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For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000

Blackjack Shootout—new and improved?


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Rain, a bad accident and dispassionate acting turned this year’s Ketchum Blackjack shootout into a dismal affair.

The script itself was re-written, with the assistance of local acting coach Cathy Reinheimer. The play was narrated by Chris Milspaugh—the first time it has had a professional narrator. It was also the first time youngsters were included.

Called a new and improved version of the nearly four-decade-old event, the story is about a fictitious shootout in Ketchum, circa the 1890s. It involves a love triangle between Blackjack Ketchum, (a real bank robber associated with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), his wife Blackjack Nell and Indian Joe.

A poem, written in 1962 by Bill Roovaart, was based on the first Blackjack Ketchum shootout.

The plot includes a considerable amount of drinking. The last line of the poem says: "This time Nell put her money down on the best supply of hootch in town."

This year’s action appeared more clean-cut than in the past, when dance hall girls and drunk cowboy types would spill out of the Casino, not just in character, but clearly inebriated.

The cast members who in previous years had often been in the Pioneer downing some spirits prior to the shootout, this year weren’t.

"This year only one guy came in and threw back a shot of Jack. They’re not all drunk this year," Pioneer bartender Mark Wheaton said.

While outlandish behavior in the past was abetted by the morning’s preparations, it was amusing and kept the crowd entertained. This year, however, there appeared to be a palpable lack of connection between the audience and the players.

"The actors didn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the thing," said a spectator.

Though the rain and chilly temperatures limited the turnout of spectators by a few hundred, there was still a hearty crowd in attendance, resolutely braving the weather and looking forward to a fun day.

Many people crowded into Starbucks, on the corner of Main Street and Sun Valley Road, and watched from the window. Others watched from inside the Bank of America building and the Pioneer Saloon.

A woman in a voluminous yellow slicker who was watching the U.S. Open [tennis tournament] in the Pioneer during the shootout said, "It was corny and cute the old way."

A soaking wet girl, who has seen the shootout every year for the past eight years, and who thought there was more shooting this year, said, "it hurts my ears."

Though a Mountain Express reporter heard mostly bad reviews from other onlookers, Walt Cochran, the leader of the Blackjack Ketchum Shootout Gang, said he received many compliments on the new version of the shootout.

"We’ve been trying to make it better. It has been evolving for 30 some years," he said in a telephone interview.

He added that the "accident was tragic but I hope that they [the onlookers and parade organizers] don’t criticize us—it wasn’t part of us."

In fact, Cochran and his cohorts had done a pre-shootout safety demonstration regarding their guns and blanks.

"A blank can kill you," he said, if it goes off close enough to your body.

 

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