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Truckee’s past comes to life this weekend

Amanda Butler, Sierra Sun

Truckee’s history is rich with tales from the Wild West – stories complete with good guys and bad guys, jail breaks and shootings, stories chronicled in history books and newspaper accounts.

But why just read about history, when you can also experience it first hand?

The Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce is bringing the past alive in its seventh annual Windows On History program that will be held this weekend in Truckee’s historic downtown.

With the help of groups like the Railroad Regulators, the Sierra Mountainaire Chorus and the Virginia City Gunslingers and Saloon Girls, the chamber hopes to temporarily transform Truckee into the town it once was.

“We take pride in our role in history,” said Rachelle Pellissier, president and CEO of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce. “‘Windows on History is an amusing, yet educational event to share our legacy with visitors and residents new to the area.”

It was Truckee’s location at the base of Donner Summit that made it a critical stop for travelers, pioneers and industrialists as they moved west in the 1800s.

Recreating the adventuresome spirit of those men and women is no small task.

But Dennis Cook and his Railroad Regulators are up to job. Since their formation in May 2000, the Regulators have been reenacting Truckee history with as much authenticity as they can muster.

“We’re trying to keep the old history alive,” said Cook. “There are a lot of new people coming into this town, and they are forgetting our heritage.”

The Regulators’ reenactments come complete with shoot-outs, robberies and gunfights.

“Sometimes history is a little bland,” said Cook. “We like to throw some excitement into it, and get people involved.”

It’s a way of retelling the past that’s called ‘Living History.’

One skit the Regulators perform is based on an 1891 gunfight between Truckee Constable Jacob Teeter and local vigilante James Reed.

Guy Coates, a local historian and member of the Regulators, helped the group keep its historical accuracy.

“(Teeter and Reed) were both lawmen in Truckee,” said Coates in a Sierra Sun article last September. “Teeter was a straight and narrow lawman – by the book. He believed if you committed a crime you should be tried by a court of law. Reed was a member of the 601, a vigilante group that believed in bringing justice through tar and feathering. There may have even been a few lynchings,” said Coates.

The Regulators reenact a gun fight between the two men while a narrator fills the audience in on the history of the conflict.

“It’s a good time for families and really educational for kids,” said Cook. “We include a gun safety demonstration, so kids know not to play with guns.”

But Wild West reenactments are only a portion of the Windows On History program.

The streets of downtown Truckee will also be filled with strolling musicians, saloon girls and other musical acts like rockabilly band J.J. and the Hellcats.

The Sierra Mountainaire Chorus, a barbershop quartet, plans on doing two shows each day. Historic presentations on the Donner Party and Truckee’s ice industry will be presented on Saturday.

On Sunday, the lesser-known stories of mailman John “Snowshoe” Thompson will be told by Don Thompson, a fifth-generation Nevadan. “Snowshoe” was a mailman who trekked 88 miles through the Sierra for 20 years to deliver the mail, often being the only other person families settled deep in the Sierra would ever see.

Greg Palmer will also be on hand Sunday to present “Emigrant Trails, Trials and Triumphs,” an account that describes the emigrant trials on Donner Pass Road. Palmer has been a guide for the Truckee Chamber of Commerce’s annual Donner Party hike for eight years and has gathered extensive knowledge of the pioneers who ventured over Donner Summit.

For more information of Windows On History, or for a full schedule of events, look in this week’s issue of North Shore Truckee ACTION, elsewhere in today’s Sierra Sun, or call the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce at (530) 587-2757.


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