Richard and Terri Brubaker have been learning a lot about western history while portraying a variety of characters based on historical events.
"During shows," Richard said, "we like to portray, as close as we can, what happened at an actual event during the 1870s or 1880s.
Settings are as you might find at Dodge City or Tombstone.
"We do this to, hopefully, re-educate people and keep the spirit of the Old West alive, and maybe make it interesting enough that kids will crack a book and find wow, this is more interesting than I thought."
Terri can be anyone she wants to be as long as she stays in a factual historical character. She plays a character that has developed from learning about her great-grandmother. Rocky Mountain Rose is a hard working woman from a Texas cattle ranch. Another character she plays is that of Black Rose, a card sharp (or card shark) riverboat gambler. Black Rose fleeces businessmen at their own game. And then she might be Francis, who came West to get away from an inappropriate relationship. Francis doesn't have a clue about life in the West.
Richard was introduced to reenactments by participating at Renaissance Fairs in southern California, following a childhood fantasy. Later, he decided to follow another dream and traded in his sword for a six-gun, a prop for the characters he plays. Richard has developed his main character from his great-grandfather who was Billy Harrell, a fighter in the Civil War. Richard calls himself Cap'n Billy, reenacting situations that may have occurred during his great-grandfather's lifetime. Or, hemight decide to put on a badge and become a sheriff. Another character is that of a Texas Ranger.
"We took Terri's mother, Lois Fritz, to an event for her very first time." Richard told. "She didn't know what to expect. By the time we left from the two-day event she had decided on her character — Widow Maud — and an idea for what she was going to wear and already was planning on what she could do and how she should act. She was hooked hard and became a member of RGA. It's one of those sports or hobbies that either bites and you love it or you don't want anything to do with it."
Terri said you take on a different persona when you dress in character. "Authenticity is important though can be quite uncomfortable at times. Men often wore wool suits and women contended with tight corsets, long skirts, boots and more."
According to Richard, "The Reenacting Guild of America (RGA) is a worldwide organization. We, the members, are the actual owners of the insurance and that policy is effective when any member is taking part in reenactments.
"Safety rules are strict, extremely so. When we do gun fights, guns are loaded with blanks at a specific table that has an official present. Every morning we have what is called a 'splatter test'. We shoot at a paper plate 10 to 12 feet away. Powder residue on the plate disqualifies the member. That test takes place every morning before a show."
Blanks are powder with a stopper that burns up before it exits the barrel. When the primer hits it the powder explodes. It is all acting, like in Hollywood.
Every day, several times a day, safety demonstrations are given for the audience. They show what a blank will do. Gas and flame coming out the end of the barrel is still capable of shredding or cutting a can in half . . . a plastic jug when shot becomes small pieces like a mosaic. That is why The RGA has such a stringent safety policy.
When performing or walking the crowd, guns are safely tied down with a leather thong. During performances, a gun is never aimed directly at anyone. It's possible to appear as if the gun is aimed, though it isn't. Instead, it's aimed slightly to the left or right of any target.
Richard said, "Part of the demonstration tells children, "If you find a gun, don't touch it. Do not pick it up. Tell an adult. Even if loaded with a blank, you now know what it can do. Never play with a gun. You can't assume that it's not loaded. Don't touch it. This advice is stressed at every demonstration."
Most of the sketches are based on stories told of people who lived in the period when the west was in the process of being settled.
A number of skits do include gunfire and fist fights. These incidents are carefully choreographed and practiced.
Not every situation was settled with a gun or fist fight. There were lighter moments and comical situations that are fun to portray, fun for actors as well as the audience. Western pioneers worked hard and those lighter moments were vital.
Gatherings of RGA happen regularly, usually many miles away. It's difficult for the Brubakers to pack up and travel long distances to perform, though it is much like a family reunion when they are able to attend these events.
Both did attend Gathering of the Gun Fighters when RGA held its 15th annual event this past January in Yuma, Arizona. The gathering was held at the state prison converted into a museum with about 2,000 people attending. Visitors wandered in and out throughout the day. When not performing, the actors stayed in costume and character. They pose for photos and talk, and interact with visitors, giving additional opportunities for story telling about the early west. Visitors tell their stories too, often adding bits and pieces of information that can add to later sketches.
The main goal of RGA is education of history and education of safety. Programs are very family friendly. Reenactments, acted in first person and based on historical events, can help make history come alive, to breath, to add meaning to reading pages from a book.
Before moving to Colorado, Richard performed at Calico Ghost Town in California. Historical buildings are set out along the road and are much like Pioneer Town.
Both Richard and Terri think that Pioneer Town would be an ideal setting for some of the performances. They are hoping that Pioneer Town, schools, nursing homes, and other gatherings will be willing to provide local opportunities for RGA to reenact short programs. The contact number is (970) 872-3272 or e-mail to