In 1876, our still-new nation was quickly expanding, and hardy pioneers headed west seeking land, gold and a fresh start. What they usually found were small, dusty towns full of armed miscreants, hard-drinking miners and “soiled doves” – saloon girls hustling for money.
The iconic period of the “Wild West” (roughly post-Civil War and pre-Industrial Revolution, 1865- 1895) only lasted about 30 years but the legends and characters still permeate our culture, our self-image, and certainly our imaginations. And nowhere is the spirit of the west more alive than in Pioneertown, a western film set (and actual town) created in 1946 by several cowboy actors, including Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis and Russell Hayden.
Twice a month, a rag-tag group of volunteer performers recreate the comedy and drama of a frontier town circa 1876 on Pioneertown’s Mane Street. Known officially as the Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show, the troupe celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a season-closing show on May 28. (The troupe resumes performances in October, as the heat gods allow.)
The Stampede grew out of the original Pioneertown Posse, which performed for many years in the same vein. When the group officially retired, a few members re formed the Mane Street Stampede, and the Posse gifted the group with their dog-eared skit book while extracting a promise to not change a thing. The Stampede has seen over 100 local actors participate in the show and currently has 24 members.
As a hammy performer and die-hard fan of the Old West, I had no choice but to join the Stampede in fall of 2020 as “Blaze.” (We all have character names far more interesting than our own.) And while we don’t have any men up for playing “floozies,” any gal can play a Bad Guy, a Deputy or a Sheriff, no problem. Members include our troupe president and chief armorist, local snake wrangler and all-around good guy, Philip Bonafede, known as “Paden.” Other current characters include Mrs. Russell (the banker’s wife), Dangerous Dori, Etta Place, Colorado, One- Shot, Curly, Sweet Sue, Killer Henry, Lil’ Red, John Henry, Stella Rose, Blackjack Taylor, Slim, Sassy Sadie, and “Cactus” Colt Remington.