Wild Bill Days to return to downtown Utica

Weekend festival celebrates life of Old West folk hero, Starved Rock Country native

“Wild Bill” Hickok, the legendary folk hero and Old West gunfighter, once again will be honored in the streets of downtown Utica this weekend at the La Salle County Historical Society’s Wild Bill Days.

Located just a few miles southeast of his birthplace in present-day Troy Grove, the two-day, family-friendly festival will feature live historical reenactments, blacksmith demonstrations and free, live entertainment near the La Salle County Historical Society museum complex.

Born James Butler Hickok, son of farmer and ardent abolitionist William Alonzo Hickok and wife Polly Butler, he spent his formative years working as a mule tender along the I&M Canal, which passes directly through downtown Utica, next to the La Salle County Historical Society’s museum campus. After an altercation along the banks of the waterway, Hickok fled to the Western territories in 1855. There, he would spend time as a scout, antislavery militia member, actor, professional gambler and, famously, a gunfighter who played a key role in several legendary shootouts.

The festival celebrating Hickok’s lasting legacy is a family-friendly event, geared at entertaining diverse age groups with free shows. Whip trick guru Chris Camp, known as “The Whip Guy,” will be in attendance on Sunday, bringing his famous all-ages show once again to the event. Camp will perform three shows throughout the day, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch this thrilling whip trick set, sponsored by the Utica Business Association.

A troupe of Old West historical reenactors, called The Regulators, will present vignettes of Hickok’s life from 2:00 to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Among the scenes they’re scheduled to perform, the talented actors will highlight Hickok’s infamous 1876 death at Deadwood in present-day South Dakota, as portrayed in countless films and television programs. Throughout the fest you’ll find The Regulators roaming around the festival grounds in-character, be sure to stop for a photo or two.

The LaSalle County Historical Society museum campus will feature special hours during the two-day event. The Utica museums will be open from noon to 6 p.m., and will feature a special, limited-time Hickok exhibit, displaying rare personal artifacts belonging to him and his family. The LaSalle County Historical Society will also host their popular open-air Canal Market, where numerous vendors will be selling handmade, homemade, vintage and antique items.

No summer or fall shopping trip across Starved Rock Country is complete without a trip to the LaSalle County Historical Society’s Canal Market, one of the most buzzed about artisan markets in northern Illinois. It is held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday through September. The market is a celebration of all things antique, collectible, homemade and homegrown. The site is a short walk from Mill Street’s dining and shopping block, nestled on the banks of the historic I&M Canal, where you’ll find the rustic-chic Canal Market building. The former lumberyard building provides the perfect open-air setting for browsing the works of some of the region’s best artists, artisans, bakers, growers and antiquarians.

People walk through the Canal Market building during the 53rd annual Burgoo on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 downtown Utica.

You’ll find quality antiques and collectibles, food, textiles, used books and plants being sold by dozens of passionate vendors every weekend. With its ever-changing lineup of vendors, you never know what treasures you’ll come across at this exciting seasonal event. For more information on the Canal Market, and to get a sneak peek at some of the vendors you can expect to see at an upcoming show, visit the LCHS Canal Market page on Facebook.

For information on Wild Bill Days, visit www.lasallecountyhistoricalsociety.org