crowd, you’re doing something right," Cochran said.

Cochran provided some insight to the event’s past.

"The first year, it wasn’t really a shootout," he said, "but actually a [staged] hanging of outlaw Blackjack Ketchum."

Cochran said the shootout in 1963 had shows three times a week all summer long. In 1970, however, there was no Wagon Days parade or shootout because that was the year the state highway department ripped up and widened Ketchum’s Main Street.

As a result, Cochran said, the enthusiasm for the shootout from the Wagon Days Committee and the public waned.

In 1976, the year of the nation’s birthday, bicentennial funds became available along with local funding to rekindle the historical program.

"In 1976," Cochran said, "we started doing shootouts every Friday night from the first Friday after the Fourth of July to Labor Day, until 1982.

Cochran said the character that the Blackjack Ketchum Shootout was named after was actually a real-life, Wild West outlaw. Indeed, Blackjack was at one time part of the notorious Hole-In-The-Wall Gang of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which operated throughout the West, including southeastern Idaho.

Eventually, Cochran said, Blackjack was hanged in New Mexico for bank robbery.

The Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang will take its show to Ketchum’s Main Street on Friday at 7 p.m. in front of the Casino; and on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in front of the Pioneer Saloon, just before the Big Hitch Parade.


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