The Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation, Incorporated, a nonprofit corporation with headquarters in Canyon, was formed to increase tourism to Palo Duro Canyon State Scenic Park through the presentation of a historical drama. In the summer of 1960 two West Texas State College professors-Ples Harper, head of the modern languages department, and William A. Moore, chairman of the speech department-invited playwright Paul Green, famous for his outdoor historical dramas in various regions of the United States, to come out and consider the possibility of writing an outdoor drama based on Texas Panhandle history. After seeing Palo Duro Canyon in April 1961, Green agreed to do the project.
On May 7, 1961, the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation was organized in the Randall County Courthouse. Margaret P. Harper was elected president of the new body, Pete Cowart vice president, Jerry LaGrone treasurer, and Dorothy Neblett secretary. These four, along with Raymond Raillard, William A. Moore, and Avent Lair, made up the foundation's first board of directors. Support from the citizens of Canyon and other Panhandle communities was widespread, and by September the foundation was legally incorporated. Eventually forty West Texas counties were represented.
The foundation's primary goal was the construction of an amphitheater backdropped by a 600-foot-high cliff. The idea of such a structure in Palo Duro Canyon was not new; as early as the 1930s Guy Carlander, an Amarillo architect, drew up elaborate designs for an outdoor theater suggested by West Texas State College president Joseph A. Hill. Fundraising campaigns were launched by two committees chaired by Lawrence R. Hagy and Wales Madden, Jr., and the Amarillo Area Foundation agreed to supervise the collection and expenditure of these funds. Permission was secured from the State Parks Board to build the 1,600-seat Pioneer Amphitheatre. By the spring of 1965 the parking lot had been paved, light and sound equipment purchased, and a building erected to house them. Between June 17 and September 6, 1965, the foundation staged a sound and light show called "Thundering Sounds of the West," which attracted 36,000 visitors. Its success, along with backing from the university, led to the first annual staging of Paul Green's musical drama, Texas, the following year. The production is set in the Panhandle during the Grass-Lease Fight of 1887.