Monday, March 15, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: Wyatt Earp and Columbo

I suppose most towns are proud of their famous sons and daughters. Or eager to claim some brush with glory by proclaiming that George Washington slept there. Silver Creek was no exception….well, with one exception.

Silver Creek has absolutely no claim to any famous citizen or visitor.

The closest the town had ever come to a famous citizen is Andrew Kilpatrick. He right after high school to become an actor. He had one credit: he was a corpse on an episode of Columbo. I suppose his drive to be an actor wasn’t very strong because after six whole months of hard slogging in Hollywood, he got a job as a salesman at a Ford dealership in Orange County and ended his acting career. (Although he did appear in a few ads for the dealership and “Salesman Sal, your car-buying pal!”)

And as for George Washington passing through, well the only even remotely famous person to ever pass through Silver Creek was Wyatt Earp. And everyone knows he never actually visited town – it was just a PR ploy cooked up by the city council to give a little cache to our annual “Founder’s Days” events.

What prompted the deception was the fact that one of Silver Creek’s first families was named Earp. Absolutely no relation as the family never failed to point out – though I could never quite decide if they made that admission with pride at not being related to an such a character or disappointment at not having such a black sheep on the family tree. (If one can have sheep on a tree.)

But when it became obvious that nobody cared about Founder’s Days, the city council decided to add a little spice to the proceedings by claiming that Wyatt Earp had spent time in Sliver Creek in 1880, the year before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. According to the adventurously titled pamphlet “Wyatt Earp in Silver Creek,” the lawman was convalescing from a gunshot wound at the home of his Aunt and Uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Earp.

But having him lying around in bed eating Aunt Agnes’ peach cobbler wasn’t enough and the pamphlet was three pages long so….

“By July of 1880 Earp was well enough to leave the comfort and care of the family homestead and throw himself into Silver Creek society. It was on the evening of July 17th that Earp single-handedly foiled a dastardly crime….”

Where to begin? Well, first off in 1880 Earp was living in Tombstone. The non-existent “family homestead” would have been the Earp house, a one-story ranch home built in 1892. Silver Creek never had much society. And I’m not even going to touch the phrase “dastardly crime.”

According to the increasingly hysterical pamphlet, a gang of masked robbers burst into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Preston Mears while a party was being held in honor of the visitor. Silver Creek’s finest citizens were being robbed at gunpoint when Wyatt Earp (who had conveniently been out of the room when the miscreants broke in) came flying through a window, guns blazing in both hands. He took down four robbers and finished the evening by dancing the Virginia Reel with the Mears’ lovely young daughter, Camellia.

Phrases such as “Earp’s cool lawman’s mind chilled at the thought of the beautiful Miss Camellia being misused by such ruffians” were matched in their stupidity only by the revelation that Earp was, apparently, such an expert shot that not one of the villains was killed. Earp managed to disarm each, but fired no mortal shot, so that every man was brought to a fair trial. (I guess whoever wrote this preposterous tale decided that having four men killed at a party would rather put a crimp on any further Virginia Reeling.)

One of the great things about Silver Creek is that everyone knew it was a lie, and everyone went along with it. Not in a “we believe this story” kind of way but in a “this is such a ridiculous idea that we’re going to have fun with it” fashion. The first Founder’s Day events after the creation of the Gospel According to Wyatt Earp included an old west costume party and a peach cobbler contest, in honor o Aunt Agnes Earp.

The following year proved even more exciting with a reenactment of The Great Crime, complete with Silver Creek police officer Dan Hartley jumping through a window at the Kiwanis hall and firing blanks towards the four “ruffians.”

And since then, it has only grown. There are mock shoot-outs on the street, in a battle rivaled only by the O.K. Corral itself. There is a cowboy poetry slam and a bluegrass music festival. There is even a dance that concludes with the Virginia Reel.

And one time I danced the Virginia Reel with Andrew Kilpatrick. Before he became a corpse on Columbo.


Fo said...

I wanna play a corpse on "Columbo"! But Salesman Sal, not so much.

Kittie Howard said...

Great story...and a nice smile this morning...reel away!

Duke said...

The wild west was indeed a time of romance and mystery...if you wrote penny dreadfuls. The reality was you lived in mud up to your hips and hoped the barber could pull your bad teeth without killing you.

Crime and ciolence were extremely low, especially compared to today.

It's nice to see Silver Creek took the romantic wild west theme and ran with it. There's no harm in giving everyone a myth to enjoy, since all myths are fiction anyway. Even if Earp had visited the town he would have been doing something tedious like buying a horse or getting beans for his travels. Shootouts with bandits is makes for some exciting times!