The Old West Returns to Saloon Studios on May 22!
By Clint Johnson

At first glance, West Jefferson may not come to mind when one thinks of The American West, or The Old West, or The Wild West.

Oddly enough, the mountains of western North Carolina really do have an Old West connection. In 1861, a 24-year-old stock tender got into a gunfight with three men, including Dave McCanles, at Rock Creek Station, Nebraska. In 1851, McCanles had served as Watauga County’s first elected sheriff before moving west. After the gunfight which killed McCanles, the stories began to be embellished with one person describing “the wild blue eyes” of the man who shot the sheriff. That description stuck and the stock tender, James Butler Hickok, became better known as “Wild Bill.” His life as a gunfighter had begun.

On May 22, The Old West will come alive on the street at Saloon Studios at 313 Old West Road (off Mulatto Mountain Road, south of West Jefferson) when Frontier Day returns. Gates will open at 10:00 a.m. and the day ends around 6:00 p.m. with a performance of authentic cowboy songs. The events will include gunfights between cowboy reenactors, programs on Guns of the American West, The Plains Indian Wars, and Life of the Cowboy. Frontier crafts will be demonstrated such as blacksmithing and a tintype photographer will also be on hand to capture images. Fill your belly with delicious food from Boondocks’ Chuckwagon and shop with local merchant vendors. Tickets are $20 with kids under 12 admitted FREE. Get your tickets here. Spectators are encouraged to come dressed in western attire, but DO NOT bring your own guns. Only approved, known cowboy reenactors will be participating in the shootouts. The event will happen rain or shine and falls within the Covid-19 guidelines for outdoor crowds.

Saloon Studios was founded five years ago when Mike and Laura Jones, long-time residents of Ashe County, built the block-long western town plus a stage and high-tech recording studio in the saloon. Mike had grown up watching John Wayne westerns with his Dad and decided to recreate a town to honor those memories. He added the stage and studio to enjoy his other hobby, music. Saloon Studios has hosted several big-name recording acts over the years, as well as one previous Frontier Day in 2019. 2021’s Frontier Day will kick off the summer events as live music will return to Saloon Studios.

“Authentic reenactors will be coming to West Jefferson from as far away as Arizona, Florida, and West Virginia to help with Frontier Day,” says Clint Johnson, the local cowboy coordinator. “Not everyone was a cowpuncher in the Old West. There were ladies who ran dress shops, bankers, and townspeople. What the public will see at Frontier Day at Saloon Studios will look like an authentic day from the 1870’s-1880’s era. We will be dressed in period clothes and carrying authentic guns the way they really were carried. It may look different than people are used to seeing in movies. For instance, real cowboys did not wear their pistol holsters low and tied to their legs. They wore them high and without any ties.”

The gunfights will be based on what really caused gunfights in The Old West. There will be robberies of the Wells Fargo office, ruffians raiding a ladies’ dress shop, gangs trying to convince the Town Marshal to release someone in jail, and drunks accusing each other of cheating at cards.

There will be three scheduled programs. Guns of the Old West will give spectators a close-up view of the guns Westerners carried. The Plains Indian Wars program will feature what U.S. Cavalrymen really wore rather than what Hollywood says they wore. The Life of the Cowboy will examine who he was and what kind of equipment he carried. All of these programs will be conducted outside.

We hope you can join us for Frontier Day, an Old West day of history, food, and fun on May 22nd at Saloon Studios!