Chautauqua performer joins others at annual Cowboy Festival | RecordCourier.com

Chautauqua performer joins others at annual Cowboy Festival

by Amy Alonzo
aalonzo@recordcourier.com

Chautauqua performer Kim Copel-Harris will portray Laura D. Fair Saturday at the Genoa Cowboy Festival.

This weekend's Genoa Cowboy Festival will allow visitors to experience what Theodore Roosevelt called "the most American thing in America" — Chautauqua.

Chautauqua began in New York, said history buff and Chautauqua actress Kim Copel-Harris of Genoa. It was an adult education movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that focused on bring culture and entertainment to communities.

"Today, we associate the word with living history performances in first person," she said.

Copel-Harris, 52, will perform twice at this weekend's Cowboy Festival — at 2 p.m. Sunday as Candy Dance founder Lillian Virgin Finnegan, and at 1:30 p.m. Saturday as Laura D. Fair, whom she describes as a "fatal mistress."

Fair was married four times, twice divorced and twice widowed by the time she was 33 years-old, Copel-Harris said. While operating the Tahoe House in Virginia City, Fair became the mistress of Alexander Crittenden, a prominent lawyer. Although he was married she eventually followed Crittenden to San Francisco, and after seven years of serving as his mistress she shot him point blank in front of his family.

Fair was sentenced to death by hanging, but in a second trial she pleaded temporary insanity and was found innocent. Following her acquittal the former social climber was shunned.

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Copel-Harris said she is fascinated by Fair's life.

"Why, in 1870, under the circumstances, was she sentenced to death and then she got a second trial and was completed acquitted?" she said. "She was oblivious to things that should have been obvious, but she wasn't afraid of anything. I think she was pretty brave."

Copel-Harris started performing in Chautauqua-style in 2010 after volunteering at a National Pony Express Association event in Tahoe.

"I thought 'wouldn't it be fun to get into character while I answer the questions?'" she said.

She's also a volunteer with the Douglas County Historical Society, and while at a joint meeting in Alpine County, she saw Chautauqua artist McAvoy Layne perform as Mark Twain.

"I never, up until that point, got Mark Twain's humor. I wasn't a Mark Twain fan, it wasn't something I was interested in, but from the moment he (Layne) opened his mouth I got the humor," she said. "I walked out of there thinking I'd met the ghost of Mark Twain. What a gift that was."

Copel-Harris said she tries to recreate that experience for her audience.

"I study history, I love history, but how many people do you meet whose love of history was killed in school because of dry history and dates?" she said. "That's why I do it."

The Genoa Cowboy Festival kicks off at 10 a.m. today and runs through Sunday night. In addition to Chatauqua-style performances, the festival features music, food, ranch tours and art shows at various locations throughout town. Other events such as bird walks and stargazing are offered at sites outside of town.

For more information, visit genoacowboyfestival.org.

TODAY

7-10 p.m. — Dave Stamey & The Quebe Sisters, main stage, Mormon Station

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Carson Valley Birds & Buckaroos photography art show, River Fork Ranch

7-9 p.m. — Astronomical Society of Nevada’s Star Party, River Fork Ranch, weather permitting

Saturday

8 a.m.-12 p.m. — Free and Accepted Masons Cowboy Breakfast, Masonic Lodge No. 12

8-10 a.m. — Birding Under Nevada Skies with Jim Woods, River Fork Ranch

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Northern Sierra Dutch Oven Cooking, Ranch No. 1 apple orchard

10-11 a.m. — Nevada Buckaroo (Dr. Michael Fischer), Genoa Town Hall

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Carson Valley Birds & Buckaroos photography art show, River Fork Ranch

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Genoa Maverick’s Cowboy Fast Draw, Dake House (Antiques Plus)

10:30-11:30 a.m. — Dave Stamey, open mic tent

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — CW and Dr. Spitmore, Pink House

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — Sierra Sweethearts, Genoa Volunteer Fire Department

11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. — Jon & Betsy Elliott, open mic tent

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Gary Allegretto and Tony Argento, main stage, Mormon Station

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Randy Rieman presents Charlie Russell, Genoa Town Hall

12-1 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent

12-1 p.m. — Ranch No. 1 History with Bob Ellison, Ranch No. 1

12:30-1:30 p.m. — Mark Twain (McAvoy Lane), Genoa Town Hall

1-2 p.m. — Mike Beck and Randy Rieman, main stage, Mormon Station

1-2 p.m. — Young Chautauqua presentation, Courthouse Museum

1-2 p.m. — Trinity Seely, open mic tent

1:30-2:30 p.m. — Laura D. Fair (Kim Copel-Harris)

1:30-3 p.m. — Jon & Betsy Elliott, Pink House

1:30-3 p.m. — Sage Creek, Genoa Volunteer Fire Department

2-3 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent

2:30-3:30 p.m. — All Hat No Cattle and Tony Argento, main stage, Mormon Station

2:30-3:30 p.m. — Snowshoe Thompson (Steve Hale), Genoa Town Hall

3-4 p.m. — Gary Allegretto’s harmonica workshop

3:30-4:30 p.m. — Sarah Winnemucca (Dianna Maria de Borges)

4-5 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent

7-10 p.m. — Mike Beck & Tom Russell, main stage, Mormon Station

Sunday

8-10 a.m. ­­— Birding Under Nevada Skies with Jim Woods, River Fork Ranch

9-10:30 a.m. — Cowboy Church, Genoa Town Hall

10 a.m.-4 p.m. — Northern Sierra Dutch Oven Cooking, Ranch No. 1 apple orchard

10:30-11:30 a.m. — All Hat No Cattle, open mic tent

11 a.m.-12 p.m. — Snowshoe Thompson (Steve Hale), Genoa Town Hall

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — CW and Dr. Spitmore, Pink House

11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. — Sage Creek, Genoa Volunteer Fire Department

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Dave Stamey and Tony Argento, main stage, Mormon Station

12-1 p.m. — Mark Twain (McAvoy Layne), Genoa Town Hall

12:30-1:30 p.m. — Mike Beck, open mic tent

1-2 p.m. — Trinity Seely and Randy Rieman, main stage, Mormon Station

1-2 p.m. — Sarah Winnemucca (Dianna Maria de Borges), Genoa Town Hall

1:30-2:30 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent

1:30-3 p.m. — All Hat No Cattle, Pink House

1:30-3 p.m. — Sierra Sweethearts, Genoa Volunteer Fire Department

2-3 p.m. — Lillian Virgin Finnegan (Kim Copel-Harris), Genoa Town Hall

2:30-3:30 p.m. — Gary Allegretto and Mike Beck, main stage, Mormon Station

2:30-3:30 p.m. — Trinity Seely, open mic tent

3-4 p.m. — H.F. Dangberg (Dr. Michael Fischer), Genoa Town Hall

3:30-4:30 p.m. — Open sign-up, open mic tent