The Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show celebrates 10 years of delighting audiences in pioneertown

By Heather Clisby

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.)

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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.

In putting together a late-1800s Old West wardrobe, you learn that the concept of ‘matching’ did not exist yet. Strict color coordination would come after the turn of the century, when textile varieties, colors and accessory choices greatly expanded in the marketplace. With the ladies, it’s all layers – long dresses, petticoats, stockings, corsets, parasols, feather boas, and gloves. (I no longer take the liberation of tank tops, shorts and flip-flops for granted.) Dudes get the leather gear, the boots, vests, dusters, and, of course, the cowboy hats. (Though I always wear one no matter the character.) Nearly all of us wear holsters with stage guns – firearms that hold only blanks. Though the weapons are loud, no projectiles ever leave the barrel – a point that is usually addressed in the show.

Founding member, Desert Rose, aka Wanda Stadum, is the troupe’s so-called “Stage Coach” – the gal who runs the set and keeps the actors on point. She advises members to leave their ‘real-world’ troubles behind and dig deep into the time period. “When you pull up and get out of your car, you should be in character the whole time you are there,” said Stadum. “Be your character and have some ideas about what your characters’ back-story might be. Where did you come from? Who were your parents? Then you have an idea.”

The free shows are usually on the second and fourth Saturday of each month to the delight of tourists, plus a few neighbors. The troupe gathers donations from the crowd that go straight to the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Desert in Yucca Valley. Over a decade, the troupe has donated approximately $5,000. “We help the kids because, well, we’re still kids ourselves!” said Stadum.

And this is the core of it. No matter how long you been on Earth, ain’t nothin’ better than playing makebelieve cowboy with your friends in the dirt.

A resident of Twentynine Palms, Heather Clisby is a news reporter and on-air DJ for Z107.7FM in Joshua Tree, a hike guide for Wandering Mojave Hiking Services, a Desert Institute volunteer, and an improv workshop leader at The Palms in Wonder Valley. In other words, she does whatever she wants. The Mane Street Stampede Wild West Show celebrates 10 years of delighting audiences in pioneertown

Photo by Sandra Goodin

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