Death Valley 49ers Centennial

Jimmy Stewart, card-playing desert cowboys and a 20-mule team.
Jimmy Stewart, card-playing desert cowboys and a 20-mule team.

Jimmy Stewart left Bedford Falls and headed to Death Valley in Nevada and California. He wouldn’t need the help of a guardian angel there.

The actor went to Desolation Canyon to narrate the 1949 Centennial Pageant on December 3. His narration of the 1849 re-enactment was intended for a crowd of 5,000, but 65,000 showed up, with the overflow crowd standing on the hillside.

The story he shared wasn’t about borax, but the tale of William Lewis Manley and John Rogers, who had walked west from Death Valley to San Fernando Valley to seek help for their stranded comrades during the winter of 1849. The party endured five weeks before being rescued.

Constance “Dena” Edwards heard Stewart talk that day. Edwards, who had come to California in 1948 to teach school, took a photograph of three men playing cards out in the desert. “I heard a deep chuckle and a pleasant grunt when I snapped their picture. They never looked up as the parade of people trudged on to the wooden bleachers prepared for us. Jimmy Stewart narrated the history of California as covered wagons, cowboys, Indians, a 20-mule team and countless volunteers performed,” the 82-year-old tells True West.

She shares the picture with the hope that someone can identify the card players, so she can learn their stories. You may e-mail Dena at cdena4mkay@aol or call her at 714-256-5952.

The Death Valley 49ers Encampment will hold this year’s pageant from November 5-9.

Goodbye, Death Valley? Seems to us like some lively people still travel these serpentine roads.

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