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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

ANSWER ME.

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?

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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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30 Comments

Comments for Dueling Disney: Frontierland Feud are now closed.

  1. Neither wins.

    The Ghost Town at KBF wins over both of them. By a landslide.

    • I think I’d agree with you. Ghost Town with the Log Ride, Mine Train, rapids ride, Mystery Lodge, Ghost Rider, Pony Express, unique shops, good restaurants, Wagon Camp shows, Birdcage Theater and Calico Square stage shows is quite the amazing experience.

      • Not fair, you can’t bring Knott’s into the mix!!! A duel is between TWO, not THREE!! lol.

        (but um yeah, Knott’s would win… lol)

  2. This article got really close to an ‘OMG WTF BBQ FTW’ moment there. ;)

    Overall, I think that there’s something about Disneyland’s Frontierland that feels more ‘real’ than MKs. With most of the Fronterland buildings in MK being along the same walkway, it feels kinda ‘strip mall’ to me.

    Though, MK does have a superior Splash. I actually like BTMRR’s interactive queue quite a lot as well (blasting near the trains is a load of fun).

    It’s a ‘draw’ for me.

  3. In the MK Frontierland you’ll occasionally find a real life alligator or heron that finds it way into the park giving it an extra dose of atmosphere.

  4. Shooting at runaway mine trains from Fort Langhorne gives The Magic Kingdom the win.

  5. As an overall cohesive experience the DL Frontierland takes it in my book. I remember on my 1st trip to MK I was just stunned how out of place Big Thunder and Splash were right next to each other. I couldn’t believe that such two distinctly different styles of mountains were deemed aesthetically compatible by Disney. A realistic southwest desert mountainscape juxtaposed directly with a cartoonish bayou flume ride in an area that is supposed to realistically represent the wild west of the 1800′s? Really? They may as well have put an Astro Orbiter there. Ridiculous. Critter Country is a MUCH more logical and suitable home for Splash (and Country Bears R.I.P.)
    That being said, I actually slightly prefer MK’s Splash and maybe even their BTMRR. However, I take this discussion to be about the overall quality and execution of theme of a particular “land” and not just a total number of attractions in it’s borders and with that criteria Disneyland wins effortlessly (Although, that cheesy synth-laden version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” that pollutes the air must receive a painful death soon).

  6. Sorry Jeff, Keith wins hands down if for no other reason than the great Disneyland trivia he included about Walt’s father-in-law and the 30th wedding anniversary celebration. One of the best debates yet guys!

  7. Just visited both back to back, and while yes, MK has a better Splash and the sooper- fab Country Bears( why oh why did they replace them with Pooh at DL?) DL wins for us because of Billy Hill, overall ambience, and we prefer the Pirate version of the island – it’s way more fun according to our 10 and 13 year old testers!