SINCLAIRVILLE – While cowboy was once an honorable occupation when the American frontier was young, it has since been transmuted more into a state of mind. Regardless of whether you’re an old cowhand yearning for wide open space, or a young Louis L’Amour fan thinking of picking up the banjo, today is the day to celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy.
The National Day of the Cowboy was an initiative launched in 2004. Since then, seven states: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Mississippi have signed the day into perpetual legislation to be celebrated on the fourth Saturday in July. Five more states: Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee and Washington have signed resolutions to celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy in 2013, as well.
Although New York has not passed any legislation designating today as the National Day of the Cowboy, there are people in Chautauqua County that plan on celebrating it nonetheless.
Bill Frost of Bill’s Gun and Saddle, better known as Wild Bill, has plenty of cowboy-themed activities and events planned for today.An old cowboy at heart, Frost has been in the gun and saddle business for 50 years, but his passion for cowboyin’ goes back as far as he does. As a testament to his passion, he erected an Old West town on his property decades ago, and despite being 84 years old, he still holds western shows for guests.
“I worked with a group for 20 years after we set this up,” said Frost. “Up until that point, we performed outside shows, but now we’re all getting a little older, so we decided to ride off into the sunset while we were able to. We don’t (hold too many performances) anymore, but now we’re taking in tours of the Old West town. Sometimes we take in groups from colleges that are learning about cowboy culture, and by coming here, with my museum and everything, they get to put their hands on all the cowboy equipment they’re learning about.”
In addition to his mock Old West town, Frost also has a saddle museum, which Frost himself prides as the most extensive saddle museum this side of the Mississippi.
“People come from all over the country to see my (saddle museum),” said Frost. “Some of these saddles came through the family, and a majority of the saddles I picked up out west. On a few occasions, there have been folks who have offered to trade an antique saddle for a gun they wanted from my shop, and if the deal made sense, I happily accepted it.”
For National Day of the Cowboy, Frost is inviting every interested person, free of charge, to visit his gun shop, saddle museum, and old west town. Additionally, he will be holding gun and lasso spinning lessons, as well as whip cracking lessons – once again free of charge.
“You don’t need to go all the way to Tombstone when you can just come to Sinclairville to see the same thing,” said Frost. “A lot of people have a little bit of interest in the Wild West, and of course, us older people were brought up on western movies. A lot of our new generation today hasn’t had any exposure to it, but we had plenty of it back then. When I saw all these (cowboy) tricks done in the movies as a youth, I wanted nothing more than to get on my horse the next day and practice them until I got them right. You don’t get the chance to see them that much anymore, but everyone who shows up (today) will be guaranteed to see them. The way I look at it is: there are a lot of things I don’t care for, but I have a broad enough mind to see what they’re about. So if you’re not narrow-minded, and you’re even a little curious about what being a cowboy means, why don’t you come down and check it out?”
For an old cowboy like Frost, National Day of the Cowboy will only be as successful as Chautauqua County’s city-slickers make it, since every day of Frost’s life has been about cowboyin’. Frost’s wife and weathered cowgirl, Lucile, explained why the National Day of the Cowboy is essential to remembering America’s storied beginnings.
“Cowboy is synonymous with hard work, honesty and high virtues, and I do think they need to be honored,” said Mrs. Frost. “Cowboys still today help to raise the foodstuffs that we need to survive in this county. The real working cowboys are a special breed of person, and their values are sky high. For us to be able to emulate some of those virtues here in the east, honestly I think it’s wonderful.
“What we’re having this Saturday is some of the Hollywood version of cowboys,” continued Mrs. Frost. “These skills that you’ll see (today) are what the cowboys developed when they had free time – when they were out on the range, watching over the cattle, they had a lot of free time. It was a competition to see who could do these tricks fastest, and Hollywood got a hold of it. Whip-cracking was a necessary tool to keep cattle going, it was never just for show. By teaching these skills to those who are interested, we keep the legacy of the cowboy alive.”
Bill’s Gun and Saddle and Old West Town and Museum is located at 39 Prospect St. in Sinclairville, and will receive guests from 12-4 p.m. For questions or more information, contact the Frosts at 962-5168.