PART ONE –THE DISAPPEARANCE
Copyright 2000 By Ghost Rider A.C.B.
Not since Pancho Villa invaded America, Judge Roy Bean passed the Bar, the Donner Party dined on the Dear Departed, Custer went to the Happy Hunting Grounds, Sitting Bull Adopted Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane joined the Sideshow and ---Buffalo Bill out Barnumed Barnum has a stranger story with such perilous consequences and a more colorful cast of characters ever galloped out of The Old West to leap onto the pages of Dime Novel Immortality! If it wasn’t True –you wouldn’t believe it!
Before there was a theatre, a ballet, an opera or any other kind of entertainment in America –Yes Dear Reader even before the very first Dance Hall Girl kicked up her heels and showed her derriere –there was a circus and with that circus there was a family of acrobats, jugglers, aerialist and equestrians who with painted caravans, dancing horses and some exotic species of wildlife in tow – these brave hearted frontier troupes of multi-talented children and adults of all ages struggled along the old buffalo paths and Indian trails to trade with and entertain the various tribes, trappers, hunters and adventurers from all nations who gathered together at the annual convention of wilderness survivors called a “Rendezvous.” A meeting of the minds of rugged practitioners of the fine art of surviving from one spring to the next. A kind of Frontier Think Tank where ideas, goods, talents, skills and crafts were shared, traded, bartered or sold by whatever item passed for the current currency.
A “Rendezvous” was a conglomerate cross culture festival unique to the new world where some of the more resilient individuals who participated in this annual ritual had not seen nor felt the touch of another human being since the last time they made a head and body count. Generally understood among concerned parties was that a missing face in the crowd signaled the sad news that nature gone berserk in the wilderness had claimed yet another victim on the frontier and heartfelt prayers ascended to the heavens “Thank God it wasn’t me!” “I wonder what got poor old Jacque or George or Gustav?” Then despite the celebratory nature of this Early American Bash, they respectfully recited a litany of remembrances of the last time they saw the one they would see no more who in death seemed to shed all his vices and gained inches in moral stature. Such was the tenuous existence of life on the frontier and such was tenure of this frontier fore-runner of one of the most popular attractions of modern day underground economy where the more enterprising Flea Market entrepreneurs offer free circus act as an enticement for boosting attendance. As it is now –so it was then with Circus Performers providing the kind of thrills and entertainment absent from the lives of those for whom just Staying Alive is the ultimate Adventure.
Despite obvious similarities no circus performer of today could ever boast so curious and eclectic a homespun creation as was assembled of the treasured mix of odds and ends salvaged from The Old World to which they added all they were able to obtain on trade deals from the New. Beads and feathers, Bears claws and Buffalo horns were just a few of the decorative items they added to their Vegas type costumes which if they didn’t scare the hell out of you with their Dare Devil Performances – their costumes surely would!
No cut throat adventurer or Indian Chief in his right mind or proper ceremonial dress would dream of out shining the egocentric flair or ostentatious drama of a Frontier Circus Performer in full fledged Pioneer Per-forming Regalia. They neither heard of nor aspired to the concept that “Less is More.” Their very survival being dependent on not only their ability to perform but to differentiate and establish a psychic dimension all their own. Survival on the Frontier and in he Wild West was as much dependent on ones belief system as it was on sheer physical stamina. Having a strong constitution involved as much intellect and psychic powers as it did muscle and sinew. Nobody survived The Frontier unless they believed in themselves and established so strong a presence that others believed in them as well. The Wilder-ness did not suffer wimps or tolerate doubters who had no faith in their own ability to surmount every obstacle.
Given that all of the unsettled territories of the United States were once The Wild West and given that The Wild West has long been credited for creating that most unique of all Homo Sapiens –The first truly liberated Cro Magnon –free in body, spirit and mind –The American –an original –forever freed from the shackles of Old World philosophies, customs, constrictions, mental confinements, moral dictates and social restrictions. Free to breath, think, live and experience a completely liberating cultural make-over. Unfortunately a freedom he later denied to those who enabled him to survive long enough to experience so extraordinary an internal and external cultural revolution. The Indians without whom there would never have been “The American Original.”
So too was the Wild West version of the centuries old tradition of all those talents which combine to make up that unique being called a Circus Performer whose own experience among the Indians and in the wilder-ness caused them to take stock of themselves, restructure their place in the world and rethink their reason d’etre. The Wild West caused a similar personal cultural revolution in them, which eventually gave rise to a Theatre of Marvels the likes of which has never been seen before nor since. An evolution only made possible by the original hospitality of the first ecologists and conservationists ever to set foot on this continent. The American Indians.
Another cultural event in which circus performers could participate when invited were the annual Pow Wows wherein Native Americans celebrated their own heritage by means of various rituals, dances, feasts and games. An indigenous celebration to which they sometimes extended a welcome to Circus Families of the Wasichu. Having witnessed their extraordinary athletic feats, their ability to perform magic, their uncanny means of communicating with members of the Animal Kingdom and the mysterious God like way they had of engaging horses and other animals to perform at their command. The Indians in their zeal to explain the mysteries of The White Race and the glaring differences between circus families and other white eyes concluded that The Rainbow People who dance with horses, play with fire and make things disappear have come to this Earth –like the Red Man himself –from some other plane of existence. After all –-had they not brought with them animals that had never been seen before but in the sacred visions of the Holy Ones? The Medicine Man? It is this strange belief that I feel holds a clue to the disappearance of The Frontier Legends I am seeking. All Native Americans have a similar spiritual mythology however differently they may choose to express it. A creation myth which explains where they come from and how they got here. Contrary to current scientific theory that the indigenous peoples of the Americas came to this continent by way of an now submerged land bridge from Asia –their belief and their religion much of which is held sacred and withheld from the White Man by secret societies within the tribes nevertheless reveals this much of the cornerstones of their belief system and that is that The Red Man was originally transported to The Blue Planet (Earth) from The Misty Planet (Venus). A supposed fantastic voyage which was to have taken place on a craft they call “A Sun Boat”.
Since the ultimate fate of The Indians had so profound an effect on the destiny of The Frontier Circus Family around which this Western Tale of Heroes, Outlaws, Outcasts, Outer Limits and thing that go bump in the night revolves, perhaps we should take a moment to ponder so outlandish a possibility and not simply reject it out of hand because it sounds far fetched. Lots of things seem like propositions of the lunatic fringe until such time as they are proved to be true. Like for instance the earth was round to people who thought it was flat. Any upstanding individual of the distant past who had their wits about them and was possessed of even an iota of common sense knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you were so reckless as to sail a ship too far out into the ocean it would inevitably fall right off the edge barring the distinct possibility that a Giant Sea Monster didn’t swallow it first!
It’s disquieting to consider that the everyday tenants of common sense in the millennium could eventually turn out to be as wacky and hair brained as the common sense attitudes of the past.
Not only is a suspension of disbelief a prerequisite when inquiring into matters that don’t make sense, so too is a sense of humor necessary when contemplating the horrific possibility that the world as we know it may be little more than a Master Magicians illusion and history as we have been taught little more than a historical revisionists fantasy!
When inquiring into matters that boggle the mind, challenge the senses and border on the absurd, whether seeking answers to murder, mystery and mayhem West of the Pecos or West of a place in space called Orion, it behooves the amateur detective to consider the words of wisdom by the Two Shakespeares –both legendary Showmen of their time. William, who wrote the following words… “There are more things in Heaven and Earth Horatio, than this world dreams of” and The Shakespeare of Advertising, P.T. Barnum who said “There is a sucker born every minute!”
I am not a Science Fiction fan nor do I scan the night skies for U.F.O.’S. I can’t remember ever having been able to sit through even one episode of Star Trek and frankly my dear I have no idea what Star Wars or any of its Sequels was really about. I am aware of some sort of alleged symbiotic business alliance between George Lucas and The Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, but that’s the extent of my relation-ship to the expanding universe of the astronomers. And I admit somewhat sheepishly to being technologically challenged. An individual for whom a computer still remains a major stumbling block. Like many other Americans who suffer future shock I find more than enough to fascinate me in my own backyard. I am far more at home in the past than a world of tomorrow that I can’t catch up to. I also realize with some irony that my ongoing obsession with uncovering the fate of ancestors lost in the wake of the winning of the West simply masks my fear that those bigger than life characters of a more recent frontier with whom I shared a lifetime in the here and now will slip into a similar oblivion if the memory of those we lost on the frontier is not somehow resurrected. This much I know…. The key to the future lies buried in the past. Because that doesn’t make sense I know it to be true. But trying to track those Phantom Riders of The Plains from the tangled over growth of a Tanbark Trail grown cold over more than a century and separating fact from fiction, myth from make believe is as difficult as trying to pinpoint exactly when and where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid met their fate. The difference being I am not related to Butch Cassidy or The Sundance Kid so whatever happened to them has little or no effect on me except for one very obvious aspect. They were a part of the same apocryphal Theatre of The West that immortalized its Outlaws with as much fervor and ardor as it immortalized its heroes. In the Old West as it is today there’s just a thin blue line that separates The White Hats from The Black Hats. Nobody knows for sure what happened to Butch Cassidy and The Sun-dance Kid anymore than they know what happened to The Under The Rainbow Gang. But people are going to believe what they want to believe. That’s the way it is with legends. A legend takes on a life of it’s own. Granted that the answer to the mysterious vanishing of The Under The Rainbow Gang may be as mundane and unromantic as a Texas size sinkhole that chose to yawn at the precise moment of their capture –the simple fact is –for reasons unknown the entire affair was kept under wraps as though it never happened –their memory erased as though they never existed. Or so they thought! Putting a lid on a legend is like trying to put the Genie back in the bottle! All I have to go on are the stories told around the campfires at midnight when at the end of a long day of Parades, Performances and Practicing when the time came to bid a fond farewell to the town with no name that had been our home for a day and in a frenzy of activity everything was packed, boarded and ready to go, the entire entourage of Cody Cheyenne’s Frontier Circus and Wild West Show embarked on yet another overland voyage to make the miracle happen all over again in some other place in some other town. While we sat on the tracks by the fire light awaiting our trusty old Iron Horse to carry us away into the night we would listen with awe and expectation to the further adventures of our Frontier Forbearers who blazed their own trails through the American West. But because of their clannishness, their own secret societies and distrust of the world outside their canvas perimeters they engaged no biographers and wrote no Dime Novels ---until now that is…. to be continued...
“Each generation must digest the past and make it over. A heritage cannot be handed down it must be conquered” Maya Angelou