marked the beginning of a correspondence in which she strived to
convey to Green the canyon’s rich cultural history, which essentially
parallels the “modern” history of the Panhandle
itself. She talked up the outdoor musical idea with friends and
between them, they ponied up the money it would take to get Green
to Amarillo so
he could see the canyon himself.
The Southern writer, like other creative types before and since,
found inspiration in Palo
Duro’s many-hued geologic pallet, which seems to change colors
every time the lighting changes.
“According to those in attendance at that first meeting with…Green,”
a piece on the pageant’s history published in event’s 50th anniversary
program says, “he immediately dedicated himself to the project of
bringing the history of the High Plains to the stage.”
With Green’s buy-in assured, Mrs. Harper and other supporters formed
a non-profit group called the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation.
Led by Mary Miles Batson with a lot of political help from then
Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission member Pete Gilvin, the organization
began raising money in 1961 to stage the pageant.
Meanwhile, Green started working on a script. The show debuted in
1966 and grew into a summer tradition. Thanks to news media exposure,
local marketing efforts and old-fashioned word of mouth, the pageant’s
reputation built with each passing season. In recent years, USA
Today included it in its “Top 10 Must See Theaters in America” and
the American Bus Association’s “Top 100 Attractions in North America.”
An estimated 4 million people have viewed the pageant over the last
50 years. In recent seasons, the show’s three-month run (six days
a week with Mondays off) has drawn about 65,000 annually.
Though the show is still based on Green’s original script, new characters,
scenes and dialog have been added by David Yirak, who became the
pageant’s artistic director 10 years ago and has been associated
with the production for 17 years. For example, today’s version makes
no mention of the early Spanish passage across the Panhandle,
and presents Indians in a more politically correct manner than in
Another change to the show came because of weather, or the lack
of it. In 2011, the extended drought forced cancellation of the
pageant’s traditional fireworks display. To replace that, the staff
developed a finale using shooting streams of water and LED lighting
and powerful projectors to color the night sky. But given good rains
the Panhandle received
earlier this summer, the fireworks were reinstituted this season
in addition to the water and light show.
Despite the changes to the show, it begins as it always has, with
a lone horseback rider galloping along the canyon rim 600 or so
feet above the amphitheater, a powerful spot light illuminating
the waving Texas flag. No matter how many times you may have seen
that, it still makes you proud to be a Texan.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" August
13, 2015 column