For many, “The Old West” is just the name of a rough-and-tumble time period that disappeared long ago as civilization improved. But for Jim Hunter, the Old West is still very much alive.
The Tooele man started an Old West reenactment group, called Six Gun For Hire, nine years ago in Shelton, Neb. He now hopes to bring the same style of group to Tooele County.
Hunter was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., but has lived in Shelton, Neb., for the past several years. He and his wife moved to Tooele just two weeks ago to be closer to their three daughters and grandchildren. Now that he’s settling in, the man hopes that locals will also have an appreciation for the Old West and plans to bring back Six Gun For Hire once again.
“What got me started in Old West reenactment is that there are a lot of Civil War reenactment groups out there, but not that many Old West groups,” he said. “I chose a time period from 1865 to 1900, and figured that would cover the generalized area of Old West cowboys. History is a hobby of mine, and a lot of people don’t realize that Hollywood has romanticized the cowboy. The simple truth is that back in the Old West, cowboys were different. They were riffraff and troublemakers.”
In 2004, Hunter advertised through local newspapers, television and posters in Shelton, and after a short time, was able to start the reenactment group. When he left, the group had 12 members who put on shows for everyone from the governor of Nebraska to groups of children at county fairs.
“We did reenactments of historical events and told stories about people from the Old West,” he said. “I like to put on shows where people know a little about the person or event we’re portraying. I have played Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and Jim Bridger.”
Hunter said he’s always used real guns in his shows, but uses blank ammunition in them.
“We have a strict safety code, because Six Gun For Hire is an LLC and is insured,” he said. “Because of our strict code and always having a safety officer at our shows, no one has ever been hurt.”
Hunter said in Nebraska, the group had a safety officer — a member of the group that had in-depth knowledge of firearms — who would make sure the safety code was followed at all times.
“The safety officer has a final say over everything that’s done,” he said. “There is no appeal to what the safety officer says, and that includes me. Our safety code is three pages long and I’m pretty proud of our safe reputation.”
In addition, Hunter said any show they put on that had children in attendance would begin with a gun safety talk.
“We gather the young people around and we ask them to raise their right hand and solemnly swear that if they find a gun at home or at a friend’s home, they will not touch it,” he said. “They swear they will find an adult and let the adult put the gun away safely. Then they get a badge.”
Hunter said requirements for people who want to be a part of the group include being at least 18 years of age, having an in-depth knowledge of firearms and how to use them. They must also provide a gun purchase permit showing a background check has been done before purchasing a gun, and agree to not smoke during reenactment shows if they are a smoker. In addition to actors, Hunter is also looking for a new safety officer.
“We write our own skits, but there is no fake blood or gore, and there is no foul language,” he said. “Also, nobody else is allowed to touch your weapon except a uniformed police officer or our safety officer. There are no membership fees or dues. This is all on a volunteer basis.”
In the past, Hunter’s group performed at fundraisers, state and county fairs, community events, political rallies and historical events. He hopes to be able to do the same in Tooele County and across the state.
“I am also known as a storyteller,” he said. “I don’t want to just put on a show. I like to walk around and visit with people in between shows so they can take pictures and ask questions. You really have to get into character and make it fun for people.”
Hunter said those in the group will be expected to dress in period clothing to make sure the shows are as authentic as possible.
“I myself have hair down to my shoulders and a handlebar mustache and goatee,” he said. “I get some weird looks around Tooele, but that’s OK. A lady will pass me, and I will tip my hat and say ‘ma’am.’ I will dress up in my outfit and will go around town. I just have a lot of fun with it. I’m keeping the history of this country alive.”
Hunter said as soon as he develops enough interest to start the group again, they’ll practice and prepare to do shows. Until then, he’s available for solo performances.
For more information on Six Gun For Hire or to join the group, call Hunter at (308) 280-0602 or visit www.sixgunforhire.com.
“People enjoy Old West history,” he said. “I think they literally have a love affair with it. I’m just trying to keep that history alive and as accurate as possible.”