I reluctantly acquiesced to my wife Marcie’s idea that we take a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River in 1998; I assumed it would be boring. We chose to dress in period-appropriate clothing—as a riverboat gambler and his lady. We had a ball! We enlightened our like-minded friends; then we thought, let’s organize trips so more people can enjoy this!
Our trips are different from most because I cram them with the history of the area. Civil War battlefields, antebellum homes, knowledgeable guides—I throw it all in. Plus, and this isn’t mandatory, the group dresses in period-correct clothing, which really separates us from the crowd.
We get silly with red long-john pajama parties. For the most part, attire on these trips includes hoop skirts and bustled gowns for the women; military uniforms, knee high boots, frock coats and vests or buckskins for the guys.
The best thing anyone said to me after a trip was that he gained confidence riding with me. This Cowboy Mounted Shooter, who rode with me on “Custer’s Ride to Glory,” said the trip proved he could spend six hours in the saddle every day, jump creeks, swim on horseback across a swift, swollen Little Bighorn River and learn cavalry maneuvers. He had ridden more, seen more and learned more than he ever had previously.
Our 7th Cavalry troops become well-trained cavalrymen. We ride in columns, with Custer and his scouts in the lead. When a command, such as “Left into Line,” is given, each cavalryman must be able to perform the maneuver without hesitation. For those of us interested in history, the cavalry training part of the tour lends itself well to our knowledge base.
My horses are supplied by Kevin McNiven, who owns a remuda of horses he hires out to the movies and has served as wrangler to stars such as Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner. Safety is my paramount concern, and these horses are the best trained for the experiences I offer.
Each individual is given a horse based on their experience level. I usually opt for “Cupcake.”
“Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride” promises to be a hoot! I’m very excited to have True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell along as our historian. Imagine walking the streets of Tombstone with Bob and having him at Johnny Ringo’s gravesite and at the exact spots Wyatt’s posse killed Florentino Cruz and Curly Bill [he’ll share the controversy behind Curly Bill’s death site]. Riders will be a part of Wyatt Earp’s posse or the Cowboy faction.
My college best friend and I loved Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s film so much we filmed our version, Butch and the Kid. The 30-minute, 8mm movie was shown at my going-away party for Officer Training School. My Air Force recruiter, still a good friend to this day, was more than a little surprised and uncomfortable—he hadn’t known my love for Westerns.
Everyone thought I had lost my mind when I chose to serve at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota. The base was within a short driving distance of the Black Hills and the Badlands, and the legends of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Custer and Wild Bill Hickok; I was fulfilling one of my dreams. (Not surprisingly, my SASS alias is Ellsworth.)
History has taught me that reading about history or watching history unfold on the screen is only one, very small aspect of the learning curve.
Other tour operators who put on a Custer Ride charge upwards of $2,500 (or so I hear). I’m less expensive at around $1,850 because I don’t have to pay my mortgage, feed my kids and put money away for a rainy day. Other group organizers do this for a living. I don’t; it’s a hobby. That’s about $13,000 for 20 riders that I don’t pocket—quite a savings for a group adventure.
Steve Shaw, Tour Operator
Steve and Marcie Shaw developed Great American Adventures in 1998, offering steamboat cruises, train rides and historic horseback rides. A former B-52 navigation instructor and a retiree from the automotive industry, Steve is a member of Western Writers of America and the Single Action Shooting Society, and the author of Beyond the Rio Grande. He has appeared on History Channel’s Wild West Tech and on A&E’s Biography. Visit Great-American-Adventures.com or call 505-286-4585 to find out more about his adventures.