By Jim Stanford on February 24, 2011
History doesn’t have to be dull. The Jackson Hole Historical Society has drawn packed houses for its “Voices of the Valley” series, featuring living legends talking about their fishing, river running and skiing exploits.
Filmmaker Jen Tennican, in conjunction with the Historical Society, is making a documentary on one of the most colorful institutions of Jackson Hole: the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson. From the Sunday night “church” goers to the Disco Night revelers, nail pounders at happy hour and skiers washing down a powder day on Teton Pass, we all have our stories from the ‘Coach.
Tennican has delved into the history of the watering hole started by Walt Callahan in the 1940s. Callahan ran a rodeo behind the bar and served cowboys. The Stagecoach Band started its marathon streak of Sunday night gigs in 1969, as an influx of hippies mixed with horsemen — a tradition that continues to this day when all sorts of freaks gather to get down at Disco Night.
Tennican first visited the bar for Sunday night “church,” when the Stagecoach Band has the crowd two-stepping. “I was struck by the feeling of community,” she says. “It was very welcoming. It felt like being with your family, without the stress of being with your family.”
In researching the bar and greater Wilson community, Tennican has found broader themes that might have national appeal. Hence the film’s title, “The Stagecoach: An American Crossroads.” Among those themes are “maintaining character in a small town, how do outsiders become insiders, and bridging the gap between the wealthy and working class,” she says.
The ‘Coach is full of “character and characters,” she says. As such, the film can be “entertaining and challenging. I’d like to foster some proactive thought about character. Are we losing it?”
Tennican is seeking old films and photos that not only could be included in the movie but also archived with the Historical Society. The material doesn’t have to be from the bar but could feature Wilson in general.
The filmmaker has been meeting with donors — this is a nonprofit project — and aims to begin shooting in earnest in July. Her goal is to make a film that will be shown on state and national public television. She plans to have a few public events, including a night at the bar where patrons can share stories and possibly be included in the film.
Anyone wishing to offer support should contact Tennican via her website.