Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Celluloid Indians: Part 1 of 2

 

The beginnings

 

Back in 2020 I wrote an article on this blog, American Indians and the Western, but I’d like to revise it now, having just, on reader Jean-Marie’s recommendation, finished Edward Buscombe’s informative and entertaining 2006 book, Injuns! Native Americans in the Movies.

 

 

Mr Buscombe is, you will probably know, an authority on the West and the Western. A leading light at the British Film Institute, he edited the BFI’s excellent Companion to the Western and has authored the Institute’s guides on Stagecoach, The Searchers and Unforgiven, among other works. He writes wisely and well.

 

In his introduction, Buscombe makes the point that huge numbers of books have already been written (the vast majority by whites) on Native Americans and one hesitates to add yet another, but he says, “This is not another book pointing out the injustices done to the Indians, nor is it a book describing once more the inaccuracies and distortions that the movies have perpetrated in their representation of Indians” – though in reality it is a little of the latter.

 

Nomenclature

 

The whole notion of ‘Indians’ is problematic in the sense that the indigenous peoples of North America obviously didn’t think of themselves as ‘Indians’, the misnomer applied by Columbus, but didn’t even think of themselves as one people. “Only in the process of being collectively identified as Indians by whites have Indians come to think of themselves as having things in common.”

 

Referring to all the richly varied indigenous cultures and language groups with one umbrella term, as if they were all alike, is clearly inappropriate. The same applies to ‘whites’ or ‘blacks’.

 

 

Cowboys and Indians are of course the central characters in our noble genre. There’s a very basic problem with that, though. Most heroes, or very occasionally heroines, of Western movies never worked with a cow and weren’t boys, and those braves on the warpath certainly didn’t come from India. As far as the latter go, the fashionable appellation for some time has been ‘Native Americans’, but I must say that Indians I have met detest the term, and it is rather absurd – as if all those of distant Polish or Italian or Chinese (or whatever) origin who were born in the US somehow aren’t native Americans. When I was young (admittedly long, long ago) ‘Red Indians’ was the most common usage or even, though it wouldn’t do nowadays, ‘redskins’, and movie titles used the word, Last of the Redskins, When the Redskins Rode, and so on. This notion of redness, although Native Americans (let’s call them that just for the moment) don’t seem very red-skinned to me, was deep seated, and ‘the red man’ was used as much as ‘the black man’ to define ethnicity. A more jocular usage, but common, was Injuns. The whole notion of ‘Indian’ was of course a major doh! moment, when Columbus, arriving in the Caribbean in the 1490s, thought he had found a westward passage to the Indies and called the inhabitants Indios.

 

The United Nations uses the term ‘Indigenous’ to refer to tribal peoples with long-established cultures, languages and heritage. ‘Indigenous’ is defined by Webster’s as produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment. I’m not sure that covers it. ‘Aboriginal’ has something to recommend it but has become closely associated with the indigenous peoples of Australia. ‘American Indian’, which was in 1977 adopted as the preferred term by the American Indian Movement (AIM), does not eliminate Columbus’s booboo, though if that is what many of such people prefer I am more than happy to go along with that. In fact the name ‘Indian’ is one that many older Native Americans have known all their lives, and their families may continue to use the familiar term.

 

 

It isn’t easy. We don’t want to be offensive, certainly not, and we don’t want to be too politically correct either, which can lead to silliness. But I’m going for American Indian. Please be indulgent if you disagree, especially if you are a member of these peoples.

 

Even the collective names of these peoples, Sioux, Navajo, Comanche and so on, are often the names whites gave them, sometimes adopting or adapting a name given them by their enemies. Many Indian groups tended to refer to themselves using a term that may be translated as simply ‘the people’ or ‘human beings’. This sounds comic in the mouth of Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) in Little Big Man but is actually quite accurate.

 

Movies made by whites for whites

 

In any case, American Indians have always made up a tiny percentage of film audiences and the vast majority of Western movies, like other Hollywood films, have always been pictures made by whites for whites to view. So they will inevitably reflect prevailing white attitudes to indigenous peoples – though such attitudes have certainly changed over time.

 

Chief Crazy Horse (1955) is a classic example. It’s a biopic of the Sioux leader with Hollywood stars (Victor Mature in the title role and Suzan Ball as his lover). Nevertheless, the producers and writers still felt the need to invent a white character, Major Twist (John Lund) to mediate between Crazy Horse and the audience. It is really a ‘white’ story, made for whites.

 

Truly authentic

 

The first representations

 

Buscombe starts, interestingly, with pre-cinematic ‘white’ representations of American Indians.

 

On this blog too we have looked at some of the early stories featuring Indians that were common right from the start of European exploration, infiltration and settlement of American Indian lands. They especially featured the ‘captivity narrative’, tales of whites taken by Indians and the horrors they underwent (especially the women, when a ‘fate worse than death’ was hinted at though never, at least in the early days, actually shown).

 

We’ve also looked at eighteenth-century yarns, usually set in upper New York State, notably by James Fenimore Cooper in the 1820s and 30s, especially The Last of the Mohicans, but also by his many imitators. These fed into the dime novels later in the century, which often described bold buckskin-clad white heroes, men who knew Indians, expert trackers and shots, who rescued white maidens from the clutches of the ‘redskins’.

 

It didn’t take motion pictures long to jump on the Cooper bandwagon. DW Griffith made Leather Stocking in 1909, there were two silent versions of The Last of the Mohicans in 1911, and Wallace Beery was Magua in another, the biggest so far, in 1920. When talkies came in, Harry Carey  was Hawkeye in Mascot’s serial version (1932), while a young Randolph Scott took the role (with Bruce Cabot as Magua) in the Edward Small production The Last of the Mohicans released by United Artists in 1936 – still the best in my view. Since then, version has succeeded version, and, like Zorro, Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers, it seems that each generation must produce its own attempt at the story. It has become fixed in our collective imagination.

 

Randy was the man who knew Indians

 

Luckily, most film versions just gave us a brief digest of the novel’s action and cut out all Cooper’s incredibly boring pages and pages of waffle in between. He really was an unbelievably dreary writer. These motion pictures weren’t really Westerns, as such, I suppose, being too early in time and too Eastern, but they were frontier tales, and Hollywood treated them pretty well as Westerns.

 

Good Indians and bad ones

 

American Indians were binary figures, either noble people in touch with Nature or cruel barbarians, and there was little or nothing in the huge gulf between. Right from the beginning, these stories featured ‘good Indians’ and ‘bad Indians’, in other words Indians who helped the whites and those that opposed them. Cooper’s hero Hawkeye (to give him that one of his many monikers for simplicity’s sake) had his loyal Mohican friends Chingachgook and Uncas, and they assisted him to defeat the evil Huron Magua, who not only sought to kill them but even lusted after the fair (white) Cora, horror of horrors. This notion of good and bad Indian fed directly into Western movies when they arrived. You nearly always had a statesmanlike Indian, perhaps a wise chief, who was ready to make peace with the white-eyes, and a more bellicose, often younger firebrand who was all for the warpath. I am sure you will be able to think of many Westerns like this. When the story concerned Apaches, the firebrand was usually Geronimo.

 

Uncas was a good Indian

 

Noble Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and wise white man Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) with, between them, the firebrand Geronimo (Jay Silverheels)

 

Probably the first contacts between Europeans and American Indians, then, was when Vikings from Iceland and Greenland landed in what they called Vinland, described the people they found there as “small and treacherous looking” and duly set about killing them. Things didn’t change much for the next millennium. Spanish conquerors enslaved them, New England Puritans massacred them (both were doing God’s work, naturally) and the whole notion of the ‘Indian menace’ was established. These people had the temerity to inhabit the land which was clearly intended, by both divine and Caucasian design, for the use of the new arrivals.

 

 

I don’t mean to suggest for one moment that American Indians were always blameless victims of cruel whites, of course. There was plenty of brutality on both sides.

 

Parallel to this ‘red menace’ idea (a sentiment that was to increase by association with the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, which was the high-watermark of the Western movie) there was a more romantic and even sentimental perception of American Indians, at least on the part of those in Europe who were less invested, economically and emotionally, in the ‘New World’, as they called it (less so by those on the frontier dealing with the daily reality). Readers of Rousseau saw these peoples as Noble Savages, and idealized their life and culture. Sometimes their ‘innocence’ and existence in touch with Nature was used as a stick to beat corruption and decadence in European societies.

 

The Noble Savage as stereotype: Sha-co-pay,-Chief of the Ojibwa, by George Catlin, 1832

 

 On the stage

 

As Buscombe says, one of the most popular media for telling stories in the pre-cinematic nineteenth century was the theater. There, the story of the American Indian (in fact the whites’ contact with the Indian) “became codified into the Western genre as we know it, a ready-made set of stories and conventions for the cinema [later] to exploit.” They were plays such as James Nelson Barker’s 1808 work The Indian Princess which tells the story, already well-known, of Captain John Smith and Pocohontas, who according to legend saved the captain from being put to death by her tribe (and thus was a ‘good’ Indian), and later journeyed to London, England, in 1616, marring a certain John Rolfe, being presented at court but dying the year after and being buried in Gravesend. I remember as a boy being very moved by the story of Pocahontas’s nobility, mainly of course because she saved the captain.

 

 

Pocohontas was the daughter of a chief, termed by the white writers a ‘princess’ and was thus deemed (almost) worthy of wedding a white man, who, it was always assumed, was racially superior. But like Pocohontas, she often had to die. Time and again in later movies, the white hero fell in love with an Indian ‘princess’ but tragic death doomed the romance. There was perhaps a hint of well, it’s understandable, a white man falling for a beautiful dusky native, but a permanent relationship in marriage? Think of the children, my dear!

 

Dozens of other plays featuring American Indians were performed, staying in the repertory all through the nineteenth century. I found a good article on the subject by Tomáš Kačer at a university in Brno, the Czech Republic, here.

 

Many of these plays were based on the nostalgic and romantic notion of the ‘Vanishing American’, which was to become a strong, even dominant thread of Western novels, then films.

 

It went back a long way, well before Fenimore Cooper’s dying race of Mohicans (though in reality the Mohicans are still going), and by the mid-nineteenth century was well established. The race of Indian was doomed to extinction. Many whites believed that there only two paths open to the American Indian: gratefully accept all the benefits of white civilization and assimilate completely, or resist the white advance and inevitably be defeated. Either way, as a race they will vanish. As the Commissioner for Indian Affairs chillingly put it in 1889, “Indians must conform to ‘the white man’s ways’, peacably if they will, forcible if they must.”

 

In 1855 the hugely popular poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published The Song of Hiawatha in which Hiawatha “Saw the remnants of our people/Sweeping westward, wild and woeful.” The poem was reissued in 1890, illustrated by Frederic Remington, no less. It was hugely influential. A silent film was made of it in 1909.

 

The Departure of Hiawatha by Albert Bierstadt, presented to Longfellow by the artist, 1868

 

On canvas

 

At about the same time as playwrights were putting exotic feathered characters on the stage, artists were beginning to venture west of the Mississippi. George Catlin, for example, went up the Missouri in 1832, painting from life members of tribes hitherto unknown to the white East. Catlin published books and organized traveling exhibitions of his work. There was little or no danger to whites in his pictures –indeed, he promoted the idea that it was Indian culture and way of life that was under threat – and he presented American Indians as strong and dignified, with a viable and self-sufficient culture. In one of his books, Catlin talked of an endangered species, “their rights invaded, their morals corrupted, their lands wrested from them, their customs changed, and therefore lost to the world.”

 

Iowa medicine man by Geo Catlin

 

John Mix Stanley’s canvas The Last of Their Race (1857) showed a warlike warrior of the plains reduced to submission. Alfred Jacob Miller, Karl Bodmer, Seth Eastman, many painters followed, painting (for white audiences of course) the exotic or mundane but always colorful people they found, and always with a suggestion of coming extinction.

 

The Last of Their Race

 

Later, James Earle Fraser’s monumental sculpture for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1907, The End of the Trail, did something similar, showing a solitary Indian on horseback; both horse and rider have their heads bowed in an attitude of despair and defeat.

 

Despair and defeat

 

Frederic Remington, who often illustrated Harper’s Weekly articles, had little interest in Indian culture as such. In all his oeuvre there are scarcely any paintings or sculptures that represent women or children or any kind of domestic activity. But as a painter of horsemen, especially in battle, he was unequaled, and enormously influential. It is ‘narrative art’ which in a way anticipates the cinema, and implicit in his work is the idea that conflict between white men and red is the norm.

 

Remington preferred mounted warriors

 

Photographs too

 

Photographers followed the painters. At first they tended to imitate what the artists had depicted rather than document a reality but gradually they thought of their mission almost anthropologically as one of recording a way of life before it disappeared, as it inevitably would. The doyen of these photographers was Edward S Curtis, who took more than 40,000 photographs of Indians, published in a series of volumes, The North American Indian. Buscombe says of Curtis, “A haze of nostalgia hangs heavily over his work.” Roland Reed, too, took photographs that emphasized the ‘Vanishing American’ idea.

 

Edward Sheriff Curtis, self-portrait

 

Classic Curtis photograph

 

Curtis was a great talent

 

Occasionally, such a photographer made it into a Western movie. In The Indian Fighter (1955) Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr) is one such, and there’s a telling scene with Johnny Hawks (Kirk Douglas) when Briggs says, “Look at that scenery!” Hawks answers, “What’s wrong with it?” Briggs: “Needs photographing.” Hawks replies, “I like it the way it is.”

 

 

In the press

 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, advances in technology and transport enabled the mass circulation of popular magazines, such as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and in particular Harper’s Weekly, the latter reaching a circulation of over 200,000 by 1860.

 

 

These papers were often illustrated by their in-house artists, in engravings. Towards the end of the century, technology evolved to allow the printing of photographs in half-tones. Photography was still at a point of development such that the subject had to be static (any movement would cause blurring) but it was a vast improvement.

 

Harper’s view of Indians

 

One of the most popular subjects of all in these papers was the struggle of the US Army against the Western tribes. Between 1865 and 1891 the Army recorded 930 fights between soldiers and Indians. The numbers involved were usually relatively small, certainly by comparison to the slaughter of the Civil War. Officially, the Army acknowledged 932 killed and 1,061 wounded in this period, while American Indian casualties were not recorded. But these struggles caught the imagination of a white public eager for thrilling action stories and convinced of their ‘Manifest Destiny’ to spread white civilization from coast to coast of the continent.

 

Dime novels take off

 

And just as illustrated weekly papers were booming, so too were the dime novels. They weren’t all about the West but a substantial proportion was set in a fantasy land west of the Mississippi peopled by outlaws, cowboys and, of course, Indians, especially the savage kind. In fact the pulp fiction regarded as the first dime novel, in 1860, was Beadle’s Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Mrs Ann S Stephens. Seth Jones, or The Captives of the Frontier, by Edward S Ellis the same year, was a monster hit. I talked about this in my essay on The Captivity Narrative, so click the link for that.

 

 

In the next few decades thousands of dime novels were published. In these publications the Indians tended to be much more ferocious, and treacherous, than the artists’ or photographers’ kind.

 

One of the most popular series, the Deadwood Dick tales by Edward L Wheeler, came out in the wake of Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn. In one of Wheeler’s works, hero Fearless Frank comes across a white girl tied to a stake, stripped to the waist.

 

 

With a cry of astonishment and indignation, Fearless Frank leaped forward to sever her bonds, when like so many grim phantoms there filed out of the chaparral, and circled around him, a score of hideously painted savages. One glance at the portly leader satisfied Frank as to the identity. It was the fiend incarnate – Sitting Bull!

 

This will give you an idea of the tone of these stories.

 

And they would feed quite directly into the series Westerns of the century to come. Says Buscombe, “In the series Western, and even more so in the serials, which feature instalments of a continuous narrative on a weekly basis, plots and narrative incidents were recycled, the hero played by the same actor each time and therefore unchanging, and the other roles selected from a limited repertoire of types, prominent among which was that of the savage Indian.”

 

Literature

 

Alongside these cheap publications, and outlasting them, were of course ‘proper’ novels of a more literary bent which were set in the fictional West. These too became enormously popular and would directly impact Western movies when they came along, often being adapted by professionals into screenplays (usually quite freely adapted).

 

Zane

 

We probably think first of Zane Grey (click the link for our article on him). Of all Grey’s books that dealt with Indians, probably the most famous was the 1925 novel which adopted so completely the notion of, and indeed bore the title, The Vanishing American. This book, first serialized in The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1922, was controversial. Readers recognized its Navajo hero as modeled on Jim Thorpe, a great Native American athlete of the time. Grey described the struggle of the Navajo to preserve their identity and culture against corrupting influences of the white government and of missionaries. This standpoint enraged religious groups. Grey rebutted, “I have studied the Navaho Indians for 12 years. I know their wrongs. The missionaries sent out there are almost everyone mean, vicious, weak, immoral, useless men.” In the book, too, the hero Nophaie loves the (blonde) Marian. He argues that whites and Indians should intermarry. “It would make for a more virile race … Red blood into white! It means the white race will gain and the Indian vanish.” This scandalized the ladies who read the Journal. According to Zane Grey’s biographer, Thomas Pauly, “The magazine was deluged with angry letters from religious groups, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs vehemently denounced his depiction of their efforts.” And indeed, to have the book published as a novel, Grey had to agree to big changes, including the death of Nophaie.

 

 

A Paramount film version quickly followed, released in October 1925, starring Richard Dix and star of The Covered Wagon Lois Wilson. It was a big picture. Click here for our review of that. It was remade in 1955 at Republic, with Scott Brady in the lead. These sanitized the risky subject of intermarriage even further.

 

 

 

The same year, in Braveheart, directed by Alan Hale, Rod La Roque played a young Indian who attends a white college. As a result, his tribe rejects him. He begins an affair with a white woman but finally renounces white society to return to his people and help fight for their rights.

 

Miscegenation (Webster’s: marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race) is a word you hardly even hear these days, but it was big in the first half of the last century. Children of such unions would be ‘half-breeds’ and half-breeds were often the worst of villains in movies, even worse than out-and-out Indians. William S Hart often cast a person of mixed race as the despicable bad guy (Mexicans, referred to as Greasers, would often do as well).

 

Sometimes, though, the status of half-breed could be used to ‘soften’ the Indianness of a character. Joan Taylor in Apache Woman (1955) was not full-blood Apache, despite the title, but half-white, and thus could have saving graces, you see. There were many versions of The Half-Breed, from 1908 on, most famously with Douglas Fairbanks in the role in the 1922 silent. A Cherokee ‘princess’ is betrayed by a white man and gives birth to a mixed-race baby, which she entrusts to an old white hermit before committing suicide by jumping off a cliff. “I give him back. Make of him a white man,” she says. This child will grow up to be Fairbanks and many of the title cards stress the nobility of the half-breed (it’s a Rousseau-esque noble savage agenda) and refer ironically to the ‘superior’ and ‘civilized’ whites, portraying them as rogues and lowlifes.They made a different version of The Half-Breed as late as 1952, with Jack Buetel as Charlie Wolf, the half-Apache who, though Indian, was on the side of the (white) angels.

 

The Motion Picture Production Code, popularly known as the Hays Code, which the major studios operated under from 1934 thru 1968, forbade the showing of sexual relations between white and black but did not specifically do so in the case of white and Indian. Nevertheless, the studios knew full well that they were on thin ice and they were very hesitant about white-Indian romances, marriages and (especially) children.

 

While it was (just about) OK for a white man to woo and even wed an American Indian, it was quite another story the otherway round. The idea, conscious or not, was that a pure white woman being ‘taken’ by an Indian man was deeply shocking. In a way, Anthony Mann’s first Western, Devil’s Doorway, which was shot before Broken Arrow but released two months after, was more powerful and more powerfully anti-racist in its message because in it the Shoshone hero (Robert Taylor in a tan) falls for the white lady-lawyer (Paula Raymond) who acts for him. Once again, though, death will prevent too much awkwardness: Taylor will die heroically.

 

 

In other Westerns even the idea of an Indian wooing a white woman was a non-starter. Jay Silverheels was Tecumseh in Brave Warrior (1952) and loved the fair Laura (Christine Larson) but he hasn’t got a chance. Bourgeois 1950s family audiences, it was judged, could not be shown such a shocking thing.

 

Zane Grey wrote an average of two Westerns a year from 1908 till his death in 1939 and they were ideal material for Western movies – once, like Fenimore Cooper’s books, the pages and pages of descriptive waffle had been thrown out. Grey understood the cinematic appeal of his stories and shrewdly formed his own motion picture company. After seven pictures he sold the company to Jesse Lasky, who made Paramount films from many of the books, most famously perhaps Riders of the Purple Sage, which was filmed several times. Of course, not all Grey’s stories featured Indians, but many did.

 

The other great pioneer among Western writers was Owen Wister, of The Virginian fame, but his stories tended not to feature Indians.

 

Wild West shows

 

Indians often featured largely in the amazingly successful Wild West shows. Their heyday lasted from the 1870s (so while the ‘West’ was still ‘Wild’) into the 1910s, and they were enormously popular, not only in the US. Their main stock in trade was romanticized stereotypes of cowboys, army scouts, sharpshooters, outlaws and of course Indians (mostly Plains Indians). Don Russell’s 1970 book The Wild West is very informative on the subject.

 

Buffalo Bill and the Indians

 

There were many of these traveling shows but WF ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody’s was especially well known and it featured reenactments of Indian fights (particularly Custer’s last stand), a staged attack by Indians on a white settlers’ cabin and Cody’s ‘first scalp for Custer’, when he rehearsed his supposed killing and scalping of ‘Yellow Hand’ (actually a Cheyenne warrior named Heova’ehe or Yellow Hair) in a skirmish soon after Little Bighorn in 1876.

 

Most famously, the Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull (Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake) joined the show in 1885, when he was fêted by audiences who considered him a celebrity but with a slight frisson of fear. He is said to have earned a small fortune by charging for his autograph and picture, although he often gave his money away.

 

Cody and Bull

 

Cody was a keen fan of novelty and was an early pioneer of the motion picture. In 1894 Edison Studios invited Cody to put his show on film and the result was Buffalo Bill, a 60-second display (now sadly lost, like so many silent movies) of marksmanship by Cody himself. Four years later, Cody appeared in another picture, a 15-minute two-reeler this time, Indian War Council, also lost, of which the synopsis reads, “Here is a group of genuine Sioux Indians sitting around in a war council, deliberating. Buffalo Bill is addressing them.”

 

 

In 1912 the Monopol Film Company produced a more ambitious film, a three-reeler, The Life of Buffalo Bill. This has survived, the negative held in the Library of Congress, and indeed you can watch it online here. This includes a scene of an attack by a few mounted Cheyenne on a wagon train. Cody saves the day, naturally, killing some Indians with his rifle while the rest flee, but they get back to their village and launch a bigger attack in revenge. Cody and the wagon men beat this off.

 

 

 

Most importantly, the 1914 five-reel picture The Indian Wars was a propaganda re-enactment, co-financed by the Woodrow Wilson government, of the 1890 massacre of 300 Lakota residents of South Dakota, which was portrayed as American military heroism and justified as part of the assimilation effort. It also featured General Nelson A Miles. The film disappeared a few years after its release, leading some to speculate that the government had had it destroyed, but a small part of the last reel was said to be in a private collection sometime before 1978.

 

All this fed into the Western movie

 

So as far as Indians are concerned, the influences feeding into the first and early Western movies were many and various. The popular press, more literary works, paintings and photography, as well as stage plays all formed the basis for the portrayal of Indians in the movies.

 

The role of American Indians in these motion pictures would be to provide an enemy, an obstacle to progress and ‘civilization’ which had to be overcome by courage and daring on behalf of the white man. As Buscombe says, “Thus the Western became established as a genre in which Indians are an essential element in dramatic struggle, though in and of themselves they often have little importance.”

 

And we shall look at how that was done more specifically in our next post, Part 2 of Celluloid Indians – so come back soon!

 

Fort Part 2, click here.

 

10 Responses

  1. I truly like the way you follow Nicolas Boileau’s commandment (a 17th century French author)
    ” Hâtez-vous lentement ;
    et, sans perdre courage,
    Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage. ”
    Roughly meaning that you untiringly carry on your search, to make as many improvements you think necessary while keeping the freshness and enthusiasm of your initial inspiration.
    I will fully read you later but I cannot resist to strongly protest when you write
    “when Columbus, arriving on our shores in the 1490s”, a pure provocative and typically imperialistic sentence as you are annexing many carribbean islands and Venezuela… Except Puerto Rico and one of the US Virgin Islands “US” territories by accident, Columbus has never put a single foot on the American (US lower 48) soil ! Most of the “American Indians” who used to live in these islands in the 1490s are almost all long gone… Sad irony isnt’it !?

    1. Old Nick Boileau certainly had a point there and ‘festina lente’ is good advice, I reckon.
      You are right of course about Chris Columbus, though I make no territorial claim on behalf of the US to Caribbean islands. I should have said ‘Columbus and his successors arriving on the shores of the New World’ or something.

  2. Enjoyed this post, a great read- such fascinating histories.

    Around ten years ago I went to a small exhibition of Catlin’s paintings in London, although I’d seen them in reproduction it was moving to see several originals assembled together. To be honest, I don’t think he was that great of a painter, technically or artistically, but his motives were admirable and he left behind him such important painted records of the people he encountered. Remington by contrast was less morally admirable, regards his view of American Indians at any rate, but a genuinely excellent artist. Quite a (pre)cinematic one, as you suggest.

    I haven’t read this book by Ed Buscombe- after reading your post, I might order it! – but I respect his writing, it’s a little on the serious-minded side but not in a forbidding or heavy academic way. The BFI Companion is a bit hit and miss but much more hit than miss, especially the bits he wrote himself, and I really liked his little book on Stagecoach from the early 90s. I wonder if he knows about your website, I expect he’d enjoy it!

    Looking forward to Part 2!

    1. I’d like to see Catlin work ‘in the flesh’. Your assessment of him and Remington seems perceptive.
      Yes, Buscombe is on the serious side (unlike Jeff who has a tendency towards flippancy now and then) but he’s knowledgeable and thoughtful. He’s a proper writer not just a part-time blogger.

      1. Nowadays the boundaries betwixt proper writer and part-time blogger are pretty blurred… he’s a good writer and so are you!

      1. Great! There is also a documentary you might want to check out called ‘Reel Injun’ from 2009 that goes over the Hollywood depiction of Indians with lots of notable interviews included.

        1. Interesting. Sadly, it’s only on YouTube in Spanish, which I struggle with. But it’s available to rent on Amazon. I might give it a go. The blurb says: “Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond takes an entertaining and insightful look at the portrayal of North American Indigenous people throughout a century of cinema. Featuring hundreds of clips from old classics as well as recent releases, candid interviews with celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Robbie Robertson and Jim Jarmusch, the film traces the evolution of the Hollywood Indian.”

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