Old West shootouts complete with desperadoes and smoking guns set the stage for the 36th Annual Pioneer Days in High Springs this past weekend.
HIGH SPRINGS – Steven Warren stood armed near a house, “Come out, and no one will be hurt,” he shouted across the dirt space.
“Like I’m gonna believe that,” one man barked from the house.
More words were exchanged, but finally Warren gave orders to an armed gang surrounding the area. “Alright boys, let’s take ‘em.”
As the gang started to approach the house, a loud crack interrupted the attack. The men scrambled to take cover as a shootout between the gang and the family inside the house began.
When the gang tried to flank the house, the encroaching attacker fell to the ground with a thud.
He wasn’t really dead, though. The “gang member” was part of the “Not So Young Guns,” a team of men and women who travel around the state performing reenactments.
There were four showings of the reenactment in downtown High Springs Saturday and Sunday. It was part of the 36th Annual Pioneer Days. More than 38 vendors participated in the town’s annual return to the 19th Century time of cowboys, presented by the High Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Ocklawaha resident Barbara W. Silagi watched a man nearby crack a whip on the dirt road. He could kill a rattlesnake with that if he wanted to, she said.
While the whip cracked back and forth, Silagi continued spinning threads of fabric into pendants. She was wearing a floral-printed bonnet and a matching long-sleeved dress that flowed down to the ground.
Silagi wasn’t the only one to dress up for the event. There was a kids costume contest on Saturday, featuring children from toddlers to 9-year-olds. Alyssa Bunkley, 4, of Gilchrist County, donned a lime green bonnet and matching long dress that her great-grandmother made for her. She tied for first place in her age division.
Wildwood resident Harry Driggers showed his enthusiasm for the pioneer days in a different way. He brought his prized covered wagon on Saturday. The wagon was originally purchased in Montana in 1912. Driggers purchased the sheep herder wagon in 2007 and restored it to look authentic.
Driggers said his interest in the pioneer era stemmed from his father, who was one of the “old Florida cracker cowboys.” His father worked the cattle near Paynes Prairie, Driggers said.
Retired from a career in law enforcement, Driggers returns to a more peaceful lifestyle in Wildwood. He said the wagon both reminds him of his heritage, but is also kind of like a toy for him.
“When you get old you gotta have something to play with,” Driggers said.
Other vendors presented their products in a more modern way. Melissa Diedricks, of Ambrosia Candies, didn’t dress up in pioneer costumes to sell peanut brittle, but enjoyed seeing the costumed visitors walk up and down the street of vendors. “We love all the costumes,” she said.
Another vendor, Shauna Lee, of High Springs, came to advertise her new business, Vintage Fudge. Lee said that the fudge shop will open on Main Street, across from The Great Outdoors Restaurant.
Visitors could enjoy live music from Cowboy Dave, Velvetta Underground, Chris Newman and other musicians at the gazebo, judge the pie contest entries at Heritage Village and then grab a seat for the shootout.
Many of the visitors said the food and atmosphere keep them coming back to the annual event, but the younger visitors were intrigued by the bounce houses and rock climbing in the Kids Korral. Kaelyn Kinney, 5, of High Springs, said her favorite part of the event was the slide.
Sandra Webb, the events manager for the High Springs Chamber of Commerce, said that although this year’s parade was cancelled, she feels like this year’s event was a success. She said the volunteers from the Criminal Justice Academy at Newberry High School ensured the event ran smoothly.
“Everyone seems like they’re having a good day,” she said.