TOMBSTONE — The 10th annual Tombstone Wild West Days kicked off Saturday with a parade that pays tribute to the men and women of the armed forces.
With plenty of competition from the likes of gunslingers, American Legion Riders, mounted units and floats, it was a group of donkeys that won first place.
Seventeen donkeys and their handlers, decked out in costumes that captured historic military moments, stole the show as they sauntered down Allen Street to an applauding crowd.
“I love the Rosie the Riveter pair,” exclaimed Doris Robbins, a spectator visiting the area from Fort Benning, Georgia. “The whole entry is adorable. They even have the sailor (George Mendonsa) who kissed the nurse (Gerta Zimmer Friedman) from that iconic photo taken in Times Square when World War II ended.”
The donkeys are residents of Forever Home Donkey Rescue & Sanctuary, a facility located between Benson and Cascabel, owned by John and Tish Hiestand.
“Since Wild West Days is organized as a salute to men and women of the armed forces, we decided to go with a theme honoring our veterans and military,” Tish said prior to the parade’s start. “Some of the historic characters we’re representing are Rosie the Riveter, a USO girl, an Army general and a drill instructor.
“We even have a Missing in Action Memory Table that we’re pulling down the parade route.”
While nearly 40 entries had registered for the parade, Saturday’s windy weather caused a few cancellations, said AJ Biami, one of the event organizers.
“Cancellations tend to happen when the weather is uncooperative, but it was still a nice parade with a pretty good crowd,” Biami said.
The Goose Flats Gunslingers, Tombstone Vigilantes and Vigilettes, Wild West Witches of Tombstone, the Vintage Motor Car Club of America out of Sierra Vista, Veterans organizations and Benson Pony Express mounted group are examples of some of Saturday’s entries.
The event’s three judges, Lt. Col. Michael Ronn, Maj. Cess Palacios and Sgt. Maj. Richard Hawk, work at Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center on Fort Huachuca.
“This is the third year the clinic has brought out leadership to judge the Wild West Days parade, and my second year as a judge,” Ronn said. “It’s a fun parade and a great opportunity to interact with the community and honor our veterans.”
Tombstone business owner and veteran Steve Goldstein was honored as event grand marshal. Goldstein has been a staunch supporter of Wild West Days since its inception 10 years ago.
Celebrity impersonator Mark Staggs is in Tombstone this weekend portraying Festus, the beloved “Gunsmoke” character played for 11 years by the late actor Ken Curtis, with proceeds from his shows benefiting the Tombstone Senior Center.
“I lived in Tucson for about 20 years, so I’ve been in Tombstone before, but never as Festus — just as my regular self,” he said in a brief interview. “I do more than 100 impersonations, but Festus is the one who pays the bills. Festus is the bestus.”
Sponsored by the Wild West Detachment of the Marine Corps League, Wild West Days continues through Sunday with opening ceremonies at 10:30 a.m., followed by street entertainment through the day, ending at 2:30 p.m. with a gun raffle.
“Proceeds from Wild West Days benefit USO (United Services Organization) Arizona,” said event coordinator Bill Pakinkis. “USO representatives are in Tombstone through the weekend to assist us with this event, which we greatly appreciate.”
Sunday Schedule for Tombstone Wild West Days events
10:30 a.m. — Opening Ceremonies
11 a.m. — Dog Trainer
11:30 a.m. — Wild West Witches perform
11:45 a.m. — Goose Flats Gunslingers
Noon — Dancing Duo
12:15 p.m. — Tombstone Vigilantes
12:30 p.m. — Goose Flats Gunslingers
12:45 p.m. — Lee Mckechnie, Old Tombstone
1 p.m. — Dog Trainer
1:15 p.m. — Dancing Duo
1:30 p.m. — Tombstone Vigilantes
1:45 p.m. — Lee Mckechnie, Old Tombstone
2 p.m. — Goose Flats Gunslingers
2:30 p.m. — Drawing for Gun Raffle
Sunday schedule for Festus impersonator, Mark Staggs
8:30 a.m. “Breakfast with Festus” at Longhorn Restaurant
10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Festus on Allen Street
2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Festus at Puny John’s Restaurant