Dueling Disney: Frontierland Feud

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 03, 2013 at 3:30 am with 30 Comments

Well, howdy there pardners! How are you doing this fine day? Welcome back to Dueling Disney. Now, some of them there duels get a little dicey, yessir. But this here one should be a hoot and a holler. So why don’t you take off those saddle bags, sit down a spell, step into the saloon and listen to Keith and Jeff talk about whose Frontierland is the best. I reckon the sheriff may have to get involved!

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 12: Frontierland

Keith: The original Frontierland plaque that was approved by Walt in July of 1955, but never installed, reads: “Here we experience the story of our country’s past… the colorful drama of frontier America in the exciting days of the covered wagon and the stage coach, the advent of the railroad and the romantic riverboat. Frontierland is a tribute to the faith, courage and ingenuity of the pioneers who blazed the trails across America.”

The plaque that was present on opening day, and is still there today, reads: “To Walt Disney–In recognition of outstanding assistance and cooperation in extending humane ideals to peoples throughout the world–from The American Humane Association – July 1955.”

You know Jeffers, when Disneyland first opened, Frontierland took up roughly one-third of the entire park.

Jeff: One-third? That’s a lot of space! How much space did Tomorrowland take up with all its awesomeness?

Keith: Not much. Although nine months after Disneyland opened, Tomorrowland did actually get an attraction called “The Bathroom of Tomorrow.” Bet you wish Communicore Weekly could’ve done a bathroom break there, eh bud?


Jeff: I certainly do. To the Dueling Disney Time Machine!

While the Frontierland may not have been quite as big on opening day at Walt Disney World, it still was a sight to behold. It is located along the Rivers of America, just like at Disneyland, but when it opened, it only featured three attractions: the Railroad, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, and the Country Bear Jamboree. What did your one-third sized Frontierland have over on the West Coast in 1955?

Keith: Let’s see. There was the Indian Village, which among other things, was home to real Native Americans sharing their culture with park guests. Disney even obtained permission from various tribal councils and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow the performances of authentic tribal dances. Over the years the area was relocated and remodeled, and featured such customs as: teepees, arts and crafts, archery demonstrations, and more.

In early Frontierland you could also find a miniature horse corral, Pack Mules, and even a Marshal’s office. U.S. Marshal Willard P. Bounds (named after Walt’s father-in-law, who had been an actual U.S. Marshal) was present to keep law and order in Frontierland, but only for a year. In mid-1956 the Frito Kid evicted ol’ Marshal Bounds, as the popular Casa de Fritos needed to expand.

After getting their fill of Fritos, guests could board a rustic Stage Coach or Conestoga Wagon and tour the dusty Frontierland terrain. While some folks worried about “stick-ups,” or even Indian attacks, the biggest problem that plagued the wooden conveyances was the very thing that powered them: horses. Easily startled horses had a tendency to jump or run, often causing the top-heavy coaches to tip over, even occasionally ejecting its passengers! That doesn’t sound like a ride I would sprint to at rope drop.


Jeff: What are you talking about?! Being bucked off of a real live horse at a Disney theme park? That sounds like a good time to me!

Tom Sawyer Island opened in 1973, much to the delight of kids everywhere. Who wouldn’t want to run around and cause havoc much like Tom and Huck did? Plus, our Fort is still open to the public, and not home to a mobile home. We still don’t have those pesky pirates over on our end either, thankfully.

While you guys may have had a Fritos sponsorship for some time, over at the Magic Kingdom, McDonald’s reigned supreme in the Wild West. I mean, it makes total sense, right? The fry cart had an elaborate back story, which only those with keen eyes could see, where it was up on a hill until a flash flood pushed it down to its eventual location. Of course, the McDonald’s sponsorship was eventually booted out for healthy snacks, but it was still a nice touch!

Keith: Oh, what’s this? I found a sticky note here on my desk. It reads: “Dear Jeff. IOU one punch in the face. Sincerely, Keith.”

Did you really just use the McDonald’s fry cart as a pro in your argument? Egads, man. It took me years to run those jerks outta Disneyland. Years. I have long been okay with corporate presence in the parks (after all, Disneyland began with a huge corporate presence), but seeing those annoying red fry boxes as I exited Thunder Mountain (and again as I passed the Haunted Mansion) just never sat well with me.

You know what did sit well with me? A little saloon called The Golden Horseshoe. Just two months before Disneyland opened, Anaheim’s most famous saloon was all set to be named “Pecos Bill’s Golden Horseshoe.” Slue Foot Sue had other ideas.

A few months after Disney Legend Harper Goff returned to the Disney Studios from a stint with Warner Brothers, Walt approached him to design the Golden Horseshoe’s interior. He wanted it to look just like the saloon from the 1953 Warner Brothers’ film Calamity Jane. What Walt didn’t know was that Goff was the man who designed that saloon for the film! Goff had no problem retrieving the original blueprints, scaling them down, and completing one of the quickest design projects Disney’s ever done.

Over the years the venue has housed a variety of different live acts. Its longest-running and easily most famous, The Golden Horseshoe Revue, ran from opening day (although technically there were performances prior to opening day) till 1986. Three Disney Legends came out of that time span: Betty Taylor, Fulton Burley, and the beloved Wally Boag. Actor/comedian Steve Martin famously used to spend most of his breaks from his shifts at the Magic Shop (both Main Street’s and Merlin’s) watching Boag perform. Boag eventually became a mentor to him.

The coolest piece of history, however, happened before Disneyland even opened. On July 13, 1955, the first performance of The Golden Horseshoe Revue entertained guests during a private party celebrating Walt and Lillian’s 30th wedding anniversary. “It began on the Mark Twain Riverboat with mint juleps,” recalled Diane Disney Miller, “and then moved over to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon for dinner and the revue. Suddenly Dad appeared in one of the balcony boxes on the side of the stage. At this point in the show, Wally Boag, as Pecos Bill, was firing blanks. Dad returned fire with his thumb and forefinger, then began to climb down to the stage. I think that everyone got a bit worried—I know I did. When he got to the stage he stood there beaming at everyone. He was so happy.” Lillian reluctantly joined Walt onstage, and to her surprise, they began to dance. According to Wally Boag, Walt had secretly taken a few dance lessons, because “he knew how happy it would make her [Lillian].” Soon after that, everyone began dancing.

You guys have the Diamond Horseshoe Revue, right? I hear they serve a mean pork brisket sandwich. Oh well, that’s almost as cool.


Jeff: I have to admit, the Golden Horseshoe definitely beats the Diamond Horseshoe. Because gold is always better than diamonds . . . I think.

Anyway, we may not have the great history behind it, but we do have some pretty awesome ALMOST history…and that is in the form of the Western River Expedition. And yes, I am going to use a never-made attraction as a pro argument, because, come on…the Western River Expedition would have been amazing!

OK, so we didn’t get WRE, but we did eventually wind up with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1980. The area remained relatively unchanged until 1993, when the massive expansion of Splash Mountain opened to change the entire footprint of Frontierland. The entire western end of Frontierland, with the exception of Big Thunder, was demolished and and rebuilt. The train station was rebuilt closer to Splash, and built onto a second story.

Speaking of Splash Mountain, while we may not have the original, we DO have it in Frontierland, and it is far superior.

Keith: That’s right, your Splash is in Frontierland. Hmmm. A log ride filled with fanciful animal characters all singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah in the land of the American Frontier. Seems legit.

Misplaced mountains aside, let me tell you why Disneyland wins this round. In addition to the fun and history-soaked Golden Horseshoe Saloon, we’ve got some pretty good eats in these here parts. The aforementioned Casa de Fritos, which became Casa Mexicana in 1982, and ultimately Rancho del Zocalo in 2001, is home to some pretty darn good Mexican food (well, for theme park counter service anyway). During the 1982 redo, the restaurant received an expanded outdoor seating area, and much more authentic Mexican architecture. It was taken a step further in 2001 with the addition of exotic tile, ironwork, and fountains that do well to enhance guests’ dining experience. You can also grab a “window seat” outside and watch the Big Thunder Railroad pull back into Rainbow Ridge.

Speaking of Big Thunder, in Dueling Disney: The Disney Mountain Range, Disneyland received double the votes that Walt Disney World did. The people have spoken, Jeff. Our Big Thunder is just flat-out better. And it’s hardly resting on its laurels! The original “Wildest Ride in the Wilderness” is a little over halfway through a complete refurb, which (according to the official Disney Parks Blog) will give us “an all-new track, updates to the mountain itself, and other visual elements.” Rainbow Ridge will also be receiving an update, which alone means: DL’s BTMRR FTW.

Do you like BBQ? Of course you do. Who doesn’t like BBQ? Come on over to Big Thunder Ranch and enjoy some delicious “all you care to eat” Old West cuisine, accompanied by some good ol’ Cowboy music. We’ve also got the Stage Door Cafe if you just want some chicken fingers, or the River Belle Terrace, where you can enjoy a tasty breakfast as you watch the Mark Twain Riverboat cruise by. Where can you get breakfast food in your Frontierland, Jeff?

The Sailing Ship Columbia is also classified as being in Frontierland. That said, I must ask: where can you ride a fully rigged 110-foot-long replica of the first American ship to ever circumnavigate the globe in your Frontierland, Jeff?

Also being classified as being in Frontierland, Fantasmic! has been dazzling guests along the Rivers of America since 1992. Where can you watch an incredible nighttime spectacular in your Frontierland, Jeff?


Time for a trivia question that’s as old as its subject. What is the oldest attraction in Disneyland?

Wait for it…

In July of 1956, Walt purchased what was left of a petrified tree–believed to be between 55 million and 70 million years old–for his wife, Lillian. While she appreciated the gesture, she was less than thrilled about displaying it at the Disney family home. In September of 1957, Lillian  donated it to Disneyland. The original tree was estimated to have been 200ft tall, and was part of a sub-tropical forest in what is now Colorado. According to its plaque: “During some prehistoric era a cataclysmic upheaval caused silica laden water to overspread the living forest. Wood cells were changed during the course of time to sandstone. Opals were formed within the tree trunk itself.”

Where can you find a 70 million-year-old artifact in your Frontierland, Jeff?


Jeff: OMG BBQ BTMRR! Gee, Keith, you really went straight for the jugular on that one, didn’t you?

So we may not have the greatest eateries in the World at the Magic Kingdom. Yeah, Pecos Bill’s is OK, but it’s not great.

But let me counterpoint with this: Country Bear Jamboree. Do YOU have one of those, Keith? I THINK NOT GOOD SIR.

While you used to be able to partake in this rip-roaring, old fashioned good time at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom is now the only place you can experience this fantastic show at the continental Disney Parks. We also have the honor of having the original version. That’s right…we had it when the Park opened in 1971, and it was so popular, they replicated it for Disneyland. Originally designed for the never realized Mineral King resort, the Country Bear Jamboree is an audio-animatronic show where bears with a country twang show off their skills and play you some music. It recently went through a facelift to update the animatronics and clean up the show.

I’m sorry, Keith, you have some good eateries, but singing Bears win every time!

So what say you, pardner? Does Disneyland hold the original and best Frontierland? Or does Walt Disney World leave the original in the dust?

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • steve2wdw

    One comment about opening day attractions at the MK in Frontierland…..the train station wasn’t added until 1972, so the CBJ and the Shootin’ Gallery were pretty much it!

  • eicarr

    I always thought Walt pulled back a little on Frontierland due to the larger ghost town nearby at Knotts(like to think out of respect rather than budget). But the historic land preserves what Walt built himself and were Davy Crockett walked on TV promos for DL. Riding the actual steam boat Walt gambled his own money on to build, or the petrified tree Lilly gave Walt for his birthday one year.

  • horizonsfan

    The Disneyland Frontierland may not have Splash Mountain, but it’s laid out so much better. The dead end set-up near BTMRR and SM is terrible planning and creates a huge bottleneck. Plus, having Fantasmic at DL is what sells it for me!

    • TylerDurden

      ever been to Critter Country?

    • yellowrocket

      Uh dead ends? Disneyland dead ends just past Frontierland, too. It’s called Critter Country. Duh.

    • DisWedWay

      Disneyland Fronteirland got the original Splash Mountain.

      • DisWedWay

        ……and Critter Country.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    For me Frontierland has always been about the river. With the Columbia, the frontierland in Disneyland seems to have more life. For MK, I think that the Country Bear Jamboree certainly is a big selling point. The fact that Fontierland in California has Fantasmic, really is the thing that puts it over the top.

    BTW, I love the comments on the history of Disneyland that Keith does. Good job!

  • dolewhipdude

    What about the story in the architecture that Frontierland plays in MK? From Liberty Square to Peco’s you’re looking at the evolution of architecture in the US over the course of a couple centuries. Check out Sam’s take on it: http://blog.touringplans.com/2009/07/12/design-a-walk-through-wdws-liberty-square-through-frontierland-the-finale/

    Does Disneyland have that ???

    Also we have a cool boardwalk. And ducks.

    MK wins!

    • ttintagel

      Yeah, I’m always amazed at how much architectural history Frontierland and Liberty Square manage to pack into a relatively small space.

  • Illusion0fLife

    This is a hard call, Walt Disney World undoubtedly has the better attractions (the one-two-three punch of Splash, Big Thunder, and Country Bears is hard to beat), but when it comes to aesthetics and completeness of theme, I think our Frontierland has MK’s beat. We also have The Golden Horseshoe and Billy Hill and the Hillbillies.

    I’m going to have to give Disneyland the edge here (admittedly due in part to home park bias) but both are excellent contenders. Frontierland is Magic Kingdom’s best land and I love the way it seamlessly moves you through time into Liberty Square.

  • LoveStallion

    I give this to DL, but I’d be all for tearing out Big Thunder BBQ and the weird Festival of Fools thing that manages to linger in favor of some serious redevelopment. DL Frontierland’s walkable area isn’t much larger than other areas of the park, but the full physical boundaries of it are impressive. I admit I’m torn as to whether I feel the area should be expanded to complete a circuit to Critter Country, or if the fact that there is so much random open space in the back of the park that they should just leave it and let it only be seen by those on boats.

  • gboiler1

    I gave the nod to WDW because of how things are now. In its infancy DL wins hands down but now has changed so much from its original state. I didn’t give the bonus because of Fantasmic because its not really a Frontierland show, just happens its the best place for the show.

  • yellowrocket

    Yes. Fantasmic is more or less New Orleans Square.

    • frollofan

      According to the Disneyland website, Fantasmic is located in Frontierland

  • Susan Hughes

    I wonder if Frontierland is going to expand. I heard that the Circle D Ranch was going away and the critters stored somewhere else. That leaves a lot of room to play with.

  • DisWedWay

    Disneyland has Lillians petrified tree, but maybe older are the 100 tons of high grade gold and silver ore mine tailings from the Mojave Desert Mountains. To be fair Big Thunder in Walt Disney World also got 100 tons of the same tailings from the same mine. A Disney film was once filmed there. Can you guess its name?

  • Big D

    I think this one is pretty even. I think I’m slightly leaning toward DL here just because the MK Frontierland always feels so disjointed. Oh, but Rancho del Zocalo is a big minus for DL. For me it’s the worst restaurant in the park. With so much really good, authentic Mexican food available in So Cal, RDZ feels like an Acapulco’s with worse food. Honestly, I’d rather eat at Del Taco. I don’t think Fantasmic really counts toward this since dueling Fantasmic’s is probably going to be a separate article, but I would have mentioned the great Dia de los Muertos that Disney does every year. It’s small, but very well done and really enhances that part of the park. I agree with a previous poster that the Festival Arena needs to go and they really need to build something else there. But Disney also rents that area out for corporate events, so they probably make too much money off of that for something so silly as a ride that won’t bring in nearly as much money. The BBQ is also way, way overpriced, so that would be a minus for me as well. I’d still give it to DL by a hair though.

  • DobbysCloset

    Some of my oldest memories are of the Indian Village at Disneyland. It made a huge impact on my life, becoming a member of the Mickey Mouse Tribe. I was four or five when I decided that, when I grew up, I wanted to be an Indian, too. My Halloween costumes were Indians. My school projects were about Indians. You can imagine how horrified I was when I grew up a bit and learned what had happened to our Native Americans.

    Thinking back to both Knotts and DL, Knotts had great stagecoach rides and also a mine ride with donkeys that made a huge impression on me. There was no entrance fee at Knotts at the time, so we would regularly visit. My mom would shop and my brother and I would ride the donkeys.

    I’ve never been to Disney World. But I am so in love with my Uncle Walt that DL will always have the special glow of his presence, whereas Disney World can only be something built for tourists on the East Coast, ya know?

  • daveyjones

    i’m a die hard soCal original park fella, but i had to vote MK on this one, if only for the historical arc in architecture from liberty square on around the rivers of america clockwise. beautifully planned and executed.

  • tofubeast

    I prefer Big Thunder and Splash at MK. I love a pirate-less Tom Sawyer Island. (I do miss canoes on the River though). Country Bears puts FL at MK over the top. So that’s my 2 cents.