You're invited, but leave the cowbells at home.
In the Old West, weddings were hopeful and practical, if not magical. They offered a chance to exchange rings and vows and gather together for as much ceremony and celebration as resources — often scarce — would allow. Whether circumstances dictated make-do or do-it-up festivities, newlyweds on the frontier often came in for some wedding-night hazing known as a shivaree, or charivari. In the Old World, the custom had amounted to punitive harassment for adulterous relationships or other perceived misbehavior and poor choices. Translated to the Plains during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the shivaree proved more good-natured — though not necessarily benign.
“A noisy, rowdy, and often bawdy community celebration of a marriage,” the shivaree saw “friends and neighbors [gathering] outside the couple’s bedroom window banging pots and pans, playing musical instruments, sometimes shooting off guns, and demanding entrance to the newlyweds’ home,” writes Michael Taft for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Thus interrupted, the couple often had no choice but to let the celebrants in, only to suffer further practical jokes that might involve bringing livestock into the house, removing labels from cans, and tying cowbells to the springs of the nuptial bed.
“The tradition might also include kidnapping one or both of the newlyweds, tying them to trees, dunking them in horse troughs, riding them around town, abandoning them in the countryside, or otherwise disrupting and delaying the wedding night.” Despite the rough treatment, Taft writes, newlyweds were expected to act as “gracious hosts by offering the group food, drink, and hospitality — or by paying the revelers to leave.” While the shivaree would come to be associated with “neighborliness, community spirit, and the recognition of marriage as a stabilizing factor in frontier society,” we’re glad our newlyweds are headed for a night that doesn’t involve the neighbors.
Here, a peek at modern-day wedding style that draws inspiration from the Old West.
Click the image above to view the slideshow.