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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    May 2008

Once Upon a Time in the West

Six Guns and Shady Ladies brings the wilder days of the West back to life — with a few laughs in-between gunfights.

By Jeff Berg



Bernie Sargent travels around the Southwest demonstrating, among other things, that you really can shoot four men dead in five seconds.

Old West show
Gary Haskins, Albert Burnham, Tommy Cotton and
Jerry Gilham get into a Wild West tussle.

Sargent and his wife Melissa are the founders of Six Guns and Shady Ladies, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a sort of Old West traveling show. The El Paso-based troupe roams the region, including southern New Mexico of course, presenting a colorful re-creation of western history. In March they performed at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, and they're tentatively scheduled to make a special appearance in Mesilla.

The SGSL repertoire includes the 1881 "Four Dead in Five Seconds" incident, which Bernie feels is every bit as interesting as the better-known "Shootout at the OK Corral" over in Tombstone, Ariz. At the time, April 1881, citizens could not carry guns on the streets of El Paso. But an exception was made for a posse of Mexican vaqueros who rode into town looking for two missing compadres. The two missing men had been sent to look for some cattle possibly rustled by a gringo, over the border to the ranch of one John Hale. Upon arriving at the Hale ranch, the posse found the quite-dead bodies of their two missing amigos. An inquest was held in El Paso, where a nervous mob gathered near the courthouse, fearful of armed Mexicans who might want justice made out of lead for their dead friends. But the Mexicans returned home with the bodies and no gunfire broke out, until. . . .

A headstone for one of the next actors in the drama, Confederate veteran and newly appointed Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire, rests peacefully under a shade tree in the Sargents' backyard. Stoudenmire, however, did not die in the ensuing shootout — though almost everyone else involved did: Constable Gus Krempkau, who was fluent in Spanish, had served as a translator during the court proceedings. As Krempkau went to retrieve his firearms, he was accosted by a former marshal, George Campbell, who accused him of mistranslating testimony and being friendly to the Mexicans. Campbell's friend, rancher and suspected rustling mastermind John Hale, drunkenly grabbed one of Campbell's pistols and shot Krempkau. As he fell, Krempkau drew his own gun. Hearing the shot, Marshal Stoudenmire ran from a nearby cafe, guns in hands, and fired haphazardly, killing a man named Ochoa, who was running for cover. Stoudenmire then plugged Hale, who'd peered out from behind a pillar he was hiding behind, in true Western cliche fashion, right between the eyes.

Meanwhile, the fallen Krempkau shot Campbell twice, in the hand and in the foot, thinking it was Campbell who'd wounded him, not Hale. Stoudenmire took over, his next shot striking Campbell in the stomach. When Stoudenmire walked over to where Campbell lay dying, he was greeted with, "You big son of a bitch, you murdered me!" Within a few minutes, Campbell and Krempkau both were dead. With the innocent bystander Ochoa and Hale, that brought the body count to four. Numerous witnesses testified that all of the shooting took place within five seconds, thus creating one of the best unknown tales of killings in the Old West — four dead in five seconds.

When Bernie Sargent and his fellow Six Guns and Shady Ladies players demonstrate the shootout, of course, the "dead" men all get up and walk away at the end of the show.

 

Don't mistake the Sargents for a pair of "greenhorns." Even though they are originally from out of state (Pennsylvania) and have lived in the area only for the last dozen years or so, they have become completely engulfed in the history of the Southwest. Away from the limelight of performances, the Sargents are nothing but serious about the history of the area. Bernie serves as chairman of the El Paso County Historical Commission.

"My interest started with a friend who was also a business customer," he explains. The Sargents' "day jobs" involve running Border Group, which sells electronic components to maquiladoras, the factories run by international companies such as Toro, Hoover and First Alert over the border in Juarez.

"I wanted to put together a costume and talked to a friend about it," Bernie continues. "I was invited to a show that was being put on in T or C for Geronimo Days and went with a group (now defunct) that was performing there."

That was a dozen years ago, he says. That early performance as an outlaw has morphed into one of the biggest traveling shows in the area. Now when the Sargents do a show, they haul a trailer filled with $20,000 worth of equipment and props with them.

It wasn't long before Melissa joined in. She cites her interest in advertising, antiques and vintage clothes as a catalyst: "I am dedicated to the costumes, and have one room just for costumes."

Looking around the Sargents' well-appointed house, it is easy to see that they share the decorating chores. Samples of old advertising are displayed all over the dining area. A breech-loading Civil War era rifle is displayed on a wall. And then there's the taxidermied bear that Bernie saved from the landfill, which helps stand guard with the family dog, Dingo (whose friendly nature might require the help of the bear).

"There used to be three re-enactor groups in El Paso when we started," Bernie recalls. "Now we are the only one and have 39 members."

These 39 six-gunners and shady ladies (almost evenly divided by gender) perform short skits based on western history, but fused with music and, Bernie notes, "poetic license." He allows, "It is history blended with humor."

But Melissa cautions, "Don't get the idea that we are clowns falling out of a stagecoach."

He adds, "Some of the skits are based entirely on newspaper accounts of the events using the actual quotes, and a number of them are written by our members for entertainment value, but based on the era of the Old West. We do improvise from time to time for the benefit of our audience and also to keep it fun for the members of our group."

Some rehearsing is required, according to the head six-gunner: "If there is a real full schedule during a particular month, we usually do our practice a couple hours before the show. We have nearly 50 skits in our repertoire that we can utilize.

"We even have groupies," he adds with a chuckle. "People follow us to various shows, especially to Tombstone."



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