There is something engrossing about seeing history come to life. At Old Abilene Town visitors have the chance to witness this happen each weekend during the summer. This place is family-friendly and includes a mix of static museum-style displays with interactive activities. We dropped in on them on a Saturday afternoon and found that they even had a concession truck available for those needing a snack.
Our arrival was made in time to give us the leisure of walking around the town before the afternoon performance was scheduled to begin. The buildings are laid out like an old street, but there are also a few log cabins that shoot off along one side. This is the section we decided to visit first. Each building is designated for a specific purpose and shows what life would have been like in the 1860s, which is focused around the end of the Civil War. The first was a one-room pioneer home that would have been common for that time period. It was a stark reminder of how simple the lifestyle would have been. This is the kind of place that can be used as a lesson for the kids.
Next up was the jail, which would have also served as the sheriff’s office. While the space was minimal, it still felt roomy compared to the house we had just visited. Old Abilene Town does a good job of using appropriate period artifacts for its displays. As we worked down the lane we viewed a print shop and other small businesses that would have been found in that time period.
Along the main street of Old Abilene Town, we found many more buildings. One side of the street has a long line of shops with a covered boardwalk. Here, there are a series of benches set up for visitors to witness the action. At the end of the street is the Alamo Saloon with the Merchants Hotel sitting directly across the way. Our time was limited since we wanted to watch the show, so we only stopped in the hotel. Inside we found that it was well furnished with period pieces much as it would have been for weary travelers to Abilene Town during the cattle drive days.
Let’s Get It On
When we returned to the street we noticed the crowd assembling along the boardwalk. We made our way down to an open spot in time to see some of the characters come out of the building they use between shows. The actors took time to mingle with the crowd, all while staying in character. Before long the cast was all present and it was time for the show to begin. The cast made sure all of the visitors were stationed at a safe distance from the field of action since they use real guns with blanks. They began by demonstrating the powerful impact that even blanks will have on an aluminum can. This was designed to cast respect for firearms into the crowd, and they also included a public service announcement specifically designed for the kids in the audience. It was a nice touch.
It’s hard to say how much of the act is scripted versus the portion that is a little more impromptu. The characters mix up their act with a storyline that is peppered with audience interaction. In the shot above the town drunk noticed my camera and decided to ham it up a bit. This certainly kept the mood light and jovial, while drawing the audience into the show.
The show is designed to mimic the Wild West days in Old Abilene Town. During those days it was a destination for cattle drives. With cowboys arriving after months on the trail, there was sure to be some excess energy needing to be burnt off. Plenty of saloons fueled the atmosphere and blowing off steam would lead to deadly interactions. The actors of the show try to portray this in a way that shows what life was like in a less-than lawful environment.
When you mix cowboys, whiskey, and guns you are bound to get some unsavory results. There can only be one winner of a gunfight and the other end up in a pine box. Fortunately, it was just for show and he returned to mingle with the crowd after the show.
The group that performs at Old Abilene Town are members of a non-profit organization designed to preserve this historic site. While the town was developed in the 1960s, it fell into decline after its popularity faded in the 1980s. Historic Abilene, Inc. was formed in 2003 to raise funds to purchase and refurbish the site. Their work continues today, with the help of volunteers. It is a worthwhile endeavor that we were happy to help support. Be sure to thank the cast for their diligence when you visit.
The show was entertaining and afterward, the cast mingled with the crowds and posed for pictures. Being true actors, they relished every minute of this attention, even though they were not exactly dressed for the near 100-degree weather. We thanked them for the entertainment and said our goodbyes. We hope that this article will stir a desire for you to add this interesting attraction to your itinerary when you visit Abilene, Kansas. We are betting you will have a rootin-tootin good time. Be sure to watch your step and obey the law, since the Marshall and his men will be watching you!