Saturday, September 06, 2008

Idaho Parade Hitches

Wagon Days is one of the largest non-motorized parades in the West. Last year it went up in smoke during the Castle Rock Fire. But, this year the Budweiser Clydesdale draft horses participated and were the highlight for many observers. After Ketchum’s grand parade, they even set up a visiting station at the Reinheimer Ranch, where people could meet and greet the legendary horses. I had planned to break open a fresh Bud, right when the horses sauntered by, to see how they would react. Had I heard the slightest whinny, I would have interpreted it straight from the horse’s mouth, as “Hey big guy, way to go with our product there!”

However, I didn’t make it up there in time, as I was Idaho support for Burning Man, watching a friend’s pit bull and soaking up the Bellevue suds. After the hitch-wagon parade, I asked around and it looked like it went off without any glitches.

This is not like some other years.

Legend has it that back in the 70’s, some fisticuffs broke out, resulting in the parade’s cancellation for several years, until in 1990, longtime Ketchum mayor Jerry Seifert played an integral part in bringing this celebration back to the community.

Interestingly, the first year of the parade’s revival, there was a new quandary. Should they hold a simulated shootout during Parade week, after a real shootout occurred, which killed two locals?

From a 1990 special, N.Y. Times report by Timothy Egan:,%20Territories%20and%20Possessions/Idaho

“So there was great excitement in and around this Sun Valley community when organizers of the annual Wagon Days celebration proposed reviving an elaborate staged gunfight as part of this year's Labor Day festival.

Then, on the second day of summer, a real gunman drove into Ketchum and began shooting people at random with his shotgun. After a car chase, the police captured a suspect, John Mitchel Odiaga, of Boise, and charged him with killing two Ketchum residents.

The staged shootout will go on as scheduled this weekend, but the real-life shootings have raised troubling questions about the mythology that the festival will celebrate.

''It's one of the great contradictions of the West, this idea of heroic shootouts,'' said Scott Preston, a poet and scholar of Western writing who edits the White Clouds Revue, a quarterly literary journal, from his home just south of here. ''When you get right down to it, a lot of the Old West gunfighters were nothing more than psychopaths.''

Mr. Preston said towns like Ketchum, with its choreographed shootout, have sanitized what was a brutal crime. ''When you see it happen today, as we did this summer here in Ketchum, you see it for what it really is,'' he said.

John Rember, a writer who lives north of Sun Valley in the mountain hamlet of Stanley, said residents need to reappraise their images of the American West. ''A good many of our symbols, such as the Marlboro Man, are noxious and deadly,'' he said. ''In Ketchum, they had some real-life bodies in the street this year. That may be ordinary in the big cities, but it isn't here. Now that some people are making a connection between the real bodies in June and the fake bodies on Labor Day, it's very painful.''”

Interestingly, 3V3T5 and I were here in Idaho when Odiaga went on his rampage. We were visiting Markus over in Mackay and it was the first time both of us visited Sun Valley on a quick trip to Pioneer Saloon. Although I don’t recall hearing anything about the violence, when we were breaking open fresh buds in 1990,

Ridin' around like Wagon Dazed Doggies

I thought it was ironic that a drive-by-shooting took place here, when this was exactly the type of thing we were looking to escape by leaving Washington D.C.

Ten years later, there were some more Wagon Days woes. The morning of the parade was cold with snow and rain. Unfortunately, some moisture seeped inside an old cannon, which result in a horrific explosion; and blew off some fingers of the man who was demonstrating it. Meanwhile I was down at my old office, with a plan to crash the parade by riding a scooter through one of the gaps, while wearing a disguise. Besides an old WW1 gas mask and Air Force jump suit, I had picked up a six-foot long blond wig from the Barkin’ Basement Thrift Store. I heard the cannon explode and the silence that followed for about twenty minutes, but I didn’t know that a Wagon Days participant was suffering from a severe injury.

I got into position on my scooter at the upper end of town, but something in the air didn’t feel right, so I decided to cancel. Two hours later, I heard what had occurred, and wondered how the emcee could have carried on, as if nothing had gone wrong. Later on, I did get the chance to ride the scooter in Hailey’s 2003 Fourth of July parade, circling around and offering suds-support to our small contingent. That parade is best remembered for Elbie’s fabled rocket ship car. (#3)

It was good to see many people in town enjoying this year’s festivity. I hope that the parade will continue to be a success more often that not. It’s such a legendary parade that more should be written about it.

1 comment:

JBanholzer said...

I forgot to mention that several years ago they switched from using horses to mules to pull the enormous Ore Wagons. This was after a circling the wagons demonstration came too close to the crowd. Had somebody popped a cap gun or other small thing like that, it could have made for more bad news.

The Ore Wagons so tall that they come within a foot of scruffing the traffic signals. I can’t imagine directing one of those behemoths up or down Trail Creek Road.