The Stagecoach Museum (1951-1981)

By David R. Schleper

Stagecoach Museum promotional material
Stagecoach Museum promotional material

Before Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival, there was the Stagecoach Museum. From 1951 to 1981, Ozzie and Marie Klavestad, proprietors, dressed in old western garb and greeted the visitors one by one. The Stagecoach Museum was located on Highway 101 between Savage and Shakopee.

Ozzie and Marie developed the Stagecoach Museum complex to preserve Americana. It was built on the site of the former Gellenbeck Stage Stop (1849-1880). The area is a valley near the Minnesota River, and near the Dakota’s Maka Yusota, or Boiling Springs.

The museum and restaurant displayed a collection of 3,000 guns that Ozzie owned. A lifelong collector, Ozzie amassed an assemblage of firearms including engraved rifles belonging to Jesse James, Annie Oakley, and Buffalo Bill Cody on the walls. A four-barrel, percussion plains rifle of Chief Shakopee was also there.

Stagecoach Museum postcard
Stagecoach Museum postcard

The restaurant had waitresses dressed as cowgirls, with earrings that were little tiny six shooters that actually shot. Ozzie often came out looking like Wild Bill Hickok, shooting his pistols into the ceilings. One area had a Silver Dollar Bar, with silver dollars under glass. Heads of dead animals, such as buffalo and elk, were on the walls. A player piano played by itself and an old vending machine, called a mutoscope, had picture shows on it – put in a penny, turn a crank on the side, and watch the pictures flip through to appear like a movie!

Behind the museum was Sand Burr Gulch, which was a replica of a western town with over 20 buildings containing 75 animated life-size figures synchronized with recordings in appropriate settings. It recreated an Old West street complete with blacksmith, barber shop, saloon, an underground gold mine, and the Palace which had an animated band playing Sousa’s music. On Sundays fast-draw shoot-outs happened in the Old West town.

Next to the museum was the Bella Union Opera House, where actors put on “mellerdramas” of yesteryear, where the audience could hiss the villains and cheer the heroes as loud as they wanted.

The Stagecoach Players Company was founded in 1962 by Wendell Josal (president and managing director) and Robert Moulton (vice-president and artistic director) to perform melodramas with musical olios in the opera house of the Stagecoach complex. In 1971, Moulton was succeeded by Lee Adey. The troupe mounted 44 productions in 18 years, playing to over 300,000 people in 1,898 performances as a commercial company.

Stagecoach Museum, circa 1978
Stagecoach Museum, circa 1978

Ozzie loved guns. He bought his first cap gun at the age of five and owned over 100 before he turned 18. He also was fascinated with the western frontier. Ozzie loved history. He read all the time: history of the West and Civil War history. The Stagecoach became a public display case for his obsessions.

For 30 years, Ozzie and Marie ran their enterprise, with help from a few hired hands who helped run the restaurant and the theater, and kept the place running. By 1981, Ozzie and Marie Klavestad retired and sold the property. Though it was supposed to carry on the tradition, nothing happened, and the Stagecoach Museum began the slow descent of time into rubble. When Ozzie died in a nursing home in 1986, his abandoned dream museum was already in broken fragments.

In 1996, five fire departments burned the remnants of the restaurant, bar, Sand Burr Gulch, and Bella Union Opera House.

And so, the Stagecoach is just a memory.

(Information from Bea Nordstrom, Scott County History Museum, and “How the West Was Lost” by Joseph Hart, City Pages, Oct. 9, 1996.)

7 thoughts on “The Stagecoach Museum (1951-1981)

  1. And what a pleasant memory it is! While living in Burnsville, MN July ’63 – June ’64 we made a number of trips to the Museum and Opera House for the specific purpose of attending a melodrama performance which always provided great joy. And yes we were part of the hissing for the villains and cheering for the heroes crowd. Too bad it can not bring joyful memories for the now generation.

    1. Jim, thanks for sharing your memories! I agree, it’s a bummer we don’t have that still around. Would have been really cool to check out (I’m a bit too young).

  2. my family frequented the stagecoach on sundays for a stack of hamburgers. ozzie
    sold me my first rifle which i still have.my farther a doctor in the area was a close friend of ozzie and marie. my memories of the stagecoach are still with me as if happened
    yesterday. one could spend the whole day there with many games. my favorite was
    shooting the moving bear with the red laser rifle. there were many more entertainments.
    it was said to be the 2nd largest gun collection in the world, the largest being in germany.
    for the stagecoach to be gone has left a hole in americas history.

    thank you,

    jay kortsch

    1. Jay,

      Thanks for sharing your memories about the Stagecoach! Such vivid memories. Didn’t know that they supposedly had a gun collection that large.

      Wes

  3. I would love to find a recording/video/lyrics of the song the cast sang at the beginning of each performance. Part of the fun of bringing new people to The Bella Union Opera House was seeing them jump when a cast member shot off his pistol as part of that song.

    I also remember they (for a season) sold paper lunch bags of peanuts and encouraged the audience to throw peanuts at the villain. But at a late performance, one drunk threw the entire sack and knocked off the top hat of the villain. The actor didn’t miss a beat; he bent down and picked up his hat and continued his performance. I can only imagine how much work it took to clean the mess up every night; no wonder it was a short-lived experiment.

    The Olios (intermediate acts between the acts of the main production) were hilarious and the real reason we attended. (Visualize a chorus line of men in pink tights and cowboy boots with strategically-placed silver fig leaves doing ballet, and you’ll get the idea. Once, someone even brought a small horse onto the stage.) And the museum had an outstanding collection of coin-operated player musical instruments, including a violin in addition to the usual pianos and brass bands.

    Wonderful warm memories; too bad kids today can’t see it.

  4. Hi David,
    I have a great picture of Marie and Ozzie Klavestad, along with my dad, Thomas Gendreau and Stan ? behind the bar. Dad is in the white shirt. Would you want a digital copy of it?
    My dad was a bar tender there. My mom was a waitress. My parents lived in a log cabin in the Sand Burr Gulch behind the museum. My dad built the log cabin. My dad was on a wanted poster in the old jail in the western town. We loved going to see it!!

    1. Hi Mary,

      I’m not sure if David has had a chance to respond to you (if he did via email?) or not, but we’d definitely be interested in a digital copy of that photo. You can email us at info@shakopeeheritage.org.

      Thanks,

      Wes Reinke
      Shakopee Heritage Society

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