■ Ramona Bowl / Contributed
When Helen Hunt Jackson wrote her story “Ramona,” she intended it to be a tale of injustice and the abuse of the Native Americans. Little did she know that it would turn out to be one of the most enduring love stories of the 20th century. Biographer Ruth Odell wrote of Jackson, “Her contact with the Indians set-off a fuse of idealism she had not known she possessed.”
And while she was an advocate for the tribes in our local area, she also wrote a novel that drew people to California to visit the romantic locales described in “Ramona.” The tale of Ramona and Alessandro brought tourists to California as never seen before.
In 1913, Chester Kline, publisher and editor of The San Jacinto Valley Register, wrote an article suggesting that the city weave the story of Ramona into the activities of the annual carnival. He pointed out that the first chapters of the book “teems with references to the San Jacinto Valley.” Several people were interested, but the members of the Hemet Chamber of Commerce finally got the job done. The chamber hired Garnett Holme to write and direct the first production of “Ramona” in 1923.
It all started with a wooden stage and cheesecloth backdrop with the audience sitting on blankets and rocks. Now, with the pageant in its 95th season, “Ramona” has seen many improvements in both setting and audience accommodations. The play itself has even been updated. However, the spirit of the play has remained the same. The injustice to the Native Americans remain—but through the seasons—the play increased its celebration of the Native American traditions. The Red Tail Spirit Dancers share the joy of the Elder blessing in a way that is beautiful and authentic. Internationally recognized Hoop dancer, Terry Goedel, amazes with his performance.
When the novel was first published, the tourists came to California to experience the story—fascinated by the portrayal of life on a rancho, and see where Ramona and Alessandro lived and died.
Much of Jackson’s novel uses true life occurrences. A Native American was killed by Sam Temple and his trial was held in San Jacinto. Tribes were in danger of losing their lands, and Jackson herself, hired a lawyer to help the Soboba tribe defend and keep their land.
When the valley residents chose the site of the Ramona Pageant, they wanted the audience to be able to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the natural setting. Every spring the hills come alive with the spectacle of the Ramona Pageant—the color of the Spanish dancers, the surprise of the Rock Indians, the excitement of the cowboys as they ride the newly restored Americana trail, and the power and majesty of the ceremonies of the Native Americans.
The “Ramona” experience should be an all-day event. The gates to The Ramona Bowl open at 1:30 p.m. It is well worth it to arrive then, so you can enjoy the entertainment in the courtyard, eat at the Kiwanis BBQ, or enjoy a sit-down experience with the most spectacular view in the valley while you eat at the Ramona Terrace. You can visit the museum, which tells the story of “Ramona” performances dating back to 1923. The gift shop has a variety of “Ramona-themed” items.
Seat prices vary—from the upfront seats in the lower section to the shaded box seats at the top of the amphitheatre that include waitress service. Standard pricing ranges from $28 to $47. Take advantage of the local discount price of $20 for those who live in the San Jacinto Valley and Idyllwild.
The Ramona Pageant is a true spectacle at its finest and is the reason why it is the longest running outdoor drama in America and California’s Official Outdoor Play. If you have never seen “Ramona,” make this the year you learn the history and romance of our valley. Become a part of the legacy that makes us so special!
Ramona performances this year are April 21 & 22, April 28 & 29, and May 5 & 6. Gates open at 1:30 p.m. Play starts at 3:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call 951-658-3111 or go to www.RamonaBowl.com.
Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the March edition of “The Chat” published by The Hemet/San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce.