By Suzanne Norquist
Imagine going on an African safari and not seeing any lions or to an amusement park without roller coasters or . . . traveling into the Wild West in the 1870s and not seeing Indians, gunfights, or bank robberies.
After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, Easterners could easily ride the train across the country—an opportunity to see things they had only read about in dime novels. They peered out the windows, excited to face the adventure.
However, when the train stopped at the Palisade, Nevada station on the way from Chicago to San Francisco, no bandits, gunfire, or Indians met them. It was a sleepy little town where they could stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat. People complained. The West wasn’t so wild after all.
Around 1876, the residents decided to give them what they wanted. A grand, frightening adventure. It started with a simple gunfight, which only happened when the train stopped. Men argued, and someone pulled out a gun, much like the gunfights in our modern tourist attractions. However, there was no clapping at the end. No one told the passengers it was an act.
Over time, the “show” became more elaborate. Railroad workers and members of the Shoshone Tribe took part in the act. Actors loaded guns with black powder but no bullets. A local slaughterhouse provided blood to make injuries appear real. “Hangings,” “bank robberies,” and “scalpings” added variety.
As soon as the train stopped and passengers disembarked, the shooting began. Everyone ran for cover. Townspeople “died” and were carried to a local saloon, where they recovered and watched the rest of the show.
Passengers returned to the train, none the worse for wear, and continued to their destination. Among them were newspaper reporters who wrote articles describing the terrifying scene. Palisade, Nevada became known as the most dangerous town west of Chicago. Editorials blasted authorities for letting crime run rampant (even though the little town was so safe it didn’t have a sheriff).
This hoax ran for about three years, drawing tourists from across the country.
In a sense, Palisade was the first Wild West tourist attraction. Think of that next time you watch a staged gunfight where everyone claps at the end, and the “dead” men hop up to take a bow. Even in the 1870s, they had to stage events for tourists. Although it would have been terrifying to experience, thinking it was real.
”Mending Sarah’s Heart” in the Thimbles and Threads Collection
Four historical romances celebrating the arts of sewing and quilting.
Mending Sarah’s Heart by Suzanne Norquist
Rockledge, Colorado, 1884
Sarah seeks a quiet life as a seamstress. She doesn’t need anyone, especially her dead husband’s partner. If only the Emporium of Fashion would stop stealing her customers, and the local hoodlums would leave her sons alone. When she rejects her husband’s share of the mine, his partner Jack seeks to serve her through other means. But will his efforts only push her further away?