Sun City SteamFest Part I: The Clockwork Cowboy
“As Davis began to arise and inquire what was the matter I began to work on him with the six-shooter. He begged and hollered, but I kept on shooting until I was satisfied he was dead.”
-John Wesley Hardin, The Life of John Wesley Hardin (1896)
By Oisin McGillion Hughes
“Well you know, we used to do gunfight reenactments,” John Michael Downey (aka Oiel Deblanc), explained.
Downey’s a tall, lean man with a perpetual up-to-no-good grin. While in character, he wears a white-iris contact lens in his right eye.
“Mostly it was tongue-in-cheek schtick that would end in a gunfight. We used to do commercials a lot, we did a couple shows at the Sun Bowl. We did the miss Texas beauty pageant. We were Texas state champions a couple years in a row. It was fun. Then it starts to hurt,” he said and laughed.
It was Saturday night at Tricky Falls and the Sun City Steam Fest was in full swing. As we were talking, a Mexican American cowboy, a representative of a collective of Old West gun-fight reenactors walked in. This group was made up of the Salt River Regulators and some members of Six Guns and Shady Ladies.
“John, you gonna be in this?” He was referring to a shootout between the Pistoleros and Downey’s Steampunk group The Clockwork Rebellion.
“Okay,” the Cowboy said, his thumbs in his gun belt. “We’re just going to badger back and forth, shoot a couple of rounds,” he said, firing his thick index fingers in the air. “I’ll go up to Steve, they’re going to send him to bitch me out, and I’m going to hit him. A point black shotgun.” His finger recoiled from the shot.
“Poor bastard,” Downey said, smirking, while he pinched the tips of his mustache with his black-gloved right hand.
“They are nominating you to start it,” the Cowboy said.
“All right,” Downey nodded. The Cowboy walked outside.
Downey’s not a cowboy anymore. The transmutation to Steampunk Gunfighter started about ten year ago. “We came back from the Renaissance festival outside of Houston and they were having a pirate party at Club 101, when it used to be up on Mesa. There were a lot of off the rack costumes, but there were a couple guys that looked really splendid. As did we. So we hooked up with these cats. Then there was another pirate party a month later at some hotel and we ran into these other couple guys and they weren’t shopping at costume stores. So we got together. And then one day they said: listen to Abney Park, listen to this music. And the music was really good. We were curious about the whole look and this whole thing. And you Google it, you know, “Steampunk.” And we said, wow, this is right up our alley.”
At this point Donald McDonald, a long-time partner-in-crime, slapped Downey on the shoulder on his way outside for a smoke. McDonald (aka Bonnie Black Donnie O' Irish) has been a part of the Clockwork Rebellion from the start. The pair give the impression of two Studio-era Hollywood cowboy character actors. They smoke, they drink, they party. Their first full immersion in Steampunk culture was a three-day convention at Old Tuscon studios in Arizona. “We were grossly under-dressed, and we still are,” he chuckled.
“It’s insane, but you find out its huge its everywhere It’s in China, Japan. And it’s all over Europe. Mostly, yeah, it’s about not growing up. I mean, these are the people that really love Halloween,” Downey said, looking over at the Cowboy, who had walked in again, along with other members of the Pistoleros and Clockwork Rebellion.
They stepped outside. Downey talked trash. A crowd gathered. The cowboys got hot under the collar: “This is our town, our bar.” The Pistoleros shot pistols. The Steampunks shot lasers. The Cowboy fell down dead on the sidewalk. His kerchief caught fire from the gunshot. Someone dumped a glass of water on it. The Clockwork Rebellion went inside to party.
Corrections: A previous version of this story had the Sun City Regulators and some members of Six Guns and Shady Ladies listed as Pistoleros of San Elizario.