Gunslingers draw upon Bonanza location |

Gunslingers draw upon Bonanza location

Rick Chandler

He’s short. He’s mean. He’s heavily armed. Dylan Maxmean rode onto the Ponderosa Ranch on Saturday looking for trouble, and he found it.

The gunplay was fast and furious, and several desperadoes bit the dust. But not Dylan – he escaped unscathed. He’s tough. He’s fast. He’s six years old.

“Kids like him are one of the reasons we’re out here today,” said John Crandall, one of the participants in the Western Regional Grand National Gunfight and Stunt Group Championships over the weekend at Incline Village. “People think we’re just here to play cowboy, but in reality we have a gun safety demonstration that lasts longer than the actual skits.”

Four Best of the West gunfight groups converged on the Ponderosa Ranch to shoot it out for the Western Regional Title, with the winner, which had not been announced by press time, moving on to the National Championships in Texas.

The competition consists of 15-minute skits, in which groups of two to 14 people shout, curse and shoot it out in Old West re-enactments – some based on actual historical gunfights. The event was sponsored by the Old West Living History Foundation.

And it was all part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the television show “Bonanza,” which included the Bonanza Convention at the Tahoe Biltmore Hotel in Crystal Bay, and several ancillary events at the Ponderosa, Zephyr Cove and Virginia City.

“Bonanza touched a nerve in America because of the family values it represented,” said Nancy Greene, widow of the late Lorne Green. The Incline Village resident was at the Ponderosa on Saturday.

“In the 1960s, I remember we would get letters from abused children who said that Ben Cartwright was the only thing they could believe in,” she said.

The Cartwrights are gone, but their spirit lives on with these Old West re-creationists. They’re the real thing, from period dress to the values they represent. And what better place to play cowboy than at the Ponderosa Ranch, on the 40th anniversary of the debut of “Bonanza?”

The gunfighters laid it on thick on Saturday, and the hundreds of “Bonanza” fans lapped it up. But the day wasn’t just about shooting and falling down, according to one of the organizers.

“This is a great way to get the word out about gun safety,” said Bob Gillott of Virginia City, aka “Pronto Pike” – the Southcentral Regional Director of the Old West Living History Foundation and the president of Nevada Gunfighters Inc., which co-hosted the weekend event.

“We put on a gun safety show before every skit, teaching kids what a gun can actually do. We tell them that even blanks can hurt you.”

Or listen to John Crandall, U.S. Marshal. Crandall is the law in the fictitious town of Rimfire – a portable town consisting of a jail, bank and saloon, which is constructed of 4-foot by 8-foot sections and hauled all over California and Nevada for shoot-’em-up shows.

But in Crandall’s town, there is also a message.

“Gun safety is very important to us,” he said. “We don’t take a political stance on gun ownership laws, but we do think that it’s important to teach kids about gun safety. We teach kids from preschool to sixth grade what to do if they find a gun at school, or if they see someone who has a gun.”

Working with the Old West Living History Foundation and Crandall’s group, Nevada Bell and the Bank of America have set up a special 202 emergency line, which children can use to call if they see a gun at school.

“The 202 number works just like 911. It’s free, and it’s confidential,” said Crandall, a retired New York City police officer who received his firearms training at the FBI training facility in Quantico, Va. “We think that it’s a shame that all of these young kids are getting shot and killed in school, and we think that firearms education is the key to help solve the problem.”

But these gunfighters are so skilled at it that children in the crowd didn’t even know there was instruction going on. The groups – such as Sierra Nevada Guns of the West, Pistols and Petticoats and Spirits of the Old West – are as adept at character development as they are at gunplay. And they are all good at incorporating humor into the act; an ingredient prized by the judges.

Call them short morality plays, just like TV’s “Bonanza.” Dylan Maxmean, of Reno, is too young to have seen the show during its original run, but even he has been touched by it.

“Some things never die,” said Mrs. Green. “Lorne would be so proud.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


See more