A Needed Circus Tent: ‘Bronco Billy ‘dreams that could resurrect a nation

At an annual dinner conducted by the participants of the Annie Oakley Western Arts Showcase there was much discussion about the new location in 2014 at York Woods in Ansonia, Ohio—just north of Greenville.  The reviews of this new site were very favorable, but I wasn’t so sure when we were driving there for the first time.  York Woods was founded in the mid 1800s and today is the site of the Greenville Steam Thrashers—a group dedicated to maintaining antique farm equipment.  Once we arrived I said to my wife that this country was so much God’s that you felt like you could reach up and scratch his beard.  It was amazingly remote and full of character.  It was the first location of our annual Western Arts Showcase which has now been going on for well more than a decade that could justify a circus tent for our shows.  Here is a video of the event:

We had the idea by seeing what kind of tent the drama group had up and for the first time considered that we should hold our future shows in just such a tent.  In previous years our shows were in the Coliseum at the Darke County Fairgrounds about 10 miles to the south.  Several times during the day weather threatened to alter our outdoor show, so it put in our minds the need for adjustments in the future if the York Woods site continued to be the destination.

We hoped that it would because there are things we could likely do at York Woods that we would never be allowed to do at the Fairgrounds, such as using firewhips and live ammunition for portions of our shows.  I typically don’t perform for the exhibitions due to the many restrictions and my lack of interest in living within too many boundaries.   I admire those who do, but I’ve always thought that our shows should incorporate more live fire—as was seen in one of my favorite movies, Bronco Billy.  At York Woods the Annie Oakley Committee actually had shooting contests on site which greatly enhanced the event for the crowd.  The Fairgrounds was in a fairly dense population area, but out in York Woods, there wasn’t much by way of residential living for at least a mile—maybe two.  The farmland was vast and very open giving a truly ideal location for improvements to the Western Showcase.

We could continue to do the shows outside as we have for years, and just work around the weather, but it may well be time to have our own circus tent.  Where space was always in short supply at the Fairgrounds, there was no shortage of space at York Woods giving our group for the first time some creative ability not seen before—so a small circus tent is something that we should pursue in the upcoming year.

 To do this we are looking for corporate sponsorship that could pay for some of the costs and would be proud to feature all benefactors prominently.  There are opportunities here that are unexplored for both parties, the Western Showcase participants and advertisers—so discussion would have to take place to make sure everyone gets what they want.

Interested parties should contact my friend Gery at:


As for my the movie Bronco Billy, it has always been a dream of mine to do for kids what the Clint Eastwood character in that film wanted to achieve.  In that film Bronco Billy was operating his life upstream of the current in society and was functioning by a traditional set of rules that were grossly outdated even by the 1970s standards.  It has always been a dream of mine to step into a circus tent like the one shown at the end of that movie made of American flags.

Americans for too many years have felt guilty for their history, their art, and their success.  The tent at the end of Bronco Billy was a kind of statement of honor in preserving all those things.  But it wasn’t real.  Bronco Billy was just a movie character and the story was fictional.  When the shooting was done, the tent was scrapped, and packed away forever forgotten, except on film. Well, 35 years after that film became a favorite of mine, I’m in the strange position of knowing really the only people left in America who have the ability to put on a show like what Bronco Billy did in that film.  Gery Deer is the closest thing alive to Clint Eastwood’s fictional character in that movie and is the reason he and I have had a friendship that has went on for over a decade now.

The people in Gery’s shows are some of the most genuinely good people I have ever met and the gifts they have to offer the world extend well beyond the yearly shows at Annie Oakley’s festival each year in Greenville.  But you have to start somewhere and it would appear that the York Woods location is the perfect spot for such an audaciously American fantasy.  There were enough crowds at York Woods to fill the stands of a small circus tent and resurrect not in Las Vegas, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, or Orlando, Florida the lost arts of the cowboy, but Ansonia, Ohio the literal birthplace of Annie Oakley herself–one of the best trick shooters anywhere and a person all women should think of as a role model.  Annie Oakley used to say, “Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it.  No, not the first time, or the second and maybe not the third.  But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect.  Finally, you’ll hit the bull’s eye of success.”

I read those words on the back of the brochure the Annie Oakley Committee passed out to visitors of their festival as I watched our group perform their knife throwing exhibitions, and whip tricks and thought of the possibilities if firearms and other—more audacious elements could be added to the show in York Woods in the future.  And I couldn’t help but think of that Bronco Billy circus tent which has been bouncing around in my head for more than three decades now.  There is no reason to aim high in this case because we have the firepower at many levels of hitting this target—a new target that was presented through a change that could very well be for the better.

These days it doesn’t matter if a show is ten miles outside of a town that is already many, many miles away from the rest of civilization.  This is actually a plus, especially when the performers also have the ability of bringing the show to the rest of the world through “media.”  Gery is a television producer—and he is also the producer of the only real Wild West Show left in the world.  There are a few theme park types of acts out there, but nobody has the ability to pull the most talented people in the industry in for a real honest to goodness Wild West Show like Gery.  All he needs to pull off the chance of a lifetime is a circus tent and a few sponsors.

Rich Hoffman www.OVERMANWARRIOR.com