The origin of April Fools’ Day is full of mystery. Some historians claim the idea of a day to play practical jokes on one another began when the world switched from the Julian Calendar (which began the new year on March 25) to the Gregorian calendar (which began the new year on January 1). Those who embraced the new calendar often mocked those who forgot about the change and still celebrated the new year in March, calling them fools. Sort of like how we feel when we show up too early or too late because we forgot to spring forward or fall back.
Whatever the reason, the practice of fooling people on the first day of April is a long-standing world tradition, so it’s no surprise that when immigrants pushed forth towards a new land during the 1800s that they made time to play a prank or two on one another. In honor of this tradition, Western Legends Round-Up has put together a list of some well-known and not so well-known fun accounts of how this day was celebrated in the Wild West.
Cowboys and Aliens
In 2011, Universal Pictures premiered the wild adventure Cowboys and Aliens, starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. The film was shot in parts of New Mexico and California and tells the story of a cowboy with amnesia who joins the fight against aliens mining for gold. The story is fun, but of course, nothing like that could ever happen. Or could it?
Well, the week of April 1st in 1897, a Kansas City newspaper reported an account of a flying Indian canoe. At first, no one took this account seriously. But then hundreds of people testified to witnessing the unidentified flying object in the sky. A few weeks later, over six hundred people in Nebraska also said they saw what looked like a canoe flying in the moonlight. Some speculate if they might have been looking up at a hot-air balloon.
Legends and Myths
It seems writers back in the day had fun fooling unsuspecting readers. Over time, local myths and legends have provided great opportunities for embellishment. If you’re interested, you may ask someone to search for the dreaded monster of Bear Lake. You many even want to set out on an elaborate expedition with a group of wide-eyed friends to find anyone of these lovely folklore myths of the Old West:
- The Banshee of the Badlands in South Dakota
- The Boggy Creek Monster in Arkansas
- The Jackalopes of Wyoming
- El Muerto-The Headless One from Texas
- The Salt Witch of the Nebraska Plains
Your friends will definitely remember the experience.
During the 1800s, other wisecracks included fake discoveries of “bones.” This was a popular gag among miners and oftentimes, gullible co-workers would believe in the discovery of a so-called skull and even at times, a supposed petrified body.
A Good Day for Outlaws
One of the most infamous families of outlaws, the Reno gang, cleverly escaped death on April 1, 1868, by breaking out of a prison cell and reclaiming up to $14,000 of money they had stolen. When law enforcement officials searched the cell, they found note reading, April Fools.
All in Good Fun
Nothing says romance like a kidnapping on one’s wedding night. And if you happened to get married toward the end of March, well, let’s just say you asked for it. A favorite prank, among many, was to kidnap the groom just before the end of the reception or party and throw him in jail so that the bride would have to bail him out. Now, there’s a wedding no couple will ever forget!
Ultimately, April Fools’ day is a holiday that comes down to personal taste. Without modern technology, it’s no surprise our great pioneer ancestors found creative ways to enjoy the day. We applaud their innovative spirit which extended far beyond their rigorous duties. Even with having fun, our great ancestors were unique.