The first volley of shots in Westport rings out around 11:30 in the morning.
At the Harris-Kearney House, a group of Union soldiers notices a border ruffian amid the crowd that has gathered on the lawn. It's a sunny but chilly Saturday in late October, and a ceremony has just designated the oldest remaining brick house in Kansas City as an official stop on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. Afterward, people hang around to enjoy some cake decorated to look like a wagon wheel. Nearby, three little girls in long prairie-style dresses sell cups of hot cider from a Crock-Pot.
The crowd includes dignitaries from the past and present. Re-enactors in period garb portray Alexander Majors, Westport founder John McCoy and a few other historic local figures. Jan Marcason, a current City Council member, gives a little speech. The dedication is part of Westport's 175th birthday celebration, an all-day event in different locations around the neighborhood.
Before the day can proceed, something must be done about that border ruffian. Six men — some in Union uniforms, others in Old West-style clothes — surround him as he stands under a tree with vibrant yellow leaves. They hassle him for being in enemy territory. Suddenly, the ruffian evades their grasp and escapes through the front gate of the Harris-Kearney House, turning onto the side street that passes Pryde's. The Union men follow at a brisk pace, but not too fast — the purpose of the skit is to get the audience to follow them, Pied Piper-like, into Westport toward the other activities. One of the Union soldiers, Mark "Tic Tac" Keith, takes a shortcut to try to intercept the ruffian.
Once they get away from the crowd, the men start firing their guns. Puffs of white smoke mark their trail, which turns onto Westport Road. Two mules pull a covered wagon and clip-clop by, leading a long line of cars. Nearby, a Star 102 van is parked outside the Westport Library for a live broadcast. Latin crooner Marc Anthony sings his sultry "I Need to Know" in the background.
"Hang him!" cries a woman in an old-fashioned striped dress with a hoop skirt.
The pursuers catch the ruffian right by the Westport Presbyterian Church, near a storefront that displays shirtless beefcake calendars with such titles as "Bear Men" and "Naked and Exposed." A small crowd of spectators catches up to the action. After a short discussion, the Union soldiers decide to let the guy go. "We'll get him later," one of the soldiers says. The crowd disperses.
Afterward, Keith is psyched by the success of the skit. "We're just like one big family. Just a bunch of kids playing and doing this right in the middle of Westport. That cracks me up," he says.
He and his fellow re-enactors still have a long day ahead of them. In the afternoon, they're scheduled to perform a shotgun-wedding skit, followed by a saloon brawl. Also on the skit list is a re-enactment of Order No. 11 — a major event in local history. In his book, Black Flag: Guerrilla Warfare on the Western Border, 1861-1865, Thomas Goodrich, editor of the Kansas Journal of Military History, describes it as "perhaps the harshest act of the U.S. government against its own people in American history."
A few days earlier, around 20 people met at the Presbyterian church to go over last-minute details of Westport 175, the birthday celebration for West Port (as it used to be called). On that rainy Wednesday evening, the mood of the room was fairly calm — even as meteorologists predicted a chance of snow on Saturday.