Ramona Cowboys make special play and movie appearances at Hemet’s Ramona Spring Fling

Ramona Cowboys talk with theater guests following the filming of the movie “Cataract Gold” at the historic Hemet Theater April 1. The film showing was a part of the Ramona Spring Fling that took place in downtown Hemet to kick off the upcoming Ramona Play. Tony Ault photo
Ramona Cowboys talk with theater guests following the filming of the movie “Cataract Gold” at the historic Hemet Theater April 1. The film showing was a part of the Ramona Spring Fling that took place in downtown Hemet to kick off the upcoming Ramona Play. Tony Ault photo

The world-famous Ramona Cowboys actors in the historic western “Cataract Gold” and the upcoming Tucker’s War series took the opportunity to appear in a Diamond Valley Arts Council play and show their independent production at the Historic Hemet Theater this past weekend.

It was all a part of Ramona Spring Fling and Food Truck Festival April 1 in downtown Hemet kicking off the annual “Ramona” outdoor play at the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater.

The DVAC’s “Helen Hunt & The Trial of Sam Temple” play with the Ramona Cowboys gave about 100 playgoers Friday evening a glimpse of the little-known history of the now famous author who became a champion for describing injustices American Indian tribes were suffering at the hands of the government of that time.

Linda Greilich, a noted actress from Golden Era Studios, played the role of Jackson who came to San Jacinto to learn about the plight of the Indians, while the cowboy actors from the Ramona Cowboys played different roles. Sam Temple, the accused Indian killer, was played by Dan Ferguson, Judge S.Y. Tripp was played by Frank Siebke, and the Padre was portrayed by Robert Leibovich who provided Jackson with the court findings. Lori Van Arsdale was the executive producer of the play.

It was the trial of Sam Temple that was acquitted of killing a member of the Soboba Indian tribe accused of stealing his horse. A judge and jury of white men, ranchers and farmers from the Valley at that time, found the killing of Indians excusable, like many others in the 1860s West.

This trial, to Jackson, was the epitome of the government’s injustice to Native American Indians that gave her an epiphany to write the novel “Ramona” for the American people of the time to see the Indian injustices when everything else in nonfiction she had written failed and even forced her out of Washington D.C. Her first nonfiction book outlining Indian injustice entitled “Century of Dishonor” was passed out to every congressman of the time, but little came out of it. “It was 360 pages,” Greilich portraying Jackson said in the performance, “Just like politicians, it was too long to read.”

Others playing roles in the stage production included assistant director Dennis Anderson, Jason Middle, Donald Stuart, Steve Hoadley, Tyler Sands, Frank Jaramillo, Jim Bouchard, Gregg Wilder and Frank Jaramillo.

In the evening of the Ramona Spring Fling, the doors of the historic Hemet Theater opened to a showing of the locally produced and directed independent movie “Cataract Gold” starring some of the same “Ramona Cowboys” that were in the DVAC Helen Hunt Jackson production. “Cataract Gold,” produced by Pinyon rancher Paul Kiener, depicts a historic 1880s event that sent members of the Wilcox family of one of Arizona’s largest and greediest cattle barons to steal a treasure of gold buried by members of the Lewis and Clark expedition with its location map passed on to a Clark family member.

The movie cowboys appearing at the Hemet Theater included Steve Silkotch and Dan Ferguson, who were also in the DVAC play. Silkotch plays one of the Wilcox family members in the movie and played one of the good guys in the DVAC play, while Ferguson played the killer Sam Temple in the play and a hero in the movie.

The combined Ramona Spring Fling and Food Truck Festival was sponsored by the City of Hemet, the Ramona Bowl Association, The Diamond Valley Arts Center, the Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, the historic Hemet Theater, Central County United Way and the many downtown merchants.

The Ramona Spring Fling, as hoped, brought hundreds of Hemet and San Jacinto residents and out of town guests to the six blocks of downtown Hemet, many dressed in 1860s costumes to help revive and celebrate the Ramona Days Spring Fling and Food Truck Festival.

There were Spanish and Indian dancers singing and twirling in their colorful costumes on Harvard Street. The aroma of simmering barbecue beef, salsas and sizzling hamburgers filled the air above Carmalita Street and Florida Avenue to State Street coming from the food trucks and vendors. The Ramona Cowboys strolled down the streets greeting visitors while fifth generation sheep shearer Graciano Hernandez worked to bring a pelt of freshly sheared sheep’s wool to weavers using the old-time spinning wheels to make useful yarns. It was like stepping into the past when Hemet and San Jacinto streets were still dirt and brick, busy with buggies and horses.

Observing all the festivities were many of the actresses and actors in the upcoming “Ramona” play, including Kayla Contraras a Cal State student who plays Ramona, dressed in the bright red Indian costume she will wear in the play. The festivities continued well into the evening all to celebrate “Ramona” the outdoor play coming in April to the Ramona Bowl.

More than a dozen Indian Dancers from the Red Tail Spirit Dancers and Bird Singers made their way to Harvard Street. Dressed in their colorful costumes, often worn in pow wows the Red Tail performers danced and sang telling about traditional Indian stories and tales while the Bird Singers beat a traditional drum and shook their rattles.

As a special treat to the festival goers was the appearance of Terry Goodale, the world champion Native Hoop Dancer, who put on an unforgettable display of Indian Hoop Dancing. He skillfully gathered his hoops, dancing and linking them together showing his skill in a dance depicting the coming together of all the tribes and peoples of the world. His eight hoop patterns ranged from looking like a bird to the rounded earth.

Spanish dancers, young and old, many who perform in “Ramona,” twirled and swayed to the traditional Spanish music swishing the most colorful dresses back and forth while children danced around traditional sombreros in a Mexican Hat Dance. The Mexican music set many those watching to dancing themselves adding the joy of the day in the pleasant 70-degree sunny weather.

Antique cars lined the middle of Harvard Street for most of Saturday afternoon as a reminder of the autos common in the 1920s when “Ramona” was first performed in the acoustically amazing Ramona Bowl Amphitheater at the end of Girard Street south off Stetson Avenue. The first “Ramona” was performed in April 1923 when the seats were rock and logs.

Vendors selling everything from Indian goods to jewelry lined the lot north of Harvard Street back of the Hemet Library on Latham brought many customers to their wished upon items.

Yet, even more delightful for a handful of women, like Agnus Kennedy, Allysun Knapp with little daughter Luna, Holly Drucke along with their escort Ralph Natividad beautifully costumed in the clothing of the 1860s who enjoyed a “tea time” at the Destination Coffee Bar and Bistro in the old Hemet Train Depot and museum off State Street and Latham. The tea party portrayed the activities of some of finer ladies in the 1860s, not unlike those that author Jackson might have enjoyed during her college days at Amhurst College in Massachusetts or Washington, D.C.

Actress Greilich wearing a traditional black mantilla with a peineta comb and an embroidered red full-length dress like the finest Spanish ladies once wore in Old Mexico enjoyed a coffee inside the Bistro as well sharing that Saturday sharing stories of early Hemet with others, all in preparation for the “Ramona” play.

“Ramona,” California’s Office Outdoor Play, will open the weekend of April 22-23 and continue April 29-30 and May 6-7 at the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater, 27400 Ramona Bowl Road, Hemet. Lower level seats are $28 to $34 Upper level seats are $20 to $49; shaded box seats $45 to $49 and a family 4 pack at $99 that includes 4 tickets, a parking permit and a souvenir program. Senior, military and student discounts are available. All seating is reserved and all children, regardless of age, must have a ticket.

To order tickets call (951) 658-3111 or (800) 645-4465 or see www.ramonabowl.com.

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