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Act like a cowboy at Pioneertown | Bartell's Backroads

Founded in the '40s by western film icon Roy Rogers, Pioneertown is a real life residential community that doubles as a movie set.

PIONEERTOWN, Calif. — Just outside Joshua Tree and north of Yucca Valley is the dusty little community of Pioneertown. The name sounds like something you would visit inside a theme park, but the “town” part of Pioneertown is no joke. It’s a real town with full time residents.

If Pioneertown looks familiar that’s because you may have seen it in the movie "Barbed Wire" or you may have seen the weathered buildings in the 1950s TV show "The Cisco Kid." Pioneertown was also the backdrop for one of Ice Cube’s music videos. 

Historian Curt Sautter says despite its odd name, the community was not settled by pioneers. 

“The town was founded in 1946 by a group of actors including Roy Rogers, his musical group Sons of the Pioneers, and headed by Dick Curtis,” Sautter said.

Dick Curtis often played the villain in movies, but off screen, he was friends with a number of actors and at the peak of western film popularity, he had the idea to build a versatile movie that would double as a working town and weekend getaway. 

“They would have the townspeople be the extras in the movie,” Sautter said. "They had this place as a whole self-contained movie set with real buildings. It’s the only one built like this."

Pioneertown is equipped with a working post office, bowling alley, sound stage and a bar called the Red Dog Saloon. Location was another draw. It is close to Hollywood and its desert landscape was versatile. 

“It could be a duplicate to New Mexico, Arizona or Colorado,” Sautter said. 

Unfortunately, the popularity of western films faded out pretty quick. 

“The town kind of died in the mid '50s,” Sautter said.

Ultimately, the Pioneertown went bankrupt and most of the property ended up in the hands of private residents who continue to play the part of a western cast for tourists. 

“You kind of start naturally wearing western clothes here,” Sautter said.

Eventually, filmmakers did come back. These days, music videos and commercials make up a majority of the filming, but when tourists visit Pioneertown, the western feel is alive and well. 

“There is something about it that makes you follow Dick Curtis’ original dream," Sautter said.

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