It might have some modern amenities — we can be thankful for electricity and running water — but the Fort Worth Stockyards is otherwise a veritable trip back in time. Walk down the street, and you’ll see chaps, spurs, a whole lot of “howdies,” herding cattle and even a gunfight (staged, of course).
For 37 years, the Legends of Texas, a historical reenactment group that stages gunfights, has performed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Stockyards Station. Dedicated to preserving the history of the Old West from the 1830s to the turn of the 20th century, the goal is to entertain and educate each person in the audience.
Though first formed by a doctor, the group is now comprised of various members, including writers, ex-military personnel and police officers — and will welcome anyone who is passionate about preserving the history of the true Western days.
Brad Gandy — part-time dumb deputy and part-time living history character — serves as the full-time president of the Legends of Texas and has been a part of the group since 1985.
As one of the longest-running reenactment organizations across the country, Gandy says it all began with just two performances a year but has expanded to multiple performances a week in the Stockyards. And the group even manages to sprinkle a few performances throughout the year in other cities across the U.S.
“It’s like an Abbott and Costello routine,” he says. “There are, usually, the smart marshal, dumb deputy and two bad guys.”
In their other performances, you may run into Western forefathers, including Sam Houston, Buffalo Bill, Jim Bowie and William Barrett Travis — one of Gandy’s favorite characters to play.
“Our shows are not historically accurate, but they are hysterically funny,” Gandy says.
The focus is not on gunfights or explosive shirts, like it is in Western shows or movies. The performances are not dramatic or historical, but they are comedy-driven, he says, and they are based on theatrical gestures and entertainment.
“We do try to dress as historically accurate as possible, though,” Gandy says. “That’s the education part of it. But comedy seems to be a little more entertaining with the TV Westerns in Hollywood. So, we try to do that while debunking the myth of the attire and the shootouts they display. They didn’t happen as often as they do on the Westerns, and that’s where we educate and say, ‘This part is Hollywood, and this is us representing what was real.’”
To ensure historical accuracy, the group has a historian who is willing to answer any questions the performers might have. And, to ensure the safety of all individuals, the group has a sergeant of arms who distributes safety blanks before the show and observes the guns after.
The Legends of Texas also has a secretary, treasurer, vice president, in addition to himself as the president.
“We enjoy it,” Gandy said. “We enjoy entertaining people in the Stockyards and being, sort of, ambassadors of the Stockyards.”
Sometimes, people will drop in to the Stockyards while searching for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, and he will tell them they are at the correct place — had they been searching 100 years ago. Gandy will assist them on where they really need to go, but they’ll often come back to the Stockyards Station to view the performance.
“Most of the time, we get locals who are there for their first time and have been residents of Fort Worth for a long time,” Gandy says. “Their No. 1 reaction is always, ‘We had no idea this was down here, and this was awesome.’
“We also get people who are staying in Dallas and visiting Fort Worth, and their reactions are, ‘If we had known Fort Worth was like this, we would have stayed here instead.’”
By Brandi Addison