Don't accuse Spanish Pecos of card-cheating unless you're readyto rest at Boot Hill.
He'll whip out his single-action pistol, plug everything insight, then ride off into the sunset on a stick horse. Yes, a stickhorse.
Spanish Pecos is Mike Canas, a graying Spaniard, soccer masterand marksman. He pulls out his buckskins and lever-action rifleseveral times a year to re-enact the rowdiest American cowboy days.
'Who hasn't heard of John Wayne?' says Mike, who lives in Coeurd'Alene now. 'A lot of Europeans - not me, but others - know moreabout the Old West than Americans do.'
Spanish Pecos will storm into Farragut State Park later this weekfor the eighth annual Great Northern Old West Encampment. He'll join230 other cowboys toting 19th century firearms.
For four days, they'll shoot bad guys and shoot the bull, eatbarbecue and learn bullwhip tricks. They'll wear leather fringe,black frock coats and bandannas. They'll do-si-do with women incalico, wax their mustaches and check their pocket watches.
'People come who have never fired a firearm of any kind,' saysDennis Mader, the shootout's founder. 'They're joining for thecolor. People are realizing that history is being lost.'
Dennis helped start shoot-'em-up re-enactments 21 years ago. Hisboyhood heroes were Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. He grew upwearing cowboy boots.
He shot muzzle-loaders and pistols, but neither sport was'cowboy.' So Dennis came up with his own event.
He and three friends organized a shoot in California that spoofedserious pistol groups. They dressed as cowboys and fired single-action guns that had to be cocked by hand. Balloons and wood cutoutswere their targets.
It was just for fun, and others wanted to play.
Dennis set rules for his second shoot. Participants wore 19thcentury costumes and Western personas. They shot pre-20th centurysingle-action guns - antiques or replicas. Dennis shot as DocHolliday. The rules stuck.
In 1984, he helped start the Single-Action Shooting Society tooversee the cowboy events.
Dennis moved to Coeur d'Alene in 1990 and found few single-action shooters. He rounded them up, one by one, until he figured hehad enough interest to try a shootout.
Sixty-five shooters in full cowboy regalia showed up at the firstPanhandle shootout at Farragut in 1993.
The event grew to include dancing, barbecue, vendors, exhibitsand a costume contest. Last year, the shootout drew 189 costumedparticipants and 1,500 spectators.
Ralph and Joanne Heinz judged costumes at last year's event.They're history buffs in Newport, Wash., and recreate the era of theIndian wars in the West for schoolchildren.
After the shootout, Ralph joined the Single Action ShootingSociety.
'I have no interest in shooting. I was a pro,' he says. He's aVietnam veteran. 'But I love the history.'
This year, Ralph and Joanne will put on two hour-long programs atFarragut. He'll come as a sergeant in the Seventh Cavalry in 1876 -the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. She'll come as anArmy post laundress and an officer's wife.
Their participation inspired Dennis to change the event's namefrom shootout to Old West Encampment.
'I find shooters are getting more interested in history,' hesays. 'Seventy to 80 percent pick aliases that are historicallybased.'
They research their characters down to the grittiest details.Dennis, who's 58, allowed someone to 'kill' him as Wild Bill Hickoka few years ago because Wild Bill died at 39. Now, Dennis is WesTerner, a composite character based on movie cowboys.
He expects a posse of cowboys this year, shooting real leadbullets at balloon desperados and dashing past Western storefrontsto win points.
Cowboys act out a predetermined scene and shoot targetsassociated with the story. For example, a cowboy may be jailedunjustly and have to escape on a stick horse while shooting his wayout of town.
'It's historical and hysterical,' Dennis says.
But it's as safe as guns get. Participants load their weaponsbefore each event and unload immediately after.
Two sidebars appeared with the story:
1. IF YOU GO
The Great Northern Old West Encampment runs Thursday throughSunday in Farragut State Park's shooting range. Thursday's eventsinclude a pot shoot and a seminar on antique arms-loading.
Opening ceremonies start at 9 a.m Friday with horses, flags and ashot from a howitzer. Master bullwhip maker Joe Strain will performat noon. Ralph and Joanne Heinz will perform 'Men and Women in theFrontier Army' at 2 p.m.
On Saturday, the Heinzes will perform at noon and Joe Strain at 2p.m.
Shooting and costume contests will continue all weekend.
Admission is free, but Farragut charges a $3 park fee. Spectatorsare welcome, should bring ear and eye protection and park at ScottCamp. A stagecoach or mule-drawn haywagon will take visitors to theencampment.
For details, call 667-6047.
2. HELPING OUT
The shootout raises money for the Wishing Star Foundation.Wishing Star grants wishes for gravely ill children. About a dozenkids in North Idaho and Eastern Washington are on the waiting list.