Viroqua celebrates 24th Wild West Days
Close to twenty-five years ago, Dr. Jeff Menn, Russell Hansen, and Leroy Perkins felt the city of Viroqua needed an affordable, family oriented, and fun event that also would serve as a history lesson of sorts. Looking to the 1800’s as a theme, Viroqua’s Wild West Days was born.
Past President of the event Roger Tollefson noted the event was not always held in its present location saying, “They started out at the Vernon County Fairgrounds the first two years with a tent city. The city leased this land here and we expanded 5 years ago when we got more land for parking and what not. They started building the buildings. The Marshal’s office was the first one built. The motel was the second one. It came in two pieces and one was set on top of the other. We had a lot of volunteers in the community that helped put this together, with the lumber and labor, and the last couple of years Westby Builders has been helping us out.”
Tollefson acknowledged that the event has continued to grow each year with the continued support and commitment of area businesses and stated many travel from outside the area and from surrounding states to support the event.
He said some of the buildings are sponsored by area businesses, the State Bank built the bank and Village Market, the fire department and community members built the Saloon.
Each year the Wild West board President Mike Moran, Sherry Gunn-Vice President, Terry Keeper- Secretary, and Treasurer Judy Wubbenhorst plan activities that are kid-oriented. Frontier cooking and sewing demonstrations are done. Everyday life reenactments are to help educate children how life was back during the 1800’s. Other activities included games and a petting zoo. “We have already started planning for our 25th year, trying to make it bigger, better, and more special,” Wubbenhorst said.
In addition to the 1880’s town, Wild West Days holds a rodeo put on by C & T Arena, along with one of the country’s largest horse pulling contests that boasts a purse of $12,000. On the horse pull Tollefson said, “The State Fair only has a $5k purse. They (the board) got under the concept that Wild West had to give back to the pullers. If you come from Minnesota 3 hours away with your horses to put on a show, and you don’t win, you are out all your time, money, and fuel from hauling the horses down here. They decided to set $2k of that aside to those who don’t win will get money to get for their fuel. The Memorial of Richard Sidie decided to put up the $10k for a horse pull and it wouldn’t cost us anything.”
The Wild West Days Royalty spent plenty of time mingling with the crowd. Making up this year’s court were; Miss Wild West-Faith, Junior Miss-Sami, Little Miss-Adey, Junior Attendant-Madi, 1st Attendant-Emily, and 2nd Attendant Allison.
A crowd favorite were the Native American dances hosted by The Wisconsin Dells Singers and Dancers led by Elliiott Funmaker. The group representing the Ho-Chunk Nation, a tribe that at one time had villages throughout the Driftless area, has been a part of the event for the past four years, and brings awareness and pays homage to the indigenous people of Wisconsin and across the United States.
“They put on five shows and interact with the kids and teach them their songs,” said Tollefson.
Wild West Days has always had music and concerts, and this year the event hosted Tor’s Cowboy Church concert at the Historic Temple Theatre. Throughout the weekend, various entertainers including KG & the Ranger from Madison, took to the tent stage keeping a festive mood.
Of course, an old west venue would not be complete without reenactments that saw shoot outs between the sheriff and bandits, and many folks dressed up in appropriate era attire.
Another, what seemed to be popular attraction at the event, was the chance to have the Sheriff arrest and put in jail a friend or relative. The arrested would then go in front of a private judge and pay to get out of jail. The money raised on bails goes to different organizations to help the less fortunate in the community.
With the large costs involved to fund Wild West Days, the event board that functions as a 501c3, relies on donations, volunteers, and the funds raised at the event to keep the event affordable. “It costs money no matter what we do and how many people show. We have our set costs,” said board Treasurer Judy Wubbenhorst, adding “We try to give back to the community where the need presents itself.”
Thea Puntney from LaFarge, Wisconsin who came with her friend Cara Dean and her two daughters from Janesville, came to enjoy and experience life of days gone by in the Wild West. “I think it’s really fun, a great family event. I love that the girls get exposed to different cultures and animals and part of our history,” Puntney said.
After attending the Native American singers and dancers exhibition she shared, “I think it’s awesome. I live in this area, but I think it’s good that people learn part of our history.”
Puntney stated the event had a good mixture of culture and felt the shops were interesting, and noted it was great the historical society was involved.
Dean admitted that it was her and her daughters’ first time at the event, and added, “It seems really cool. I like that it is set up to look like the old west. My kids think it is great!”
Also joining Thea and Kara, was friend Pam Taylor from Madison, who moved up to Viroqua nine years ago when she took a job at Organic Valley. “This is the first time I’ve been here since I moved here. I think it’s fantastic. It’s a great tribute to history, which I am a total nerd on, especially for the Native American dancing,” said Taylor.
Taylor feels it’s very important for people to learn saying, “It’s important to continue preserving why they are here, where we came from. It’s important to learn from each other as well as take the time to celebrate and come together. And besides, who doesn’t love animals?” she said with a laugh.
New this year was a vendor row and vendors inside the various buildings in the small town. Outside food vendors were added as well.
Always looking to improve Tollefson stated that the board is always open to new ideas, especially for kids’ activities and skits for the marshals. “We would like more reenactors and rendezvouers.”
For more information on Wild West Days visit them on Facebook.