“Clint Johnson – The Smoking Gun”
(Q&A with Shannon MacDonald of Saloon Studios and Clint Johnson, Cowboy Reenactor)


Q: This is quite different for a lot of folks out there. How did you get started in such an extraordinary line of business?

A: This is a hobby; not a business. I’ve been reenacting the Civil War, American Revolution, and Cowboy time periods in some form for more than 40 years. Most reenactors like myself got interested in history at a young age, thanks to teachers or movies. Then, along the way, we discovered reenacting where we can relive virtually any time period that interests us. Reenactors will be coming to Saloon Studios from Arizona, West Virginia, Virginia, and Florida. Some of these men I’ve known for more than 40 years from Civil War reenacting.


Q: As far as authenticity goes… How do you research your “shoot-outs”?

A: Written accounts tell us most gunfights started with young men arguing over cards, getting drunk, or breaking the law in some fashion. There was the occasional robbery. What we will do at Saloon Studios on Frontier Day will recreate all of those scenarios.


Q: When in the middle of a battle… Do you feel as if you are taken back to a time when gunslingers of the Old West were amongst us? Explain.

A: All reenactors hope to find themselves “in the moment,” when you really do sense you have gone back in time. If you can block out spectators and listen to the sounds of gunfire and see the smoke and react to what is happening around you, your mind blocks out the 21st century and you are back in the Old West. The authentic buildings on Saloon Studios’ street help create that feeling.


Q: It all looks and sounds so dangerous. Is it?

A: We are using real guns with black powder blanks. You do not want to get hit by one at close range. Years ago, an up-and-coming actor didn’t realize how powerful blanks can be. Playing around with a blank gun on a movie set, he shot himself in the head. The concussion killed him. What we do is aim to one side of our intended targets. You also do what the real cowboys did; your pistol’s hammer rests on an empty chamber so if you drop the pistol, it does not go off. Most of us carry shotguns too, so you have to be even more careful with those, as they will spray powder granules even further. What the smoke and sound spectators will see and hear at Frontier Day will be exactly what they would have heard in a real gunfight. You have to concentrate on what you are doing to stay safe.


Q: Dressing for the occasion for authenticity is a necessity… Where do you get your great gear and outfits?

A: There are a number of small businesses that tailor-make cowboy clothing. Wool, cotton, and linen were the materials of the day. Patterns are based on what the clothes were like in the 1870s. Reenactors try as hard as they can to look the part. Our guns and holsters are all based on real weapons and holsters from that time period. There is a whole industry of making reproduction firearms in Italy.


Q: What makes the “Gunfight at OK Corral” differ from the “Wild Bill Hickok vs Davis Tutt” reenactments?

A: Wild Bill Hickok versus Davis Tutt took place in 1865 and is generally considered the first “stand-up” gunfight between two men. Tutt had won Hickok’s watch in a poker game and bragged about it to his friends after Hickok warned him not to do that. Hickok got angry and challenged Tutt to a gunfight in the street – which Hickok won. They used cap-and-ball revolvers (how revolvers were made before the invention of the metallic cartridge that we know today). We will use cap and balls during that particular gunfight to keep it authentic. Gunfight at the OK Corral was some 16 years later. The pistols now had metallic cartridges and involved specific numbers of men. We will recreate that scenario as best we can. The interesting thing about Hickock is his first gunfight in 1861 was with a man named David McCanles, who Hickok killed. McCanles had been sheriff of Watauga County. So, in effect, Saloon Studios, 30 miles east of Boone, really does have an Old West connection.


Q: You seem to fit right in on the North Carolina soil of Old West Town at Saloon Studios Live. What makes Saloon Studios one of your favorite places?

A: I heard about Saloon Studios in the fall of 2018. I cold-called them and said: “If you ever need some cowboys to provide background color, call me.” They did for opening day to the public. Myself and another cowboy reenactor walked around in our cowboy clothing and guns and talked to the guests. I suggested Frontier Day and we staged our first one in May 2019. Covid kept us from doing a public event in 2020, but Mike and Laura Jones graciously invited the cowboys to come back on Halloween weekend 2020, just to play in the streets. We didn’t have any spectators; just cowboy reenactors staging our gunfights. We considered it a practice for Frontier Day, May 22, 2021.


Q: Frontier Day is a special day for family at Saloon Studios. How does it feel for you?

A: All cowboy reenactors, no matter our age, are 10 years old again and our parents have just given us our first set of toy guns for Christmas. This time, we get real guns. Most of us older cowboys grew up watching westerns on TV or at the movies. There are not that many westerns for young kids to see these days. Events like Frontier Day give us reenactors a chance to pass along the thrill of living in another time, to kids who attend. We hope we inspire some kids to go read some books on this time period. The Old West really existed for only 20 years or so; the trail drives really lasted only 10 years in the 1870s.


Q: How does one become part of your posse?

A: We are always looking for people who are interested in the hobby of reenacting. Just talk to some cowboys when you see us. We will tell you how to get started in the hobby. The great thing is that you don’t have to be a cowboy; who were really young men in their teens or 20’s. The Old West had townspeople, women running dress shops, men running saloons, sheriff deputies, bankers. You can be any age; men or women or teenagers can get into Old West reenacting. You don’t even have to have guns; just study what a good clothing impression would look like. Scenarios can spring up from different things. For instance, we will have a tent saloon set up with men gambling and drinking. Some temperance ladies won’t like that. They will be there protesting the evils of men drinking. It should prove interesting.


Q: If one was to hire you for your reenactments… How would they do so?

A: Just reach out to me at ClintJohnnson@skybest.com.

Original artwork by Shannon MacDonald