Herald and Journal, Oct. 1, 2001

Two Old West locals go pro with new Wild West Stock Company in Winsted

By Lynda Jensen

Leather and lead is the life of two local Old West re-enactors, Jeff Amland, Winsted, and Scott Miller, Howard Lake.

The duo travel often together wearing authentic 1800s cowboy apparel and giving demonstrations as they work for the Wild West Stock company, which is a relatively new business in Winsted.

"It's unusual for two Old West re-enactors to be living so close to each other," commented, Terri Neff, Winsted Township.

Neff owns the Wild West Stock Company, and employs Miller and Amland as re-enactors. She employs about 35 re-enactors, who can pull off events such as train robberries, and exhibitions, she said.

Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, brothers Wyatt and Ervin Erp, Tom Horn, and the James gang members are just some of the performers that are acted out by Wild West performers, Neff said.

There's no polyester here, Neff said. For example, saloon girls wear genuine silk and cotton - no zippers, she said.

Performers wear the correct clothing, true to the era, down to the right guns, Neff said.

Miller and Amland traditionally pack Colt six shooter revolvers, Amland said.

Most authentic western performers like this are spread out over a wide area, covering the five-state area, she said.

Miller and Amland's recent venture is to promote three books about the James-Younger gang, written by Jack Koblas.

Koblas' most recent book, Faithful Unto Death, was released to coincide with this year's 125th anniversary of the failed robbery of the Northfield Bank by the James Younger Gang.

As some may know, Northfield was the first Minnesota bank that the James-Younger gang tried to rob as it drifted north in search of easier pickings, Neff said.

Before the Northfield robbery attempt, the James-Younger gang enjoyed a kind of "Robin Hood" reputation southward, Neff said, which enabled them to easily rob banks and hide with sympathetic friends and relatives.

Minnesota was unfamiliar territory, and when the James-Younger gang struck the bank, residents struck back, Neff said.

"We killed a lot of 'em, jailed a lot of 'em . . . and sent the James gang home," Neff laughed.

Neff's Wild West Stock Company, which started in 1999, is supplying many old west re-enactors to accompany the author to bookstores in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Florida and Texas.

Miller and Amland left Friday to start the tour, with appearances in Ames and West Des Moines, Iowa, Kansas City, and St. Joseph, Missouri.

Miller returned Sunday, although Amland stayed on for the second leg of the trip to Kansas and Texas, Miller said.

Re-enactors will usually take on another persona during their performances. Miller is known as "Jonah Hex," and Amland is "Renegade."

Miller took part in a photo shoot Sept. 11 for TrueWest magazine for a story on the author.

Miller and Amland also took part in filming a documentary on Koblas' first Jesse James related book The Jesse James Northfield Raid: confessions of the Ninth Man, which is expected to air in early 2002.

Amland performed as a horse re-enactor three years ago in the Tom Selleck movie "Ride with the Devil." Since then, Amland became a professional re-enactor with the Wild West company.

Miller prefers to be just a regular cowboy, which seems to reflect his easygoing, soft spoken demeanor.

Aside from the Jesse James books, Miller and Amland have done appearances for Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, Minnesota Pioneer Park, the Winsted Summer Festival, and Coldwell Banker Realty.

A five-day job for the Durango Silverton Railroad in Colorado was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks' impact on airline travel, Neff said.

Neff originally became interested in re-enacting from her husband, Warren, who is retired from 28 years of law enforcement. Warren plays a character known as "DeadEye," who can be an outlaw, U.S. Marshal, or cowboy, depending on the show.

"I just joined the Old West Society of Minnesota and took her to a monthly meting so she'd know what I was doing," Warren recalled.

Nowadays, the Wild West Stock company supplies re-enactors for private events, and even movies, such as Mel Gibson's "The Patriot."

A few years ago, about 16 Wild West performers went to Tombstone, Ariz. to compete against other Old West groups in re-enacting, Neff said. They were asked to do an encore performance at the time, she said.

As Minnesotans, they had a bit of stigma to overcome at first, but bested camps from Texas, California, and Arizona, she said. "We kicked butt," she said.

This February, the Wild West company will go to Tombstone again, she said.

Profile of an Old West re-enactor

Most Old West re-enactors will take on a specific character, which is true of Winsted's Jeff Amland. Here is the story of "Renegade," which is Amland's alter ego.

I was born Jefferson Alan, in the Minnesota territory in 1845.

My father, Joshua and olders brothers, Joseph and James were hard work'n farmers. My mother Sadie, and little sister Sophie took good care of our cabin, and fed us all well.

Farm'n was as hard a life as any man or woman would have chosen or be born into. But it was a good life for our family.

Later in the year 1861, the Sioux began steal'n stock and burn'n homesteads in our part of the country, Willow Creek, State of Minnesota.

The Union Army was here, but couldn't stop the kill'n that was to come. Pa was say'n that the Sioux wanted their land back; this land, our land. The Union government said the Sioux would be paid for this and, or given other land in trade.

But the Union government lied to them, and cheated them out of the many promises that were to be kept. I blame the Union Government for the murder of my family by the Sioux.

I was fish'n for our supper when they came. I can still hear Ma and Sophie scream'n while Pa, Joseph and James were surrounded by Sioux. I hid in a hollow tree trunk, down the hill from our cabin, near the creek. They all died that day, while I stayed hid, too scared to die with them.

The day after I buried my family on that hill above Willow Creek, I stole the first horse I could find and left this Union state for Missouri. I planned to become a citizen of the Confederate States of American. I will live as a Reb.

More than a year went by. I heard that President Lincoln of the Union States granted the hang'n of 33 Sioux in Mankato, for their kill'n ways. They say those gallows was the largest ever built.

I was close on to 18 now, work'n as a hired man on a farm in Clay County, Missouri. I made myself as good with a horse as any man, and better than most with a pistol. I saw Capt. Quantrill of the Confederate Army, and no less than 200 of this men, and mounts, ride past as I was split'n rails.

I mustered up the courage, and followed them to where they set camp and pickets. Capt. Quantrill wouldn't talk with me, but he did shove me over on William Anderson, a man with no rank that I know of, but a man every soldier answered to with respect and fear. I proved myself, signed on, and rode as a Confederate.

We were bushwackers, Confederate guerrillas. We kill't Union soldiers, Redlegs, Jayhawkers, and Union sympathizers from Lawrence, Kansas, to Contralia, Missouri. The James and Younger boys stayed on in Missouri thrash'n on Union railroads and banks.

I headed south, and troubles found me right quick. I was ridin' through some devil-owned land in western Texas when a freight wagon with a heavy load came right to me, on this two-bit road.

They were Union Army supplies with two on the wagon, and two mounted escorts. I was near-starved and they had more than they needed.

It wasn't but an hour or thereabouts later when a pair of Texas Rangers must have found that wreck of blue bellies and riggin, and came hunting for me, hard and fast.

I headed west, out of Texas, think'n they'd quit. Those damn Texas Rangers dogged me all the way to the Arizona Territory. When my mount had no more to give me, now on foot, I headed into the rocks. We had a good battle until a Ranger's slug got lucky. Their rifle shots ended. S'pose they thought I was done.

The gunfire started up again, from the north. I saw one Apache work'n those damn Rangers. I'd never seen a wildcat stalk his prey such like this man was hunt'n them Rangers. He either sent them to hell or scared them back to Texas. I thought he'd come hunt'n for me next, but he didn't. I weren't his enemy.

After time, the Apache medicine healed my wounds. The warrior that saved my life became my brother. His name, Salvaje. Hsi people learned to listen to his sign, because he had no voice. The Union saber to his neck kill't his words. Over time, together, we fought many Union soldiers and Arizona Rangers. We were both bushwackers, guerrillas. He gave me the game, Renegade.

I learned much about the spirits of the sun, earth, water, and ancestors.Then the spirits of my family began call'n me home to Willow Creek. I asked Salvaje to ride north with me. He may follow me one day. At least there ain't any Rangers in Minnesota. We had our fill of them.

Ride hard and shoot straight, Renegade


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