PAWNEE — As an 8-year-old boy sitting atop a horse, posing for a picture with larger-than-life character Pawnee Bill, it never occurred to Kevin Webb, now 31, that someday he would be wearing the fringed buckskin jacket and sporting the silver belly cowboy hat associated with the legendary showman and local hero he now portrays in this community of 2,000 residents in northern Oklahoma.
While signing his name to a stack of trading cards he's handing out to small outstretched arms, a boy only as tall as Webb's knees looks up at him and asks, “Are you Pawnee Bill?”
Without a pause, Webb answers confidently, “Yep, I am,” and gives him a card with his picture on it.
Webb plays the title role in the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, staged at the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum the last three Saturdays in June. This year's final performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
This is Webb's fourth year to play Pawnee Bill in the Wild West Show, a revival of the original show formed almost 125 years ago by Pawnee native Gordon W. Lillie. Lillie was better known as Pawnee Bill because of his close association with the Pawnee Indians, with whom he lived as a young man on their reservation in what was then called Indian Territory. He is credited with helping create people's modern image of the American West and of the cowboy.
Lillie's Wild West Show wowed audiences with spectacular acts, daring feats and colorful costumes that touted the roping, riding and shooting skills of cowboys. His show introduced the dances and resplendent garments of American Indians to people in this country who had only read about them in newspaper or magazines. The show toured extensively across the United States and in Europe from 1888 to 1913.
Webb says he and the original Pawnee Bill share common ideals and values. Like his predecessor, Webb is committed to preserving the “old west.” And he is determined to preserve the American buffalo.
When he's not portraying Pawnee Bill, Webb works full time at the Pawnee Bill Ranch on U.S. 64, a half-mile west of downtown Pawnee. Webb says many visitors don't realize it's still a working ranch; his duties include managing and taking care of the 60 buffalo and 40 head of Longhorn cattle that roam the pastures.
Webb is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher. He lives on the same land homesteaded by his great-grandfather and says he is proud to follow in the footsteps of the men who took care of this land before him.
“Playing the role of Pawnee Bill comes naturally to me,” Webb said.
IF YOU GO
Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show