This month I’m celebrating the 4th of July by introducing you to an Old West reenactment group located in England. That’s right! While 238 years ago, the colonies and the British Empire went at it with muzzle-loaded muskets and flintlock pistols and quite a bit of animosity, nowadays the historical American West is popular in the United Kingdom.
While hanging around on Facebook, I happened across Mr. Antony O’Donnell, a Scotsman living in England who belongs to the Wyoming Wild Bunch living history group.
The group, formed in 1990, portrays the American West period 1860 through 1900. A click to their webpage is worth the trip—great photos and information! The group is borderline fanatical about authenticity and accuracy. Participants are inspected to ensure they are appropriately outfitted, and even weapons are restricted based on the time period of that day’s show.
There are many Western reenactment groups throughout the United Kingdom, but the Wyoming Wild Bunch is the only Western reenactment group in the UK to use horses in its shows on a regular basis. Some of the members own their horses while others hire a horse for the show. They also have a Native American section which portrays two specific tribes: Blackfeet and Southern Cheyenne. “Before getting into the section you have to meet up with the Runners of the Section so they can see your kit and make sure it is all correctly marked and beaded to that tribe,” Ty says.
Tyrel’s reenacting pre-dates the Wyoming Wild Bunch. He’s been at it for 36 years and knows his stuff. With a degree in American Studies, his main dissertation was on the American West from 1865 to 1890. He also collects and shoots reproduction black powder pistols and rifles. “I grew up in the generation that had Western TV serials on nearly every night,” Ty says. “Rawhide, Laramie, and Wagon Train, to name a few, and actors like John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott to watch,” Ty says. When he was 18 and home on leave from the British Army, he saw a Western reenactment group performing a shoot-out. “I’ve been doing it ever since,” he says.
Ty considers himself both a reenactor and a living history educator. “The reenacting side is what gets us our venues, with the rest of the time chatting with public,” he says. The group performs at events and schools and does professional work for the media as well as charitable fund-raising.
While he doesn’t represent a specific person from the past, Ty has put together an eclectic mix of personas to come up with a portrayal of a Texas Ranger “loosely based on Captains L. H. McNelly, Lee Hall and G. W. Arrington,” Ty says. As a true scholar, Ty has done extensive research. “It was reading about these Texas Rangers in W. P. Webb’s book and that led me to collect over 100 books on them alone,” he says. He also sometimes portrays a cowboy. “The cowhand I portray could be found anywhere in the west from Montana down to Texas. My moniker Tyrel (or Ty) came from my love of Louis L’Amour’s books, especially The Sacketts.”
Ty introduced his wife of 31 years, Chris, to reenacting, and they eventually included their four daughters, two of whom are still participating: 24-year-old Sinead and 26-year-old Frances. “My other two daughters are both mothers themselves now, but my oldest grandson Deaghlan came to his first show last year. This year he was written into one of the sketches.”
Ty says that he doesn’t believe he ever lived a past life and, if he had, he would have known enough to stay away from the old west and “a life that was tough on both men and women.” But he enjoys his reenacting and has visited the States. He’s been to Wyoming, Arizona and Texas. He says, “I felt spiritually at ease in the Alamo and had a memorable time in Flagstaff, Arizona. I will one day get out there again, God willing.” And we’ll look forward to being able to say the British are coming again!
Do you have an interest or favorite activity you’ve passed on to your family members? Leave a comment and tell me about it!