Orange Safety Day offers visitors glimpse of Old West, safety tips and fun

Earl Keith

The Texas Travel Information Center, the first stop on I-10 West welcoming motorists into Texas and the last rest stop available before crossing the Sabine River into Louisiana, was bustling Friday, June 6, with visitors who were treated to free water, pizza and a myriad of helpful information about all things safety — including road, animal, fire and personal safety — as TxDOT, Texas Department of Public Safety and various other local organizations presented the fifth annual Orange Safety Day.

First responders from several local law enforcement agencies and fire departments were passing out safety literature and goodies for visitors, who also had a chance to catch a glimpse of the Old West presented by the Big Thicket Outlaws, a group of local re-enactors who can often be seen performing at the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum in Beaumont.

Gun smoke filled the air as Earl Keith — or “Tejano,” as he likes to be called — and his fellow outlaws took to the Travel Center grounds for an old-fashioned Texas “shootout.”

“They invite us out every year for Orange Safety Day, and we provide a little entertainment for the children,” said Keith, who has played the part of Tejano for the Outlaws for the past 10 years. “We work out of the Golden Triangle Gun Club. We shoot a cowboy match out there the first Saturday of every month.”

The group started out as a cowboy action shooting group shooting real bullets at steel targets at the gun club, Keith said, but when event planners of Sour Lake’s Old Timers’ Day Festival were looking for cowboys for an Old West reenactment one year, Keith’s wife, Debbie, volunteered him. Keith recruited a few friends from the gun club. Thus, the Big Thicket Outlaws were born.

“We do almost anything that’s charitable or civic in nature free of charge, but we prefer sandwiches,” Keith said.

Rather than choose to play Butch Cassidy or Billy the Kid, Keith said he wanted to portray a Texas outlaw.

“No one in our group did a Southwest or Hispanic impression … so, I kind of took the role,” he said. “Tejano comes from the word ‘Tejas.’ The Spaniards called all the folks who lived in Texas Tejanos.”

Keith described his character, which wields an 1866 Winchester rifle and a pistol, as a fun-loving guy who likes “fast horses, pretty guns and thirsty women.”

“It’s an Italian-made replica I bought in 1976,” he said. “It’s capable of shooting real bullets … an old caliber — 44-40. It fit right in with Tejano. It’s pretty, and something a bandit would spend his money on.”

The 67-year-old said he has always been a history buff when it comes to the American West.

“I’ve always loved reading about the Old West,” said Keith, who added that he was strait-laced and clean-cut most of his life and served in the military, later retiring from Mobil Oil after more than 30 years. “When I retired, the image of being Tejano transpired.”

Keith said his group could next be seen at Spindletop-Gladys City’s Mini-Mudder Romp on June 21. He and his fellow Big Thicket Outlaws will participate in the Lucas Gusher reenactment, he said, but will leave their revolvers at home. For more information on the Big Thicket Outlaws, visit the group’s Facebook page. Complete details about the Mini-Mudder Romp and other Great Outdoors Day activities may be found on the Spindletop-Gladys City website at www.spindletop.org.

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