Grace: Nebraskans on horseback ride into Hollywood big-screen debut in 'Lone Ranger' -
Published Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:03 am
Grace: Nebraskans on horseback ride into Hollywood big-screen debut in 'Lone Ranger'

The new “Lone Ranger” movie features Johnny Depp as Tonto, Armie Hammer in the title role, and on horseback ... some 16 Nebraskans.

Their names won't roll in the credits. You'll hardly see their dusty, sunburned faces. They themselves didn't know — until after watching the film Friday night — whether they were the good guys or the bad guys.

“Probably the bad guys,” predicted Shane Johnson, who hadn't yet seen the film.

Shane, a 33-year-old cattle rancher and substitute teacher from Verdigre, Neb., was among a group of horseback-riding extras, many from Nebraska, who were needed for the expensive film, estimated to cost $250 million.

You can't, after all, have the U.S. Cavalry storm an Indian village with just a few Hollywood stunt riders. A cavalry requires numbers. A cavalry requires horses. A cavalry requires people who can handle the animals amid the chaos of a film shoot in what one Nebraskan likened to “bumper cars, but with horses.”

Thus, the remaking of this radio series and TV classic required Nebraskans like Shane. Like Kevin, a police officer from West Point. Like Justin, a state trooper who lives in Yutan.

They grew up around horses or have been riding them long enough to know what to do.

Shane and Kevin, members of a Civil War re-enactment group, ride horses wearing the navy blue uniforms of the 4th Regulars U.S. Cavalry. Justin used to ride in rodeos and compete in steer wrestling, in which the rider starts on horseback and ends atop a steer.

How a bunch of Huskers wound up in Hollywood is a tale that starts in Edna, Kan.

In Edna, you'll find a man named Dave Carrico. Carrico runs a leather goods store that outfits movies. Need a McClellan horse saddle with wood stirrups that would have been used 150 years ago? Need horse tack and props for your Western?

Hollywood calls Carrico, who has supplied the History Channel and some 30 films, including “Appaloosa,” (2008) “Jonah Hex” and “True Grit” (both 2010).

Carrico also serves as an extra, sometimes making the cut in these movies. He's on screen, he said, “if you look fast enough.”

Carrico did not ride in “The Lone Ranger,” but he supplied saddles and tack — and the Nebraska riders.

When Hollywood called Carrico, Carrico called Kevin. Carrico is a cavalry coordinator for Civil War re-enactors. Kevin helps Shane, who is the coordinator of Nebraska's re-enactment group, called 4th Regulars U.S. Cavalry Fremont Pathfinders.

The Fremont Pathfinders have appeared in PBS documentaries, but this was their first opportunity to be in a major film.

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Kevin Kaup, the West Point police officer, didn't grow up riding horses — he raised cattle and hogs. But about a dozen years ago, he acquired horses and now has 16 on his 400-acre family farm. At age 50, Kevin rides with the best of them.

Kevin called Shane.

Shane grew up riding horses in the northeast Nebraska town of Verdigre, where he runs a ranch.

Still in need of riders, Shane and Kevin looked outside their Civil War group.

That's how Justin Grint got the call.

Justin is a Nebraska state trooper who has two horses and lives in Yutan. He grew up on a cattle ranch in the central Nebraska town of Sargent. He's been riding horses since before he can remember.

Justin at first said no to being in a movie. The idea sounded preposterous.

Then the phrase once-in-a-lifetime got stuck in his mind and he said yes.

Last year, he joined the convoy of riders, family members and horses that drove the 890 miles between Omaha and Moab, Utah. The Nebraskans spent much of the week in costumes and makeup, waiting.

The day they rode their horses across the Utah desert, they were told that the scene would cost $300,000. Some of that cost was them: The studio paid them mileage and gave them a stipend.

Later they would make a separate trek to a volcano north of Santa Fe, N.M., in some of the most beautiful country they had seen.

The Nebraska riders weren't told details about the plot or their contextual role. They were told not to bug the movie stars.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in "The Lone Ranger."

“We were pretty much under strict orders,” Justin said. “'You will be kicked off (the set) immediately.'”

Once during the shoot, Justin saw Depp and Hammer taking pictures of the costumed Nebraskans.

The riders had no lines. Their acting instruction amounted to this: Treat it as old-school. You're playing Cowboys and Indians.

And this: Turn to look in this direction. It's just a desert plain here, but after some splicing on screen, it will be a canyon.

“They put red stuff on our faces to look sunburned out there. They put brown on there to look like dust,” Justin said. “A couple of guys, they actually dyed their teeth to make it look like they were old and dirty.”

The riders had to raid an Indian village in one harried, hectic scene. They had to ride their horses close, hard and fast on a rocky landscape.

On screen, it's late 1800s Texas. On location, it's 2012 New Mexico.

“It really is amazing to see all the stuff you don't see on the movie,” Justin said. “When we're raiding that Indian village, there's tents and electrical lines and generators sitting all over the place, but you'll never see it. Your horses are running over the electrical cables buried in the dirt. But you'll never see that stuff. They're blowing dust in the air through these fire extinguishers.”

On Friday, Justin joined Kevin from West Point and Shane from Verdigre to see Disney's “The Lone Ranger” at Aksarben Cinema. The Fremont Pathfinders dressed in costume and went early.

The film has been getting less-than-positive reviews. Some say it's incoherent, that Depp is too wooden and that Hammer is too weak.

But if “Lone Ranger” does well enough at the box office, then our heroes Shane, Kevin and Justin may appear again.

And ride into the sunset of a sequel.

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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