We developed these ideas while deciding how to decorate for our Murder in the Wild West murder mystery launch game. Customers have also been kind enough to send us photos and emails saying how they ran the game.
As our murder mystery party is set in a saloon in a fictional western cowtown in an unspecified year between 1865 - 1895, there is a huge scope for different decoration ideas. Choose from a wild west, western, cowboy, pioneer, or desert decor - or mix and match as you wish.
1 Wild West Decoration Ideas
1.1 Wild West Jail Decorations
Create a mock jail for an ideal photo booth opportunity and for a great backdrop for your party. (A jailbreak plays a prominent part in the murder mystery.) Make this jail as simple or as adventurous as you wish. The photo shows some jail decoration ideas that we and our customers have tried.
To make an old west jail decoration for your murder mystery party, you can go to as much or as little trouble as you wish. A few ideas:
Easy version: use a large sheet of cardboard and cut out a gap for the window; write "JAIL" on it in Old West-style letters. (West Hood, Lawless and Brellos are a few fonts that we use but there are others; it is best to pencil out the letters and then use paint or felt tips to create a stand-out sign). Your make-shift jail sign is a great way of getting fun party photos with small groups of guests.
Medium version: embellish your basic mock jail by adding bars: use cardboard strips, foam pipe lagging or foam backer rods and then paint a grey-black. Optionally paint or felt-tip on the outline of bricks on the cardboard; there is no need to be too neat as bricks weren't symmetrical back then.
More complex version: use a number of large sturdy double-walled cardboard sheets; use tape or glue to link them together. Then paint on a brick outline and add optional wanted posters to create a rootin'-tootin' backdrop to your Wild West party. A few wanted posters provide the finishing touches. (Your murder mystery party kit provides a selection of Wanted posters as well as posters related to the mystery - for example, Marshal Westernby's murder, cattle rustling, jailbreak, bank robbery.)
Yee-haw version: create a wooden frame for the cardboard so that it can be free-standing. Paint a large, sand-colored sheet with a desert sky and sun. Put up this painted sheet behind your jail. Create a cactus shape and a wagon wheel shape out of cardboard. Paint these and stand near the jail. See our post on how to create a wild west party jail.
1.2 Old West Saloon Decorations
Our murder mystery game is set in Deadstone Saloon.
1.2.1 Saloon Doors
Some customers have created those iconic batwing doors that they had in the Old West.
1.2.2 Saloon Decor - Try a Gambling Theme
Poker and Faro were both popular games in Old West saloons. There were also other card games (for example Three-Card-Monte) and dice games such as Chuck-a-Luck and High-Low.
To echo the gambling that happened in saloons, try using playing cards, playing card motifs (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades) or dice as themes throughout your party.
For Bonnie's superb wild west murder mystery party, she embraced the saloon gambling experience and created a gambling entrance to her party and then echoed this with dice and playing cards used throughout the party space.
A few suggestions for gambling-themed saloon decorations:
Create a gambling table. Be realistic with a rough wooden table and some cards, poker chips and fake money. (Gold chocolate coins are ideal.) Optionally add some dice. Or add a green cloth.
For an easy win, buy paper plates, cups, napkins and a tablecloth with a card theme.
Use playing cards throughout your decorations; you can buy normal packs or large packs as you wish. To use as food labels: put the dish name on a white sticker and place this sticker on the centre of a playing card and then thread this through a large cocktail-type stick. Find a rectangular box that is just a bit shorter than your vase; cover this box with cards and then put your vase inside this; create a table centre-piece out of this by adding flowers OR by using a mixture of playing cards and dice instead of flowers. Hang giant playing cards on the walls in a fancy pattern, perhaps using an old noticeboard. Make a table runner out of playing cards (normal size or large size). Use them to cover mats and/or coasters. Fix cards to the edge of a bathroom mirror or around the saloon entrance. Your party kit includes place setting cards with a playing card theme to match your saloon.
Use playing card motifs (for example hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades) throughout. Wrap knives and forks in red napkins and top with a black spade or club shape. Add a playing card shape (heart, diamond, club, spades) on top of the place settings. Create a stunning wall decoration by using large alternating squares of red, black and or white; stick on a large hearth, cub, diamond or spade shape in a contrasting colour. The trick here is to be large and bold.
Create large dice by covering square boxes with white, black or red paper and adding 1-6 circles in a contrasting colour. Tier a series of small boxes and add fake candles (for safety) to create an unusual centrepiece. Alternatively, tier larger boxes to create an eye-catching room decoration. Follow this dice theme through with your food. (Use coloured food icing to put dots on marshmallows, cut brownie cake into squares and add white dots or cut cheese into squares and add black olives.) to look like dice. If you want to provide party favours (or little presents for the best solution, acting, costume etc) then put these inside a dice party favour box.
Have red, white and black balloons.
Cover old mats and coasters with red wrapping paper or red tissue paper. Glue on white dots to give a dice appearance or add playing cards.
Use the card motif place setting cards and menu that is provided in the game's decoration pack.
1.2.3 Other Saloon Decor Ideas
Saloon furniture tended to be wooden and simple. Saloons would have a wooden bar. Many would also have animal heads and that infamous painting of a near-nude lady.
In the American West, saloons were often made out of wooden planks. To simulate this, buy a light brown flat sheet and then paint on the shapes of wooden planks.
Cover up pesky modern furniture with coloured sheets, table cloths or shawls.
Gold mine and dynamite sticks: to create "dynamite" sticks, take a cardboard tube. (Any tube shape if fine - for example, kitchen roll centres, toothpaste tubes or tubes containing certain chocolates.) Cover in red paper or tissue paper. Write the word dynamite in large black letters. Then have a piece of string hanging from the centre of each tube. For an extra fun touch, replace the string with party poppers. (Bang!)
We used kitchen roll centers and red napkins to create the dynamite sticks. We teamed these with a "gold mine" sign arrow created out of cardboard, some miniature hessian money bags stuffed with newspaper and a "Deadstone Creek Gold Mine" certificate from the game's party kit:
Wanted Posters: Use the decorations in your party kit to create some "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters. Use the ones provided (Deadstone Gang and Billy the Kid ). Alternatively, for a bit of fun, use the blank Wanted poster provided and add in your friends' photos! Or, for a really special memento of your murder mystery, take photos throughout the game, edit them into the blank Wanted poster and then send them to friends and family after the party.
Tip: to make printouts seem even older, slightly scrunch up the paper and then tear the edges; optionally print in black and white or sepia. Most of the printouts supplied in your wild west party pack have a pre-aged background; for the few that don't, you can age them by brushing with tea or coffee and dry. Then either tear the edges or else carefully singe the edges of the paper. (Please take all necessary fire precautions.)
We added the Wanted posters to the walls of our jail, as did Bonnie:
Money bags: use plain hessian bags and add a dollar sign. Use small bags for party favours - or as awards for best costume or mystery solution. Use larger bags as decor. Add a wanted poster (see party kit), a toy gun and some gold chocolate coins and arrange as a table centrepiece. Optionally scatter gold coins (gold-covered chocolate coins) around. Or use gold bar party favour boxes as decorations.
Cut sheriff's badge out of cardboard. Use paint, felt tip or gold wrapping paper to colour.
Guns and bullets: the Wild West wouldn't be the same without guns. For safety, please use TOY guns. Hang these toy guns from walls or make them into a feature arrangement with other western ornaments or memorabilia.
Create a party entrance by having a "Welcome to the Wild West" sign; then have signposts directing them to different places mentioned in the murder mystery party. (A few of the locations mentioned in the game are: the Jail, Courthouse, and Sheriff's Office, Deadstone Saloon, The Cactus Restaurant, the General Stores, Henderson H ranch, the stables and corral, a gold mine, hitching posts, the creek, and a canyon.) Alternatively, if your garden layout permits, create saloon doors (batwing doors) out of cardboard and then fix them to the entrance gate - or to your front door.
2 Cowboy Party Theme Decorations
The murder mystery game is set in a cowtown on a night when cowboys, cowgirls and ranchers are all in town. Cowboy hats and boots, spurs, saddles, horseshoes, pails and bandanas are all obvious decorations if you have them.
Cowboy costume hats: line with a napkin and fill with dry food such as rolls or crisps. Or hang cheap costume hats on pegs or place on a straw bale. Cut cowboy hat shapes out of cards; then colour and hang them on walls as decorations. Alternatively, use smaller hat shapes as place settings.
Make horseshoes out of cardboard and paint; hang on walls or use on the table as place name holders.
Gingham: use a red and white gingham tablecloth. Wrap cutlery in matching ribbon.
Bandanas: in the Old West, cowboys wore bandanas to protect them from the sand and sun. Make cowboy bandanas the central theme of your party decorations. Wrap the cutlery in them and put other bandanas on coffee tables as tablecloths. Buy a bandana tablecloth and napkin set. Or buy a set of cheap bandanas and place them diagonally down the table to make a table runner. Alternatively, create a stunning tablecloth or unusual wall hanging by sewing these bandanas together. (If you don't like sewing, tape them together on one side and then reverse to show a tape-free display. As most bandanas are almost 2 feet square, this is not such a big job.) Cut bandanas into bunting shapes, string together and hang them from the ceiling.
We used a pack of 12 bandanas to create an ace-high feature as guests walked into our party space:
Hay bales (or straw bales): these can often be bought cheaply (and then given to friends with animals afterwards). Mini hay bales can be bought and used together with a cowboy hat, a bandana and flowers as a table centrepiece.
Chuckwagon (a food wagon that cowboys used on the trail): turn a rectangular table into a chuckwagon by adding a long red or gingham tablecloth, a couple of fake wagon wheels made out of painted cardboard or hula hoops (see below) and add a Chuckwagon sign.
Use a cow print theme: use a cow print tablecloth, balloons, party plates and cups and napkins. Optionally wrap a Mason jar in a cow print material and fill it with sunflowers for a simple table centerpiece.
Buy a pack of foil dishes or pewter-style paper plates and use these instead of plates for your meal. Serve coffee out of tin mugs.
3 Western / American Pioneer Party Theme Decorations
Wagon wheel - nothing speaks of the American Frontier more than images of those wagons rolling across the western plains. You can either:
create your own wagon wheel out of a large sheet of cardboard: cut out a circle, cut out the sections between the spindles, and then paint.
use a cheap hula hoop; optionally wrap rope round and round the hula hoop to add width. Use large bamboo sticks (or other firm sticks) for the spindles. Use a foam or cardboard circle for the wheel centre. Paint each component brown and then assemble.
buy a second-hand wagon wheel or cart wheel from Facebook Messenger or Ebay.
We chose to create a wagon wheel out of cardboard and used it (and a cardboard cactus) as adornments for our jail. (We used double-wall cardboard sheets 1000 x 1200mm thick.) This worked fairly well but, if I were to do so again, I would put weights on the cardboard as it dried to prevent a slight bowing in the middle:
Gingham: red and white checked gingham conjures up images of pioneers and the Western Frontier. Use a gingham tablecloth for your dinner party table. For a cute touch, tie the corners of the tablecloth up with string and add sunflowers or daisies. Flowers would be simple things such as daisies or sunflowers. Optionally, carry the gingham theme through to wall hangings, napkins and party favour bags.
Signpost with Western Words: use cardboard or old planks of wood to make a signpost or signs to hang above the buffet or bar. Paint with words such as "yee-haw", "pardner", "giddy up", "Rootin' tootin'".
Burlap (also known as hessian): buy a cheap roll.
Use to line a wicker basket and fill with cutlery or dry food.
Wrap around wine bottles.
Cut into triangles and thread through to make bunting; optionally attach desert shapes such as cacti or letters to make up Old West words. (For example, Yee-haw, Howdy Pardner or Posse).
Wrap around a jar and put a tea light inside for an easy table centrepiece.
Wrap (carefully) around the base of a cactus; tie with a bandana for a western / cowboy centrepiece.
Use as a table cloth. Or use to create a contrasting table swag.
Buy a pack of cheap tin pails and use to hold flowers or food. Optionally, line with a napkin or bandana to match the tablecloth.
3.1 Other Western Decor Ideas:
Rough wooden furniture or wooden crates.
Antique-looking lamps from charity shops; old tools or lamps.
Pictures of moose, elk, deer, bears etc.
If you have a patchwork quilt, use this as a wall covering.
Take natural items that would have been found on the Old Western frontier - for example, sand, pine cones, rocks, antlers or bark or leaves. Arrange these to make a small or large display.
Take Native American items such as beading, dream catchers, feathers, cornhusk dolls, teepee (make a miniature one out of felt), peace pipes, Kachina figures, woven baskets or Totem poles. Arrange these items together to create a feature display.
The mystery game is set in an unspecified area of the Old West. Hosts are therefore free to set it in desert areas of The West should they wish.
A Mexican theme could also be a realistic theme for your murdering game as the early cowboys were the "vanquero" from Mexico. Many Mexicans continued to work as cowboys throughout the Old West as the 19th century progressed, especially in the Southern states.
Cacti - live or fake - can instantly add a desert feel. Cut a cactus shape out of cardboard and paint. Use house cactus plants as a table centrepiece. Some party suppliers also sell cactus tealight candles, cactus party plates, cups and cocktail sticks, cactus bunting and even inflatable cacti.
We used some leftover cardboard to create a large cactus to stand next to our jail. (We used double-wall cardboard sheets 1000 x 1200mm thick.)
Colour scheme: capture the feel of the desert with a colour scheme full of oranges, reds, yellows and browns. Use a cactus green accent colour.
Mexican: use a vibrant Mexican table runner (either on the table or as a wall hanging); decorate with Sombreros, maracas, bunting in the colours of the table runner and Tequila bottles.