Cowboy Star Visits Allons School

Cowboy Star of the 1940s, Sunset Carson, paid an unexpected visit to the Allons Elementary School during the late 1960s.

Students who attended elementary school at Allons in the late 1960s will probably recall in detail the day Sunset Carson paid an unexpected visit to their school. The day began like any other in that particular school. School principal, James Lelan Bilbrey, was busy in the office that day, but when he stepped out into the hallway, much to his surprise, a very tall fellow dressed in a cowboy outfit came walking up the hall toward him. Having seen several western movies during the 1940s, Mr. Bilbrey immediately recognized the visitor approaching him as the screen star known as Sunset Carson. After introductions were made, Mr. Bilbrey invited the cowboy to come and visit with him in the school office. Before going any further with the story, here is some background information about the well-known star of B-western movies from the 1940s.

Winifred Maurice Harrison, who later became known as Sunset Carson, was born November 12, 1920 in Gracemont, Oklahoma. His parents were Maurice Greely Harrison and wife Azalee Belle (McAdams) Harrison. By 1930, the Harrison family had moved to Plainview, Texas. While still in his youth, Sunset Carson became an accomplished rodeo rider. In 1940, he traveled to South American where he competed in rodeos for two years. After his return to the U.S., he played small parts in two films under the name Michael Harrison. Catching the attention of Republic Pictures executive Lou Grey, he was signed to a contract and given his own series of B-westerns, along with having his name changed to Sunset Carson.

Within two years, Carson was on the top-10 list of money makers for western stars. He was given a horse named "Cactus", and starred in a string of semi-successful western films, many of which he played opposite Smiley Burnette. 1945 was by far the peak of his career. In 1946, Carson began the year strong, but by the end of that year, he and Republic Pictures had parted company over disputes related to his contract. In 1948, he starred with another company, however by 1951, his career was all but over as a leading actor of the day.

While visiting with Mr. Bilbrey in the Allons school office that day in the late 1960s, Sunset Carson explained the reason he stopped by the school was because he had always wanted to visit a small country school. He went on to say that he was traveling that day from Nashville to somewhere in Kentucky for a scheduled performance. As the two continued to talk, Carson volunteered to put on a free show for the Allons students prior to going on to Kentucky. Mr. Bilbrey agreed, and while the children were being assembled in the school gymnasium, Sunset Carson brought in equipment from the trailer he was pulling behind his vehicle. The first trick he performed involved a volunteer from the audience. He explained to the children that he needed someone who would be willing to have a balloon shot off the top of that person’s head, and asked the students who they thought that person should be. Without any hesitation, the kids began to yell, "Mr. Bilbrey, Mr. Bilbrey!" Although very reluctant to be a participant, Mr. Bilbrey finally agreed and stood with a balloon on top of his head while Sunset Carson drew his six-shooter and fired at the target. Screams, yells and loud applause erupted when the balloon popped with no injury to Mr. Bilbrey, something that was a great relief to him. Carson had explained earlier that the bullets he used were made from wax, and even if one should accidently strike a person, no harm would be done. Another trick performed that day involved each of the kindergarten children being lined up holding a sheet of paper in one hand. One by one, he drew his gun and shot a hole through each sheet of paper, and then told the kindergarten students each of their papers now held an autograph made by a bullet. Probably the most unusual trick he performed that day involved two candles, a knife, and a mirror. The two candles were lit and stood at one end of the gym, and between the two candles, a knife was placed. Carson stood at the opposite end of the gym, and using a mirror, he fired his gun over his shoulder. The bullet struck the knife and was cut into, which resulted in both candles being put out at the same time. The program was concluded with a talk by Sunset Carson about cowboy movies.

Sunset Carson’s last known role was in the first episode of the television series Simon & Simon in 1985. He married five times in his lifetime, and following his retirement, he moved to Reno, Nevada where he died on May 1, 1990. Some of the movies he starred in were: Bordertown Trail; Code of the Prairie; Firebrands of Arizona; Sheriff of Cimarron; Sante Fe Saddlemates; Bells of Rosarita; Oregon Trail; Bandits of the Badlands; Rough Riders of Cheyenne; The Cherokee Flash; Days of Buffalo Bill; Alias Billy the Kid; The El Paso Kid; Red River Renegades; and Rio Grande Raiders.