The Daily Pulse:

The Golden-West Posse, and a brief guide to downtown's Wild West sites

Yesterday I walked out of my office for an afternoon walk and encountered five gentlemen convincingly dressed as cowboys. There were just enough of them to form a formidable escort to a Wells Fargo-style stagecoach, and in fact there was a small version of one illegally parked in front of the theater. They looked like a successful posse, kicking back and doing what cowboys do after the bad guys are all dead, swapping tall tales and guffawing. The arrangement of some of their facial hair suggested these personae were something more than a mere hobby. They were standing on the Gay Street sidewalk promoting what was coming up inside the Tennessee Theatre, that is, the Knoxville Opera's rare production, with real horses, of Girl of the Golden West. As it happens, it's sponsored by Wells Fargo.
Puccini's 1910 opera, also known as La Fanciulla del West, is the best-known opera about cowboys, maybe the best-known opera set in America. These cowpokes know a good deal more about six-shooters than sopranos, but they were appreciative that those singing fellers were putting it on. These five were members of the Oak Ridge Outlaws, a group that gets together at a shooting range in the atomic city once a month and shoots authentic guns. You can't join them unless you wear convincing Western wear.
I wasn't dressed so appropriately that day, but I stopped and swapped some yarns with them. Buffalo Bill was in Knoxville more than once, back in the 1890s, and there are credible stories about him and some of his Indian chums doing some target practice at Sullivan's Saloon. The newspapers said he always stayed with his cousin when he was in town, but never identified who his cousin was. We do know there was then a fellow who lived on Gay Street named Zebediah Cody.
As it happens, the Tennessee block is a champion place to tell some Wild West stories. It was just a few feet down the sidewalk from the still-designated Mechanics Bank & Trust, where in 1882 Thomas O'Conner, the shotgun-wielding bank president, got the drop on always-armed old Joe Mabry, who fell--just before his son pulled his pistol and returned fire. All three armed men lay dead in a few seconds on a rainy Tuesday morning. Several years later, around the corner at Union and down the hill, was the saloon that Hole in the Wall Gang outlaw Kid Curry shot up in 1901, seriously wounding two policemen. A posse caught up with the Kid in Jefferson County and brought him back to stand trial. You can visit the courtroom where the Kid, aka Harvey Logan, stood trial; it's now called the McClung Collection Reading Room. But then he had enough of that and, in 1903, choked a guard, escaped from jail, stole the sheriff's horse, and rode it across the Gay Street Bridge. Which you can see from here, too.
It's good to be around men who enjoy a cowboy story. There's not another city in the Eastern time zone that has so many good ones.

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