Fred Doster arrived in Independence exactly 70 years ago, in the fall of 1947, from Manhattan, New York. Fred was an actor with the stage name of “Charlie Dorchester.” The new friends he met in Independence were all excited about the end of World War II and the return of the Santa-Cali-Gon to the Independence Square. All of the men folk were dressing up like cowboys, and the ladies were squeezing into their hoop, skirt, and bustles. Of course, they drug Fred along with them to the square that night to join the excitement. However, Fred knew nothing about the beards and was promptly thrown into the bamboo jail, where he sat for what seemed like hours. Fred said, “After awhile they took me before their Kangaroo Court where my new friends bailed me out for a dirty old dime.”
What Fred was unaware of was that no one was allowed on the square unless they were dressed in period clothing – and for the men, that meant growing a beard. Anyone who didn’t “get into the spirit” of things was locked up in the phony slammer until someone bailed them out.
The original festival, a few years earlier in 1940, was a celebration of the days when Independence was the launching pad for the old Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails. The first Santa-Cali-Gon was so successful that they decided to do it again the following year in 1941; however, World War II got in the way and it was not held again until 1947 – the year Fred Doster arrived from Manhattan.
The first Santa-Cali-Gon opened on Monday, Oct. 14, 1940, with a band concert and a welcome from Mayor Roger T. Sermon. Pioneers, outlaws, and Indians raided the city. On the program were the Wild and Woolly Midget Wild West Show; the Old Settlers Parade with horse drawn floats; and the Big Red Barn Dance. The streets were all covered with dirt and bales of hay were hauled into town. Reproduction covered wagons and stagecoaches could be seen around the bonfires everywhere. All of the stores had antique window displays and the free Harvest and Home Festival was at the auditorium. The White Masque Players presented “The Old Trails” pageant and the Royal Riders and Ropers performed at the Campus.
The Negro Civil War Chorus and the Harmonica Band performed at the reviewing stand. There was a daily reception of the Old Pioneers at Memorial Hall, Fife and Drummers, and stagecoach rides down the old Santa Fe Trail. The three-day celebration was capped off with an authentic pioneer wedding.
The Examiner’s ad man at the time, Raymond Blake and his wife, Myrtle Irene, and their young daughter, Betty, could be found throughout the celebration dressed in period clothing in a corner of the “Queen City of the Old Trails” free museum, (today’s Old Blake Museum) 106 E. Walnut, which happened to contain hundreds of early day Independence relics. Of course, it was Blake’s creative mind that conceived the idea of the original Santa-Cali-Gon.
The Examiner has always been very active in the Chamber of Commerce and has always been a proud supporter of Santa-Cali-Gon. For some reason, those original three celebrations came to an end; 25 years would pass before plans surfaced once again to revive the celebration. While today’s Santa-Cali-Gon is much different from the original three, it is still a reminder of those glorious days of the Old West.
The Labor Day weekend event will draw well over a quarter of a million people to the square and has become one of the largest area events. Nationwide it is ranked among the top 10 craft fairs in America.
Reference: Betty and Wayne Steinhauser.
To reach Ted Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.