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Great State: Wild West Show

PAWNEE, Okla. — When Richard Heinrich isn’t teaching a high school history class in Ramona he and his grandson Jack are part of a trick roping act in Pawnee. “You just got to go in circles with it,” he says as he twirls his cotton rope. “It’s kind of like politics. It looks fancy but really goes nowhere.”

Wanda and Ed Green are part of the show too. She’s a dialysis nurse in Tulsa who’s as quick with a six-shooter as she is with a syringe. He throws the balloons and I shoot them,” says Wanda. Ed is a target thrower slash high school football coach who knows how to throw to the right spot. “So there’s a good partnership there,” points out an observer. “Oh yeah,” replies Ed. “And when there’s not you can tell by the look on her face.”

A century ago Pawnee Bill and his idol Buffalo Bill were partnered up in the last of the great wild west shows. They toured the country offering trick riders and shooters, one of which was Bill’s wife Mae. That show still lives on with the new Mae, Wanda, in a 19 act show that still aims carefully to please. Wanda describes part of her act. “I shoot over my head, between my legs, lying on my back.”

The two Bill’s traveling show ended abruptly in Denver in 1913, but Pawnee Bill already had this place on Blue Hawk’s Peak. He brought the show home and here it’s been all the while, including the latest incarnation of Bill himself. Kevin Webb is a ranch hand here until he puts on the buckskins and spurs. Webb says, “Really, when the adrenaline kicks in for me is during the grand entry and the opening speech for the show.”

The Pawnee Bill Ranch still puts on 3 shows a year. They still put together a little history and some local talent just like Bill used to. On a Saturday night you can still step back and see it. The final 2012 performance of the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show takes place June 30th. Tickets at the gate are $14 for adults and $10 for kids.