American frontiersman William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, is the romantic hero of many western books and movies. During the late 19th century, he hunted buffalo, herded cattle, worked on a wagon train, mined for gold, rode in the Pony Express and scouted for the U.S. Army. Then he created the world famous Wild West Show featuring real cowboys and Indians and portraying a romanticized version of his own life. He traveled around the world for thirty years with this show.
Buffalo Bill died in 1917 while visiting his sister in Denver, Colorado. He was buried on nearby Lookout Mountain, overlooking the Great Plains and the Rockies, the part of America that had shaped his life. The small town of Golden, Colorado, where Buffalo Bill never lived, celebrates the memory of the Old West hero with a three-day annual festival.
The Buffalo Bill Days festival, held during the last weekend of July, is the largest community event in Golden, Colorado. Citizens as young as months-old babies and as old as World War I veterans participate in the Saturday morning parade.
The two-hour parade is probably the best way to learn about the small town. As the fire fighters, bag pipers, aspiring politicians, members of schools and sports clubs and representative of numerous business and other organizations pass by, they shout greetings to the crowd of spectators.
Here comes Buffalo Bill himself. Not the real one of course, but someone who looks just like him. "I am colonel Al Huffman, Buffalo Bill," he says. The Buffalo Bill Saddle Club started this parade back in the 1940s, 1946 or 1947 and I represent the Buffalo Bill Saddle Club. I've been doing Buffalo Bill for 35 years and the parade here I've been doing for 27."
The Buffalo Bill Days festival has developed from a small event begun in the late 1940s. Members of a local riding club would meet on a summer day for a ride to Buffalo Bill's grave site. Upon returning to the city, they would parade through downtown to show off a little bit. The local chamber of commerce sponsored the event for a while to attract tourists to Golden, but when the event grew too big for it to handle, a separate organization was formed, run mainly by volunteers.
Charlene Pazar, has been organizing the parade for the past fourteen years. "And I've been able to more than double the size of the parade since when I took it over. [Because] when I fist took it over there were about 35 units and I am now up to a hundred. There's probably 1,000 people in the parade because they ride horses, they are in cars, they are on floats, drill teams and things like that," she says.
Charlene Pazar says almost everyone in Golden has participated in the Buffalo Bill festival in some way: marching in the parade, performing, sponsoring or helping organize events. "I am Catherine Leith Porter and I am the chair of the children's activities. We have a trampoline that has bungee cords and a harness attached where you can jump as high as you can. We are going to have animals tomorrow for a petting zoo for children, people can break plates and they can throw darts and win prizes in addition to all the rides for the children..."
Child: "We are waiting for the brontosaurus ride, the purple brontosaurus."
Hoke: "Have you done it before?"
Child: "No, uh-uh"
Hoke: What do you think it does?"
Child: "I think it goes around in a circle and that's about it."
A burro race is one of the funniest events of the festival. Unlike most other races, this one runs at an erratic and unpredictable pace. Pack donkeys, or burros, paired off with a man or a woman who leads them, may start off at a frantic pace or barely drag their feet. "I've been training her all by myself so I'm pretty proud of her," says winner Mary Kuehster.
She is this year's female winner, although she actually came in second. Another woman and her burro reached the finish line before her, but they did not come in together. The impatient donkey had left his mistress behind, disqualifying both of them.
Mary Kuehster says the preparation for the race includes getting the donkey used to running along with others. "And you try to take them places where there's a lot of things to look at: bikes and people and bridges, because that's the hard part, is getting them to go across things that they've never seen before. They are very cautious," she says.
The present burro race is a smaller version of an old-time event when miners competed with their pack donkeys in a longer race around a local mountain. Back in the days when Golden was a mining town, pack donkeys were used to carry loads from the mines to the city. Today's shorter race goes around several city blocks so more people can watch it.
Fundraising is an important activity during the Buffalo Bill Days. An all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, raises money for the volunteer firefighters retirement fund. It is one of the most popular events, attracting local residents as well as visitors. "It's a great feeling, good community spirit - everyone getting together, meeting the firefighters, yeah," says a woman visitor from Australia. "We don't have anything like this in Australia."
Throughout the weekend, games, shows, contests and sales keep people entertained. Vendors from 22 states come to hawk their merchandise in Golden during the Buffalo Bill Days. Ed Brittain, a volunteer in charge of arts and crafts vendors, says "we have a hundred and six vendor booths so we probably run about 85 individual vendors."
Paul Steed from Arkansas sells jewelry. "Well, I am a retired businessman from Arkansas and I love the mountains so I come up here and hang out and meet friends and do shows and have fun."
Local businesses take the opportunity to advertise their products and services during the festival days. You can even get a free back massage while roaming around the busy Parfet Park in downtown Golden.
Masseuse: "My name is Carla.
Hoke: "And what are you doing here?"
Masseuse: "I am promoting spinal care for Charmichael Chiropractic. We are giving spinal massages to [get a chance to] talk to people about their back problems and encourage them to see a chiropractor if they have an illness or something that's debilitating them from their activity."
Summer festivals are very popular in the United States. Bill Pazar, one of the organizers of the Buffalo Bill Days, says this one brings more visitors to Golden than any other event. "We have a city of less than 20,000 people. We draw 25,000 people to this event."
"It's just fun. It's fun to see all your friends out here. The music's fun and it's just a good time with the community, [there's] something to eat, something to buy, something to drink. It's just fun," says one local visitor.
Buffalo Bill never lived in Golden, Colorado, but his spirit surely lives here now.