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. "Its something to draw the
tourists. If you can get the right reaction from the crowd, youre doing something
Walt Cochran, leader of the Blackjack Ketchum Shootout
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Prepare yourselves for a kinder, gentler shootout.
The Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang is on the rebound, returning to this
years 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 Ketchums Wagon Days
festivities, attempted to oust the shootout from the holiday weekend. Now, the gang is
gearing up for what the groups leader, Walt Cochran, says will be the best
performances the groups ever put on.
"Im looking forward to it, and I think its going to be
better than weve ever had," he said.
Cochran wouldnt disclose any details about the shootouts
rewritten script, merely saying its "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 didnt change the story "at all."
"I certainly wanted to take some of the gratuitous violence
out," she said.
Rewriting the script didnt 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 gangs 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 Novembers
city council election, and the tally was overwhelmingly in favor562 to 173of
keeping the shootout.
"I was told that [last years Wagon Days shootout] was going to
be the last year," said Cochran, whos been part of the shootout since it began
in 1962. "I didnt argue. I just went to the group and said this is going to be
the last one. I was kind of so what. Id been doing it for so many years.
I wasnt ready to put up a fight."
The groups members, however, were ready to protest, and protest they
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.
"Its something to draw the tourists. If you can get the right
reaction from the crowd, youre doing something right," Cochran said.
Cochran provided some insight to the events past.
"The first year, it wasnt 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 Ketchums 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 nations 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
The Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang will take its show to Ketchums
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.