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Unkempt, rough and tough looking members of the gang, or lynch mob, or vigilantes, or posse riders, or cow herders. They had minimal or no dialog, not much screen time, and were generally not listed in the film credits. Some would show up as a face in the crowd, portraying townspeople, barflies, deputies, wagon drivers, ranch hands, etc. We tend to recognize some of their faces, but have no clue as to their real names.

Bill Nestell

Full name:

Eugene Nestell
William Eugene Nestell

1893 - 1966

Bill Nestell often portrayed a blacksmith or miner. Interestingly, he did both of those jobs prior to Hollywood. And he continued mining and searching for gold in his later years. Nestell was big and burly, and his World War II draft registration has him at 290 pounds and 6 feet 1 1/2 inches tall.

He was born March 3, 1893 in San Francisco, California to Edward 'Ned' Nestell and Kitty / Kittie / Katharine Drake Nestell. Father Edward was an entertainer as well as a manager / owner of entertainment venues in California. Born circa 1844, Edward was a military veteran (musician) and passed away November, 1895 in San Francisco. His wife Kitty was 20+ years younger and was also an entertainer. They had three children: Edward Homan Nestell (born 1887), Gertrude Nellie Nestell (born about 1889), and Eugene Nestell (born 1893). San Francisco and Bakersfield, California newspapers had many articles on the family, father Ned, and Ned's death. A couple mentions follow:

Lots of turmoil during the years 1896 - 1905. As noted above, Edward Nestell left little or no money to care for his family. Plus, he didn't want the children to live with wife Kitty / Kittie but to remain with a "Mrs. Rogers" who had been caring for the three children. There were legal efforts by Kitty to gain custody. And she married an Alfred Connors (occupation "blacksmith"). In the 1900 census, the three kids were identified as children of Kitty and Alfred Connors and living in Bakersfield, California. Less than two weeks later, the census was taken at a San Francisco home for boys and Eugene and Edward were "inmates" of that facility. And had Kern County, California court documents from 1903 - 1905 which awarded custody of the three children to Kittie Connors.

Bill Nestell's occupation is a blacksmith or miner in the 1910 and 1920 census as well as World War I draft registration and two marriage licenses. Unsure how he connected with the movie business - he may have been a local hired by companies filming in the Kern Valley.

His early film appearances include silents with Tom Tyler at FBO, at Universal with Jack Perrin and Rex, the Wonder Horse, and a few Ted Wells and Al Hoxie oaters for bottom-of-the barrel producer / director Robert J. Horner.

Appears that Nestell developed a close relationship with producer Harry 'Pop' Sherman - or people on Sherman's team. During the years 1936 - 1944, he did twenty two Sherman productions (a couple with Richard Dix, one starring Russell Hayden, and many Hopalong Cassidy adventures).

You can also spot him at Republic Pictures with Roy Rogers (8 films), Gene Autry (8 films), and some with Wild Bill Elliott, the Three Mesquiteers, others. He did seven of Tom Keene's RKO oaters; three of Monogram's Rough Riders with Jones, McCoy and Hatton; a couple of Tom Mix's Universal talkies as well as Mix's MIRACLE RIDER (Mascot, 1935) serial; and several early 1930s Columbias starring Buck Jones.

In addition to mining, blacksmithing, and acting, trade publications indicate that Nestell was a western music singer:

From the June 21, 1930 Motion Picture News: Bill Nestell, Everett Cheetham, Drew Stanfield and Peewee Holmes, known to radio fans as the 'Trail Herd,' will be heard in Big 4's 'Bar L Ranch,' their first picture." (BAR L RANCH (1930) starred Jay Wilsey / Buffalo Bill Jr. and is among the lost / missing westerns.)

(Courtesy of Phil Arnold)

Above is an autographed photo of Nestell to actor and henchman Jim Mason. The autograph reads:
"To Jimmie Mason
with my best regards
Bill Nestell
California's Singing Cowboy"

My only recollection of "Bill Nestell, California's Singing Cowboy" doing tunes is in the Three Mesquiteers SHADOW ON THE SAGE (Republic, 1942). At about 7-8 minutes into the film, he's the drunk and cantankerous 'Cherokee Bill'. And while being carted off to jail, Bill sings (yells, screams) the tune "Oh Susanna". Wanting to know more about Nestell's singing, I e-mailed western music researcher / author Kevin Coffey. Kevin was familiar with Everett Cheetham, but had no information on Nestell ... or a 1930s radio group called the "Trail Herd".

Bill Nestell's Hollywood career consisted of about 125 pictures scattered over a twenty five year period from the mid 1920s through about 1950. And most of his roles were uncredited ... which didn't generate a lot of income. Good probability that movie jobs were a lower priority vs. serious gold mining ... or perhaps he had additional occupation(s) that we haven't discovered. As to gold, Bill and western movie vet Fred Burns filed a 1933 claim on the "Helen Galvin" mine ... which happened to be the maiden name of Fred's wife Helen Galvin Burns.

There were four marriages. In 1911, Bill tied the knot with Sophie M. Prewitt (1893 - 1922) and they had two children, Jean Arleigh Nestell (1913 - 2010) and Robert Edward Nestell (1915 - 1975). Sophie passed away in 1922. Then came a 1923 marriage to Clara Butterbredt and there's a newspaper obituary from 1953 for Alice Mildred Nestell (1903 - 1953). Family trees on have Bill's last wife as Gladys Pearl Kashishian (1908 - 1996).

Bill Nestell passed away on October 18, 1966 in Bishop, Inyo County, California.

His son Bob Nestell (1915 - 1975) won the Golden Gloves and Pacific coast boxing championships in 1935 and became a professional boxer. He played a prizefighter vs. Wayne Morris in KID GALAHAD (Warners, 1937) which starred Edward G. Robinson and Morris.

Bill's older brother, Edward Homan Nestell (1887 - 1923) was a busy actor and manager in vaudeville and traveling repertory companies. Nicknamed "Ted", he and his wife formed the Nestell Stock Company / Nestell Players circa 1913.

  Although some of the data may be incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Bill Nestell:

As mentioned, Nestell did about two dozen films produced by Harry 'Pop' Sherman, most of which were Hopalong Cassidy adventures:
Nestell in 22 films produced by Harry 'Pop' Sherman:,nm0792458
Nestell in 18 Hoppy films with William Boyd:,nm0101955

Above - Bill Nestell in an unbilled role as the local blacksmith in HOPALONG CASSIDY RETURNS (Paramount, 1936).

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

From left to right are Cliff Nazarro, Sarah Padden and Bill Nestell in a scene from the Hopalong Cassidy oater IN OLD COLORADO (Harry Sherman Prod./Paramount, 1941). Nestell had an uncredited role as wagon repairman "Lafe".

(Courtesy of Fabian Cepeda)

Above from left to right are Kit Guard, William Boyd, Andy Clyde, Bob Burns, Bill Nestell, and Jack Casey in the Hopalong Cassidy LEATHER BURNERS (United Artists, 1943). Nestell had an unbilled role as a bartender.

Bill Nestell's movie work from 1926 - 1950.
There's several years with little or no film appearances ... which would indicate his main employment / work was somewhere else ... probably mining for gold. I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database so the results may be a little skewed. Total films in the chart below = 129.
1926-1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946-1950

On the trail of Bill Nestell.

There's three common threads in the information below:
1. Bill married Sophie M. Prewitt in 1911 and she passed away in 1922. Have mentions of Sophie highlighted in this color.
2. Bill's mother was Katharine / Kittie / Kitty Drake and she is highlighted in this color.
3. Nestell was a real life blacksmith and miner and, in the 1930s, was the owner / operator of the Helen Galvin gold claim. I've highlighted those words and phrases in this color.

Tidbits from newspapers, trade publications, and other sources. Appears that Nestell was (very) serious about mining for gold.

  • June 10, 1911 Bakersfield (California) Morning Echo newspaper had an article on the June 9, 1911 nuptials of "William E. Nestell and Miss Sophie M. Prewitt, both of Kern County."
  • June 21, 1930 Motion Picture News: "Hollywood - Bill Nestell, Everett Cheetham, Drew Stanfield and Peewee Holmes, known to radio fans as the 'Trail Herd,' will be heard in Big 4's 'Bar L Ranch,' their first picture." (Bar L Ranch (1930) starred Jay Wilsey / Buffalo Bill Jr. and is among the lost / missing westerns.)
  • January 19, 1933 Bakersfield (California) Californian newspaper - excerpts: "KERN CANYON, Jan. 19 (1933) - Bill Nestell, operator of the Helene [sic] Galvin placer claims, has installed a power-driven sluice box ... efficient in the saving of fine and invisible gold." ; "Nestell employs four men who work one full shift."
  • The Internet Archive has the book California Journal of Mines and Geology, Quarterly Chapter of State Mineralogist's Report, Volume 29 published in early 1933 with more details on the mine: "Helen Galvin Group (No. 87) of two placer claims are on the Kern River just above Democrat Hot Springs, some 22 miles northeast of Bakersfield. Owners, Wm. Nestell, Fred and Helene Burns, 4628 Forman Avenue, North Hollywood, California. On these claims river gravels are somewhat irregularly distributed on benches and in the canyons on each side of the river. Pannings from some eight shallow holes in the benches and canyons all showed fair values in fine gold. At time of visit the owner hoped to equip the property for sluicing on a moderate scale."
  • December 20, 1936 San Antonio (Texas) Light newspaper: "Hollywood - Dec. 19 (1936) - Two well known men in Western pictures a few years ago were discovered operating a gold mine near Kernville when Universal's 'Treve' company went there recently on location. The former actors are Fred Burns and Bill Nestell. Director Lew Collins gave the two gold miners small parts in the picture ..." (THE MIGHTY TREVE (Universal, 1937) starred Noah Beery, Jr.)
  • The Internet Archive has the book Mines and mineral resources of Kern County, California by Bennie W. Troxel and published in 1962. There is a listing of the Helen Galvin mining claim from 1933 which was located "just above Democrat Springs" and operated by "Wm. Nestell, Fred and Helene Burns, 4628 Foreman Ave., No. Hollywood".
  • February 23, 1937 Bakersfield (California) Californian newspaper reported on a recent flood and impact in the Kernville, California area and several paragraphs were about Nestell. Excerpt: "Bill Nestell of Democrat Hot Springs arrived in Kernville on Saturday morning to take a part in the latest 'Hopalong Cassidy' picture. ... he had been in Los Angeles at the time of the flood and returned to find both of his cabins and all they contained washed away by the river."
  • the movie and theater sections of June, 1941 newspapers had a blurb about "William Nestell, who plays the role of a horse-trader in Paramount's 'Secret of the Wastelands,' a 'Hopalong Cassidy' mystery, is the owner of a mine at Lone Pine, Calif."

The Family Search website, California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI),, the Newspaper Archive, and other sources have information on Bill Nestell and family:

  • November 15 and November 16, 1895 San Francisco (California) Chronicle newspaper: "Edward Nestell, beloved husband of Kitty Nestell and father of Edward, Gertrude and Eugene Nestell ..." ; "... a native of New York City" ; "... age 50 years"
    November 16, 1895 Bakersfield (California) Californian newspaper: "Adam Nestell, better known as 'Ned' Nestell, 'The Old Soldier', a variety actor, who appears prominently in the history of San Francisco's concert halls and free variety shows, died very suddenly at his home ..." ; "... served in the Civil war as drummer boy ..." ; "With Captain Obermeier, now a Market Street saloon keeper, he opened the first large free concert hall in San Francisco about fifteen years ago. It was known as the Palace Varieties." ; "About eight years ago Nestell married a variety actress, Kitty King by name, a daughter of Judge Drake of this city. His widow, who is only 27 years old, survives him, with three children." ; "Nestell left his family in poverty ..."
  • Military pension record for Edward Nestell lists him with an alias of "Adam". Widow Kitty Nestell filed for benefits in December, 1895:
  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - owning their home at 703 Chester (?) Avenue, Bakersfield, Kern County, California are 40 year old Alfred Connors (born California; occupation "Blacksmith"), his 32 year old wife Kitty (born California), 12 year old son Edward Connors (born California), 9 year old daughter Gertrude Connors (born California) and 7 year old son Eugene Connors (born California). Census taker visited on June 1, 1900:
  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - 7 year old Eugene Mestell [sic] (born California) and 12 year old Edward Mestell [sic] (born California) are listed as "Inmates" of the Youth's Directory, 3561 Nineteenth Street, San Francisco. Census taker visited on June 9, 1900:
    (Books Benevolent Institutions, 1904 (from the Census Bureau) and Charitable and Benevolent Institutions of San Francisco (published 1901 by Stanford University), identify Youth's Directory at 3561 Nineteenth Street as a facility for homeless male children.)
  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - 19 year old William E. Nestell (born California) is single and living in Township 1, Kern County, California. His occupation is "Blacksmith":
  • June 6, 1911 marriage license for 21 year old William E. Nestell (born San Francisco) and 18 year old Sophie M. Prewitt (born Los Angeles) in Los Angeles. First marriage for both. His occupation is "Blacksmith", and his parents were Edward Nestell and Kitty Drake (both born San Francisco):
  • California Birth Index for daughter Arleigh J. Nestell, born October 10, 1913 in Los Angeles County, California and mother's maiden name was Prewitt:
  • California Birth Index for son Robert E. Nestell, born May 16, 1915 in Kern County, California and mother's maiden name was Prewitt:
  • World War I draft registration dated June 5, 1918 - 24 year old Eugene Nestell was born March 3, 1893 in San Francisco, California. Has a wife and two children; lives in Isabella, California; and is a "Miner" for the Keys Mining Co., Keysville, Colorado:
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - 26 year old William E. Nestell (born California), his 26 year old wife Sophie (born California), 6 year old daughter Jean (born California) and 4 year old son Robert (born California) live in Bishop, Inyo County, California. Nestell's occupation is "Miner - Gold-Copper etc.":
  • California Death Index has a record for Sophie M. Nestell who passed away on October 20, 1922:
  • September 17, 1923 marriage license of 30 year old Eugene Nestell (born California) to 22 year old Clara Butterbredt (born California) in Los Angeles. His occupation is "Miner". He is widowed and this was his second marriage and her first. His parents were Ned Nestell and Katherine Drake:
  • Ancestry had the 1930 San Francisco City Directory: Wm Nestell, actor, home address of 4628 Foreman Avenue.
  • World War II draft registration dated April 27, 1942 - 49 year old Eugene Nestell was born March 3, 1893 in San Francisco, California. He is self employed; lives in Bakersfield, Kern Canyon, Kern County, California; and his contact is actor Forest Burns, 4226 Mary Ellen, North Hollywood, California. Nestell is 290 pounds, 6 feet 1 1/2 inches tall, and has a tattoo on his lower left arm. (Actor Forest Burns is the son of actor Fred Burns.):
  • Ancestry had the 1944 Los Angeles Voter Registrations: William Nestell, occupation actor, home address of 4226 Mary Ellen Avenue (which is Forest Burns' address in Nestell's WW2 draft registration above).
  • November 23, 1953 Bakersfield (California) Californian newspaper had an obituary for Alice Mildred Nestell. Excerpts: "... died Nov. 20 (1953) in her home in Kern River Canyon ..." ; "Mrs. Nestell was born Dec. 11, 1903, in Iowa and had lived in Kern County for three years. Survivors include her husband Eugene Nestell ... "
  • California Death Index and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) have records for Eugene B. Nestell. He was born March 3, 1893 in California, mother's maiden name was Drake, and he passed away on October 18, 1966 in Inyo County, California:

Find A Grave website has interment info on:

Bill Eugene Nestell (1893 - 1966) is interred at East Line Street Cemetery, Bishop, Inyo County, California:

Wife Sophie passed away in 1922 and is interred at East Line Street Cemetery, Bishop, Inyo County, California:

Alice Mildred Nestell (1903 - 1953) is interred at East Line Street Cemetery, Bishop, Inyo County, California:

Nestell's father, military veteran Edward Nestell (1844? - 1895), is interred at San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California:
Bill Nestell's son, Robert Edward Nestell (1915 - 1975).
Bob Nestell was a heavyweight boxer with a record of 27 wins and 15 losses and his first professional fight was in 1936. The Boxing Record and BoxingTreasures websites have more on his career along with photos:
Boxing record:
Biography and photo:

California Death Index for Robert E. Nestell, born May 16, 1915 in California and passed away on December 27, 1975 in Kern County, California:

Find A Grave website has a photo of the marker for boxer and World War II Army veteran Robert Edward Nestell (1915 - 1975) who is interred at Kern River Valley Cemetery, Wofford Heights, Kern County, California:

Bob Nestell portrayed a prizefighter in KID GALAHAD (Warners, 1937):

Bill Nestell's brother, Edward Homan Nestell (1887 - 1923).

Bill's older brother Edward Homan Nestell worked in vaudeville and traveling stock companies as an actor and manager. Around 1911, "Ted" Nestell and future wife Edyth La Nora were headlining for the Burgess Stock Company. Circa 1913, they went out on their own and formed the Nestell Stock Company which became the Nestell Players. They married in 1914 and their home base was Rockaway Beach on Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Missouri.

Trade ad from 1913 for a comedian for the Nestell Stock
Company at the Airdome outdoor theater in Albion, Michigan.

1916 ad for E. Homan Nestell's Nestell Players in Kansas.

Lots of mentions of E. Homan Nestell and wife Edyth La Nora in Billboard, Variety, and Clipper tradepapers. Here's a couple later articles:

October 23, 1920 issue of Billboard: "The Nestell Players, under the management of E. Homan Nestell, opened their tenth season October 18 (1920) at Ft. Smith, Ark. ..." ; "The company is headed by Edyth La Nora (Mrs. Nestell)."

July 22, 1922 issue of Billboard: " ... Rockaway Beach, Taneycomo, Mo. Mr. and Mrs. E. Homan Nestell, formerly owners and managers of the Nestell Players, are in charge of the resort during the summer months."

World War I draft registration dated September 12, 1918 for 34 year old Edward Homan Nestell, born June, 1884. Occupation is "Theatrical Mgr. actor", and he and wife Edyth live at Rockaway Beach, Branson, Taney County, Missouri:

Find A Grave website has a photo of the marker for E. Homan Nestell (1887 - 1923) who is interred at Rose Hill Cemetery, Hope, Hempstead County, Arkansas:

Arkansas Death Index for Edward Nestell who passed away in Hempstead, Arkansas on October 22, 1923:

The Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, Missouri, has a 1963 interview with Mrs. Edythe Conover who was E. Homan Nestell's wife Edyth La Nora. Born in Ohio in 1882, her birth name was Edythe Dutcher. Highlights from the interview: Nestell's nickname was "Ted" and they married in 1914 and settled in Lake Taneycomo, Missouri. He passed away in 1923 and she married Larry Conover in 1926 and continued working on the stage:

Bill Nestell's sister, Gertrude Nellie Nestell (1894 - 1966).
Gertrude Nellie Nestell (1894 - 1966) was married to a man with a last name of Breen, and they had a son, Alfred H. Breen. She later married U. S. Navy officer James W. Coghlin (1894 - 1972) and Gertrude and James are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • California Birth Index for Alfred H. Breen, born June 1, 1913 and mother's maiden name was Nestell:
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - 28 year old Gertrude Breen (born Washington; divorced) is one of many lodgers residing at ? Eddy Street, San Francisco, California. Her occupation is "Entertainer - Cafe", and son Alfred H. Breen is not with her:
  • January 5 and 6, 1966 editions of the Albany (New York) Times-Union newspaper had death and funeral notices for Gertrude Nestell Coghlin. Excerpts: "... (died) Jan. 3, 1966, wife of James W. Coghlin; mother of Alfred Breen of Eureka, Calif; sister of Bill Nestell of Bishop, Calif." and "Interment in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia."

To view their grave markers, go the Arlington National Cemetery website at:

Enter "Coghlin" in the search box and run the search.

More on Nestell and Fred Burns ... Fred's son Forest Burns ... and mining for gold.

Fred Burns, late 1930s

Forest Burns, late 1930s
In the information above, there are mentions of Bill Nestell being a miner ... owning a mine ... and partnering with prolific silent and sound western actor Fred Burns on some mining interest.

And on Bill's World War II draft registration, his contact is Forest Burns, the son of Fred Burns.

Fred's brother Bob Burns was also a prolific silent and sound western player. Hoping to learn more about Nestell and mining, I jotted off an e-mail to May Bopp, Bob Burns' daughter. Below are Nestell remembrances from May:

Yes, they shared mining interests. They all seemed to get along just fine. Fred's son Forest Burns built a nice cabin up on the Kern River where they were looking into the mines. This was in the late 1930s after they were spending a lot of time up there. As you know, the companies used the Kern River for a lot of pictures. Democrat Hot Springs was the name of the resort that was close by. As far as I know they were just playing around at mining. At least I never heard of them making any money at it. About Bill - he had a beautiful voice and even sang in at least one picture that I saw.

May sent some photos of Fred Burns, Forest Burns and Bill Nestell and the Helen Galvin mining claim, and those are on the next webpage.

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