EPHRATA — It was a fairly peaceful Saturday afternoon in the old West town. The dusty gravel street had a few people meandering about between the print shop, the general store and the doctor’s office. Others stood idly on the wooden sidewalks. Suddenly off near the saloon, a couple of drunks began shouting and waving their guns between swigs from the whiskey bottle they’d been passing back and forth. A sheriff’s deputy tried to reason with them a little, but everybody knew what was going to happen. One sot took aim at the deputy, and a few bangs later, both lay dead in the street, the bottle leaking next to the bodies.
The stunned silence lasted for a heartbeat, then the townspeople went back about their business while the corpses stood up, laughing and dusting themselves off.
It was all part of the fun at Pioneer Day at the Grant County Museum in Ephrata. A contingent of dedicated volunteers stationed themselves in the various recreated buildings that make up the museum, ready to expound on the exhibits and how they played their role in the everyday life of a Grant County town of 80 or 100 years ago.
There was a drugstore in our fictional town, featuring prescription bottles and other necessities that had originally been used in Neihart Drug in Coulee City, according to Grant County Historical Society secretary Rita Mayrant, who was staffing the exhibit. A lunch counter had also been salvaged when Ephrata Drug had closed down decades earlier, Mayrant added.
Nearby stood a recreated milliner’s shop, stocked with the latest fashions of several bygone eras. Volunteer Alva Dillman pointed out a couple of particularly interesting items, including a photo of a deceased woman whose widower had it displayed in a frame made with strands of her hair, and a bonnet that had been worn at the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.
Down the street, Scott Derting stood outside a line cabin, such as might be found all over the open West and indeed, still is in use in Alaska today, he said.
“They don’t lock,” Derting explained, “so that if someone is hurt they can get in and find shelter. They keep some food and supplies there on the honor system; you replace whatever you use.”
Next door at the fire station, Bradley Bowyer presided over the trucks and equipment arrayed within. Bowyer isn’t a firefighter; he’s an IT student at the Columbia Basin Job Corps Center in Moses Lake. But he had no hesitation explaining the various pieces of equipment and the stories behind them. The display featured two firetrucks, both Fords, one a 1938 model and the other from 1940. At the wheel of the latter truck sat a stuffed toy Dalmation dog, a gift, Bowyer said, from an elementary school student who felt that every fire station should have one.
And just about the time a visitor finishes making the rounds, there’s another shootout in the street. The volunteers disturbing and keeping the peace Saturday were firing blanks, but these guns were no toys. The air hung heavy with the smell of gunpowder and the sound was deafening.
Ray Carbo, one of the peacekeepers, said he also participates in Civil War reenactments and other historically accurate events. He explained about the care reenactors take with the ordnance.
“They have to be serious about the blanks. They actually shoot about 20 feet. I shot my horse with one once by mistake. Another time I shot the bottom out of my holster.”
The town drunks at the beginning were two young women who played their roles with barely-concealed glee. Several other volunteers participated enthusiastically; the shootouts seemed to be the most popular part of the day.
The museum closes for the year on Sept. 30.