This county family stars in its very own Wild West Show
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on October 6, 2013 1:50 AM
The Wayne County Gunfighters, also known as the Thomas family, perform the Western Gunfight Show in Western Town at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.
Heated words are exchanged.
Neither side is backing down.
Voices rise as guns are drawn.
The tension breaks as the offenders are led away to jail.
The respite is short-lived though as the lawmen are distracted -- and there is a jail break.
Shots ring out.
In the end, the lawmen win, as they always do.
After all, it is just a show.
Every year at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair, Melody and Billy Ray Thomas, along with their friends and family, put on the spectacle for free every couple hours for fairgoers.
The Wayne County Gunfighters have been one of the fair's biggest draws for almost three decades and it all started out as a joke.
"We were all out at the horse barn at the fair and some little children came around and said 'bang, bang' and the men just fell over like they were dead," Melody Thomas said.
She is the matriarch of the gunfighters and also sewed all of the dresses for the shows.
She is also part of the show.
"Those saloon girl dresses are at least 22 years old," Melody said. "They've needed a repair here and there over the years, but they've held up."
She and her husband, Billy Ray, started the gunfighters with a few friends and a few children watching them rolling around in the dirt for giggles -- and almost 30 years later, they use real guns, Hollywood blanks and draw up to 300 people a show.
"The children would giggle and run off and bring back more kids and then more and more came. The fair organizers asked what we were doing and we told them we were just playing around, but they liked it so much they said we could do it the next night and it became a thing," Melody said.
The gunfighters have performed at many fairs and in a number of parades, but Wayne County's fair will always be home.
The first time they had a big crowd Melody said she was nervous about performing in front of a lot of people she knew.
"I felt ridiculous, but now I forget the people are even there. And if we go up there and trip over someone's boots it's OK because around here we don't laugh enough, and if they didn't like it they wouldn't keep coming back," she said.
Billy Ray has worn the same hat and coat for 30 years. While his jacket leather has held up well to the rough and tumble of the gunfights, this outlaw is happier taking a pretend bullet in the gut right out of the gate and slowly letting himself down to the dirt.
The running around is for the younger gunslingers.
With three generations performing in the shows -- one daughter even got married during a gunfight -- the Thomases think the tradition will live on as long the fair crowds want to see it.
"We always think they'll get tired of it, but they don't. We think, 'This will be the last year.' but the crowds are still there, so we'll keep doing it," Melody said. "We used to hand out old timey money to the kids and some of them would ask me to sign it, and I just remember thinking, 'Someone wants my autograph.'"
They don't make a lot of money from the show -- and what they did bring home was used for a family Christmas party.
It is about the fun.
And when the fair ends, the Wild West goes home with the Thomas family.
Their house is adorned with Wild West sheriff's badges, sculptures of buffalos and even pictures of the family's real life buffalo, Mel.
"You never think you'll end up doing something like this," Melody said. "We do cowboys year-round at the house."