Pageants like Happy Canyon are traditionally made up of a number of individual scenes, flowing from one to the next to tell a bigger story. While the focus may narrow to a few key actors at any given time, there is always action going on across the wide stage.
Here are some of our favorite scenes from the show:
Narrator Steve Corey begins the show by telling of a wedding scene in which an Indian couple gets married. A Happy Canyon princess always plays the bride and this year, it will be Appollonia Saenz. Happy Canyon publicity director Corey Neistadt said they joke with the princess each year when introducing her at events, saying she’s been married about 25 times, for each year the scene has been a part of the show.
Meeting with Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark
Derived from Meriwether Lewis’ journals, this scene informs the audience of Lewis, William Clark and Sacajawea’s meeting with the Nez Perce tribe. Accompanied by drumming and singing, the tribe does the Welcome Dance before everyone exchanges gifts. This scene represents the first contact between Indians and white people in the Happy Canyon show. According to Neistadt, Donna Nez, who plays Sacajawea in the scene, knows exactly when her part begins, and often arrives just a few minutes before going on the set. The Lewis and Clark actors have often wondered whether Nez will show up in time, but she always has.
White girl taken hostage
A dramatic scene in which a wagon train is attacked by Indians. A white girl is captured, tied up and taken screaming across the set by an Indian on horseback. Simultaneously, the Indian chief’s son has been killed. He is laid down on a board and ceremonies are performed over him by a medicine man. The captive white girl is freed, and she dives into a 12-foot-deep pond and then rides off on horseback. A battle between white settlers and Indians ensues, ending with an Indian getting shot and free-falling into the pond — a true crowd pleaser. Happy Canyon hires a stunt man for this part. (Staff photo by Rachael Owen)
Indians retreat to the reservation
The Treaty of 1855 signaled a movement of Indians from their native land to reservations. Nez Perce Chief Looking Glass was away on a buffalo hunt when the treaty was signed, and returned disappointed as he learned of the agreement. When his war bonnet comes off, it symbolizes the end of the Indians’ time on native land. Happy Canyon portrays the moment with morose music and a generally somber tone. “Of all the comments we get about the show, we probably get the most about this part,” Neistadt said.
Following the major scenery change from Indian land to Wild West Pendleton, the tone of the show takes a major shift to slapstick comedy. This begins when the audience sees a drunk man passed out on the sidewalk as the sun rises. Shortly after, a cowboy comes running into a nearby outhouse and a man throws a stick of dynamite in with him, blowing up the outhouse. The explosion didn’t always work in the past, Neistadt said. This prompted a change in which the outhouse is held together mechanically. When the dynamite explodes, people hiding behind the trees pull attached ropes that cause the outhouse walls and roof to fall, leaving the man in the outhouse exposed.
The bottomless family trunk
A family comes into town by stagecoach and gets out in front of the Pendleton Woolen Mills store. The father and a townsman lift a trunk off the back of the stage coach and place it over a trap door in the set. The trunk opens and the kids emerge, tallest to shortest. The mother counts the kids, taps her husband and signals that there’s one kid missing. They re-open the trunk and find their baby, who comes from a Happy Canyon volunteer family.
Funny stories abound behind this scene, according to Neistadt. The scene begins with bank robbers coming to town, dressed in long coats with handkerchiefs covering their faces. They rob a bank and on their way out of town a shootout ensues with the sheriff. A tall, skinny robber gets shot, causing people in the town to yell out, “Is there a doctor?” Neistadt remembers several times when a real doctor in the audience has stood up and responded, “I am,” which once prompted the sheriff, played by Colby Marshall, to stick a gun to the man’s chest and say, “Sit back down. We don’t need no doctor like you.” After the show doctor, Jason Hill, emerges from the grandstand, he proceeds to whale on the wounded man’s legs — made out of wood — with a hatchet. Loud cracking sounds emulate bones breaking, and gasps can be easily heard from the crowd.
Town on fire
As smoke rises from Goldie’s Palace — the town brothel — Goldie comes to the second-story window yelling for help. A fire truck pulls up, but the men are unable to gain control of the fire hose. Instead, Goldie throws down a ladder and rescues herself. One of Goldie’s customers, known as Henry, follows her down the ladder, only to encounter his wife at the bottom. Henry’s wife hits him with a broomstick before he runs away and hops into the pond.