Chuck “Butch” Premro was 20 when he participated in the very first Jackson Hole Shootout.
He remembers the characters who came forth the first few days to act out a bit of the Old West during the summer of 1957. Chuck said there was a lot of ad libbing during the hold-ups, the shootouts, the near hangings, the quick draws and the finale, when the dead outlaws were thrown on their horses to be led off by the posse. The performance was simple, exciting and successful.
With no script and no rehearsal, everyone was a bit nervous the first night, Chuck said. Dave Thompson was the original sheriff in the show, which was performed partly in front of Mercill’s Grocery Store. Dave, Jimmy Mercill’s brother-in-law, was the manager of the store. Also involved in those early days were Tommy Benson, owner of the hardware store, and his brother Billy. Chuck, who was Ruth Luton’s son, was a construction laborer working on the new grade school.
After a short briefing the four guys walked down the back alley over to Cache Street to meet up with the other performers. Joe Madden furnished the horses because he had stables at the west end of town. One of the outlaws was Clover Sturlin, who owned a coal distribution business with his son Buddy. The first night of the shootout, Paul Hanson‘s business, which was located on the corner of Cache and Broadway, was to be robbed.
Other performers included June Madden, Bill and Jean Mills, Clay Taylor, Betty Nelson, Elena Ross, Bill St. Jean, Houston Simpson and Jack Van Ausdeln. In those days the shootout didn’t start until 8 p.m.
Things were different on the second day and days to come. The news was out, and the crowds were large. Many more local characters started to show up with their ideas, old props, guns, holsters, rifles and black powder blank cartridges. Women dressed in their handmade dance-hall-style dresses.
Chuck said he could see all these changes unfolding from day to day. He had the best view in all of Jackson: the roof of Lumley Drug. Up there, overlooking Town Square, he played one of the characters. His role involved being shot at and rolling down the back side of the false fronts. To this day he doesn’t know if he was being shot at by the posse or the outlaws.
The shootout was funded by donations, mostly from area merchants. Money was needed for blank ammunition, the stagecoach and seven horses. The main contributors were Paul Hanson, Roy Jensen, Lumley Drug, the Bluebird Cafe and the Wort Hotel. Hobart DeWolf loaded the ammunition, and Clay Taylor was the gun master.
At almost 60 years old the Jackson Hole Shootout is the longest continuously running program of its type in the United States.