After celebrating its 100th anniversary last year, the Happy Canyon Night Show is primed to begin another century of tradition and fun, wowing spectators with colorful regalia, choreography, sets and showmanship.
The outdoor pageant begins by telling the story of American Indian life on the Columbia Plateau before, during and after the arrival of white settlers. It recounts the meeting between Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacajawea with the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, and conflicts that led to the establishment of reservations. From there, the show shifts to a lighter tone for the second act, featuring Wild West slapstick routines such as a bank robbery, frontier surgery and an exploding outhouse.
Corey Neistadt, president of the Happy Canyon Board of Directors, said the pageant was created in the early days of the Pendleton Round-Up to provide entertainment for the rowdy post-rodeo crowds. Since then, it has become a family-friendly staple of Round-Up week.
“It’s still around in almost the same form that people saw it 100 years ago,” Neistadt said.
The Happy Canyon Night Show was first performed in 1914, and incorporated two years later with the inclusion of American Indians. The script was written by Roy Raley and Anna Minthorn Wannassay, shining a light on the cultures and experiences of the region.
“There’s an immense sense of pride to be able to share that,” Neistadt said. “It’s just a fantastic thing.”
Becky Waggoner, show director and author of “Happy Canyon: A History of the World’s Most Unique Indian Pageant & Wild West Show,” said there are about 500 cast members and volunteers who come together every year for the production. Some families have even had five or six generations all take part.
“To be part of the cast is magical,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner’s great-grandfather, R.W. Fletcher, played the original sheriff in the 1916 Happy Canyon pageant, and the role has stayed in the family ever since. Waggoner said she’s been involved in the show all her life.
“Our family loves the show,” she said.
Animals play a big role in the pageant, with 75 horses, eight oxen, four mules and two sheep used on stage. This year’s show will also feature Rider Keisner, a fifth-generation cowboy and trick roper, along with CG’s Mounted Color Guard from Fort Riley, Kansas.
Waggoner said it’s a common fallacy that once you’ve seen Happy Canyon, there’s no need to see it again.
“This year’s show is so completely different than last year’s,” she said. “People are really missing out if they don’t come back to experience it.”
When the pageant ends, the fun is just getting started inside Goldie’s Bar at the Canyon, with live music, gambling and alcohol for folks 21 and older. Goldie’s Bar takes place inside the Pendleton Convention Center, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“It’s the best time you can have in Pendleton, if you’re looking for adult activities,” Neistadt said.
The Happy Canyon Night Show runs Wednesday through Saturday following the Pendleton Round-Up, Sept. 13-16. The show starts at 7:45 p.m. at the Happy Canyon Arena.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call 541-276-2553 or visit www.happycanyon.com.