After evolving from a park fundraiser to a Main Street coalition event, the annual Buffalo Bill Days festival is returning to a local-group focus.
Christine "Cricket" Pugh talks a mile a minute. And she can barely sit still. But that surplus of energy is the driving force behind a volunteer effort to rescue and reincarnate this year's Buffalo Bill Days festival.
In January of this year, it seemed 2013's event was not going to happen. The Main Street coalition had run the festival for the past two years as an organizational fundraiser, but this year decided it was no longer practical.
Then, in March, Pugh – a local business owner who can usually be found running Scrivner's Creative Center, an artists' collective downtown — took over the reins.
The first "Buffalo Bill Days" festival was held in 1969, and was organized primarily to raise funds
to build Buffalo Bill Cody Park and celebrate one of Leavenworth's most famous figures. The Buffalo Bill State Park Committee envisioned a re-launch of the Pioneer Days festival from the late 1930s as a new event celebrating the area's colorful history.
"They wanted a community park," Pugh says, "so a couple of people got together. Somebody from the theatre, and somebody from the city, and they decided to have a festival, and that is where the money went."
For the next 29 years the festival was primarily a fundraiser for the Park committee, who used the funds to build Cody Park, and then later to buy playground equipment, support community projects -- even help fund the Riverfront Community Center.
That first festival was a five-day affair, featuring riverboat rides, the crowning of a "Buffalo Gal," a quick-draw demonstration, a concert by the Leavenworth High School band, and a parade.
Chief William Red Fox, an elderly Ogalala Sioux, was a headliner who told the story of being hired off the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation by Buffalo Bill to tour with the Wild West show in the 1890s.
The Star of the West Saloon was set up in in a vacant building and housed shows by the Cody Choraliers and a melodrama performance by the local Jaycees.
During the 1970s, contests for best beard, mustache and sideburns were held, and canoes were raced on the Missouri River.
And in 1979 the hot air balloon race was launched. The outhouse races were added to the schedule in 1984, the same year the events were centered in Haymarket Square.
In later years, the Buffalo Bill Days fundraising focus shifted from funding the parks to providing a critical fundraising opportunity for local groups and organizations. And local groups became the driving force behind the festival.
"The Lions did a fun run, the American Legion had an antique fair. There was a parade, which we'd eventually love, love to bring back," Pugh commented.
Page 2 of 3 - "It's amazing how many groups that were involved. And they did it as their fundraisers."
This year, Pugh and the recently formed Leavenworth Community Events Committee plan to reestablish Buffalo Bill Days as primarily a fundraiser for local groups, returning to its roots.
Pugh said, "These groups and organizations are again able to fundraise. They keep 100 percent."
Though the dates are set (3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sept. 14 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 15), the event schedule hasn't been finalized.
"That is the reason why scheduling isn't totally finished, because every day I seem to get somebody else who wants to do something or donate something."
The Committee has tried to avoid bringing in outside vendors and instead has looked to local groups to sell food, stage entertainment, and conduct tours – while fundraising for their own programs.
However, Dry Creek Buffalo and Keck's RootBeer are invited because, as Pugh shrugged, "Gotta have the root beer. Everybody asks for the root beer guys."
"The Kiwanis got a hold of me," said Pugh, "and they have done soda and water in the past, and I said, 'Yes of course you can do that and this year you can keep 100%.'"
The Leavenworth Public Library is developing an interactive youth-oriented Mark Twain play, with period costumes, and a moveable stage. They are also holding a pie and cake contest, after which they will be selling slices for "two bits" (approximately 50 cents).
The Leavenworth Police will be selling popcorn and, in sticking with the Old West theme, will be presenting a display of law enforcement "back in the day."
Prisoners from Fort Leavenworth Prison have offered to make props, and Pugh says "The first thing I want them to build me is a backdrop for an old jail, so that could be the police backdrop. And I want it say "Made by the prisoners of Ft. Leavenworth, and then you've got the police out there selling popcorn as a fundraiser."
The Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society will be responsible for beer sales, and
Debra Bates-Lamborn (of First City Photo) is mapping a historical walking tour through downtown, including a stop at the one brothel in town she could authenticate.
RYB Graffix is planning to create an innovative sidewalk-chalk art walk of downtown businesses – a sort of community coloring book – by drawing scene outlines and leaving chalk for children and adults passing-by to color in.
And the River City Community Players are reviving the exact melodrama that was performed at the 1969 festival.
Other events will include a light and fire show, beard and mustache contests, a League of Women Voters historical character election, arts and crafts activities for the kids, and a long list of music performers, including musicians from Ft. Leavenworth, a Christian rock group, the Good Sam Club band, and local youth performers. And of course the outhouse races will be held on 6th Street.
Page 3 of 3 - A final schedule will be available soon, and more details can be found at www.buffalobillfestival.com. If you or your group would like to either volunteer or fundraise, Pugh says there are still open slots and plenty of things to do – you can contact the Events Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.