LIVING IN THE PAST: REENACTORS OF THE GASKILL BROTHERS GUNFIGHTERS

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By Ariele Johannson

April 9, 2013 (Campo)--The reenactors involved in this fascinating hobby of bringing the famed Campo Gunfight to life have their own histories and stories of how they came to portray the Old West—that is, when they are not working as investment brokers, linemen, firefighters, lawyers, and more.

Frenchy (photo, right) is played by Bear Larsen, who has acted in Hollywood movies, such as The Dogs directed by John De Bello, best known for directing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Larsen has been involved in reenacting for over 30 years. He speaks about it this way: "I love doing it. It's in my heart."

The man who played Cruz Lopez (photo, below left) is Epiphany Lopez or "Epie" from Potrero (though no relation to Cruz). “My family has been in San Diego since 1769,” he proudly exclaims looking like a Californio in his period dress. He is related to the Machados, who were among the first families in Old Town, San Diego.

His wife, Lolie Lopez, is also a reenactor who portrays women of the period. Epiphany Lopez has been a “gunfighter” since 1982, back when the Gaskill Brothers Gunfighters used to be called the Campo Gunfighters. His cousin, Jaime Lopez, a retired federal wildfire fighter, has also recently joined the group. For years, he watched Epiphany act in skits and it eventually, "roped him in."

Another of the ladies, Jan Hedlun of Potrero, portrayed a woman of the town in this skit. She and her “husband” came into the Campo Store to get supplies just before it was attacked. Jan said that after her real-life husband died, she saw one of the skits. Jan credits Lolie with getting her involved. “I need help,” Lolie told her. “Here’s a costume.” (photo right: Jan Hedlun and Lolie Lopez)

Jim Garza (photo, top of article, left) has been with the Gaskill Brothers Gunfighters four years. He describes how he began putting together his outfit, piece by piece. Careful preparation adds authenticity to the reenactment. "I made the pants and jacket myself,” he says, “and I made the gun belt and the holster with leather-working tools." He then crafted a persona: Santiago Rawlins, of Welsh and Mexican descent.

Taking facts from his own roots and weaving them with stories he researched of the Old West, he put together his new identity. Santiago is the Spanish equivalent of James, his own name. (In the Campo Gunfight, he played a member of the Chavez gang.) “Santiago” is a Southern Texas and Northern Mexico vaquero. “My Mom’s Welsh and my Dad’s Mexican. For my character, I switched that,” said Garza, whose own ancestor fought in the Mexican-American War, and met his wife around the time of the Battle for Mexico City. He was wounded and she was a nurse taking care of him.

Some of the reenactors also belong to an older group called The Hole in the Wall Gang. David Sommerville (photo, left), who played Silas Gaskill in the gunfight, stated that The Hole in the Wall Gang started after 1945 when men were returning from World War II. At that time, they were all horsemen. Bryon Harrington is the skit director for that “gang.”

 

View a reenactment of the Campo Gunfight, with videos:  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/12956

Click here for the fascinating history behind this true tale:  http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/12958