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Reach for the sky
You don't need to be an Old West enthusiast to let the lead fly. You just need to join a gunslinging re-enactment group.
That's the word from a small group of Yuma-area residents who like to dress up as rough and ready cowboys, nasty outlaws, audacious saloon gals, and have colorful names such as Johnny Gringo, Crazy Cora, Honest Sancho and Ino Bravo,
“I think the reason I do this is because I never grew up,” said Jesse Torres, who is a co-founder of the group Los Comancheros. “I enjoy it. It is also a stress reliever. This is my way to unwind.”
Phillip Martinez, who co-founded the group with Torres, expressed a similar reason for his affection for the activity, adding that it is a also very fun hobby.
“I enjoy being in front of people and entertaining them,” said Martinez, who can still be seen in a TV commercial made a few years ago to promote the annual Gathering of the Gunfighters event that is each year in January at the Yuma Territorial Prison.
While many groups have come and gone throughout the years, Torres said almost all of them can trace their roots back to the Jaycee Vigilantes, who were well known many years ago for arresting people who weren't dressed up in western wear as part of the week-long buildup to the Silver Spur Rodeo.
There are only three groups currently active in the Yuma area, including Los Comancheros, which Torres said has been together for nearly three years. The other two are the Colorado River Riders and the Deguello Gunslingers.
“What often happens within groups is that personalities clash and people have creative differences,” Torres said. “Each group has their own way of doing things and if you fit in with that group you will have a great time.”
For Michael Reynard, who has been involved in Old West re-enactments for 13 years, it is not about the competition, it is about spending time with others who share a similar passion.
“I go for the camaraderie,” Reynard said. “It's fun and I still like playing Cowboys and Indians.”
Reynard is a member of all three of the groups that are active in Yuma. He explained that as an over-the-road truck driver, he doesn't have a lot of free time, but usually one of the groups has something going on that he can participate in when he is home.
Like some hobbies, Torres warns that being in a group can also be a very expensive one, especially when it comes to the clothing and firearms. He explained that authenticity is a big part of what a group does, with costumes set in the time period between 1860 and 1899.
For example, group member Laura Guzman spent $300 on her costume. The guns, he said, can cost upward of a couple hundred dollars.
The re-enactment season begins in late September and early October and usually lasts through April. While the group does compete in some local competitions, Torres said they mostly appear in parades and perform at private parties.
In March, Los Comancheros took first place in the “Best of Show” category in the Imperial Fair Parade. They also took first place in the “Novelty Group” at last year's Silver Spur Rodeo Parade. Future plans include them marching in next year's Fiesta Bowl Parade.
Being a small group, Torres said, actually helps them out when it comes to developing ideas for skits, because it is easier for them to talk about what they would like to do.
“We like to throw out ideas amongst the group and go from there,” Torres said. “Once we have an idea, we go with it and have fun with it.”
The group has already developed a skit about a bank robbery, one about free-range chickens and one about easy-lift saddles, which are for cowboys who can't get up on their horses anymore.
Reynard said although their weapons fire blanks, the group will also do a safety demonstration before each of their shows that illustrates just how dangerous the skits they are performing can be. He explained that even though they do not use live rounds, depending on the caliber of the weapon, the concussive blast can still severely injure someone or even kill them.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.