This article first appeared in the Montana Pioneer, April 2017.
Alleged Shooter of Spectators at Gunfight Show Has Outlaw Record
Cody Gunfighters Photo Credit: Trip Advisor
(Cody, Wyoming) – It wasn’t supposed to happen, the police recently imposed safety guidelines so it won’t happen again. At the Cody Gunfight last summer, something went terribly wrong.
Every summer, a cast of about a dozen actors gather on 11th street in Cody, Wyoming. The Cody Gunfighters perform a nightly shootout that mimics a gunfight similar to what you would see in many western films. Crowds always expect the usual shoot ‘em up action, but on July 29, tragedy struck.
During the gunfight, performers fire guns loaded with blanks. On that night, one of the actors fired live ammunition, injuring three spectators. Richard Muscio, President of the Cody Gunfighters, recalled what happened that night.
“Like any other night, everything played out just fine. We were down to the end of the show, the shootout between the good guys and the bad guys….I was one of the 3 good guys.”
Muscio said one of the actors playing a bad guy usually walked in front of them, fanning his pistol as he walked past.
“We would shoot him down and he would fall to the ground”, Muscio said.
At this point, there was no indication anything was wrong.
“Then all of a sudden a police car shows up with an ambulance out front. We were wondering, ‘What’s going on?!’”, said Muscio.
“We thought somebody was having a heart attack or something. We didn’t know. Then pretty soon another one came along.”
“We were done (with the show at that point) and we still didn’t know what was going on. I walked up on the porch. My wife happened to be there that night. I asked, ‘Do you know what’s going on?’ She said, ‘Somebody said three tourists got shot.’ I said ‘What?!’”
In February, Cody Newspaper “Cody Enterprise” reported the details of an affidavit from the Cody Police Department’s Investigation on this matter. They revealed, “Steve Winsor, one of the participants in the show, inadvertently loaded his revolver with live rounds and fired them in the direction of spectators who were wounded during a July 29 show. Winsor faces five misdemeanor counts of knowingly pointing a firearm at or in the direction of others.”
The July 2016 incident was not the first time Winsor was involved with illegal gunplay. In a report filed by the Cody Police Department in September 2015, witnesses say Winsor threatened a to kill a man with Old West style handguns. Law enforcement reduced Winsor’s original felony charge to misdemeanor reckless endangerment after a plea agreement. Winsor was then sentenced to a year of probation.
Steve Winsor, police booking photo
Winsor’s criminal history dates to the mid 1990s, when a Park County court convicted him for selling a gram of methamphetamine to a police informant, for which he received a sentence of five years probation. At that time, Winsor was on probation from a previous charge of reckless endangerment.
Winsor appeared several times before Park County courts in hearings related to probation violations due to failed drug tests. In July 1999, Winsor plead guilty in Laramie County, Wyoming to domestic violence. The month before, Laramie County Law Enforcement cited Winsor on a concealed weapon charge.
The tourists Winsor injured last summer included a father and his 3-year-old daughter, who were treated and released that day. Another man was also injured and treated on site. The Cody Enterprise reported the father of the 3-year-old girl had been holding his daughter during the incident. The victim told p0lice “he felt as if he had been hit by a baseball bat in the shoulder. The man told police he found a quarter-sized wound on his shoulder and could see a wound on his daughter’s right arm.”
According to the same report, the other man witnessed what happened to the man and his daughter. He told the Enterprise, “he saw a man about 10 feet in front of him turn in his direction. He could see blood on the man’s shirt and the girl began crying.” The man also reported to them he heard bullets whizzing by and was shot in both calves.
Names of the victims were not released.
Regarding how it happened that Winsor fired live rounds, Muscio described the type of revolver used, and how it’s loaded.
“It was a cap and ball cylinder. You can’t just reload those in the middle of the street. You have to change cylinders”, said Muscio.
Loading a cap and ball cylinder requires a measured amount of black powder be poured inside each chamber. A lead ball is then pressed in the chamber. Due to the time required to reload, those who use this type of cylinder typically preload several ahead of time. This was the case with Winsor.
“Winsor used a second cylinder for the final shootout. That one happened to have live rounds,” Muscio said.
Muscio explained that Winsor had been target shooting the day before. He had a few cylinders with him the night of the show. Once loaded, cylinders with blanks and those with live rounds appear identical. Muscio said Winsor firing live ammunition instead of blanks was an accident. A police investigation followed the incident, ending the nightly performance for the duration of the summer.
Tourists and residents now await the return of The Cody Gunfighters this summer. As a new season approaches, the Gunfighters are enforcing new safety precautions at the direction of the Cody Police. Ken Martin has been involved with the show since the beginning. This season, he will be working as the show’s safety coordinator.
“We’ll be doing a background check on all the actors. We’ll be checking the barrels of every gun. I’ll be loading blanks in all the guns to ensure no live rounds will be used.”
Muscio also said they are required to obtain two permits for the show every year-a permit allowing them to block off a section of Sheridan Avenue. The second permit allows them to discharge firearms within city limits. Muscio said those permits were approved for the upcoming season.
This summer will be The Gunfighters 21st year. The group began performing in the late 70s. It was discontinued after two or three seasons. Then in 1995, the group reformed under the name “The Cody Gunslingers”. Since 2000, the group has been performing as “The Cody Gunfighters” and is a registered nonprofit with the state of Wyoming. They donate a portion of their proceeds every year to local charities.
Muscio has been involved with the cast since 1995. He said he enjoys being a part of the shows, even after last year’s debacle, because he is an old west history buff.
“I like to keep myself up-to-speed on (the historical aspects) as much as I can”, he said.
“I talk to a lot of tourists. They ask me a lot of questions. Some come from as far away as Europe. I like to explain the truth of the Old West to them. The other thing I enjoy is interacting with the kids. The kids think you’re the real deal.”
Muscio said the format of the show attracts about 50-thousand people every year.
“We don’t do a historically correct show. We’re not trying to portray any particular scene in history. Some of the actors play real characters…We like to do a lot of shooting because people are coming to see a gunfight. We try to have a lot of humor as well.”
Ken Martin also said the show continues to be a major draw (no pun intended) for summer crowds.
“I give three talks a week at the Ponderosa Campground. I used to start at 5:00 but there was a lot of people who would not come because they didn’t want to miss the shootout. It’s really important to the community. The actors do a fantastic job. It’s something people can enjoy for free.”
The nightly gunfight kicks off at 6 pm west of the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody. It runs from June 1 to September 30.