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Return to the early days of the movin' pictures. The fledgling film business was growing and movies were gaining in popularity. And the western was part of that success formula. Early films such as THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903) featuring Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson (real name: Gilbert Max Aronson) were lensed in the wilds of New Jersey. But as their business grew, film creators determined they needed a brighter atmosphere with warmer weather, less rainfall, and locales that more closely resembled the real west. So they migrated to the Los Angeles area, and Hollywood was born.

Outdoor adventures such as the western needed a lot of supporting personnel - i.e., people to fill the many roles in front of the camera as well as those that labored in the background and periphery.  And the western United States was the place to find people who could wrangle horses, drive stages and wagons, and ride a horse at breakneck speed.

Real cowboys who earned a meager income on cattle spreads discovered they could make more money - and be steadily employed - in the film industry.  Another group that received paychecks were those that portrayed "the American Indian".  Some of these cowhands and Indians had already gained showmanship skills by working in the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch show and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.



(From Old Corral image collection)

When Tim McCoy was at MGM in the late 1920s, the film company went on location to the Wind River Reservation area near Lander, Wyoming to film WAR PAINT (1926). Above is a photo taken during the filming of the "Indians galloping across the Wind River". That footage was used again in McCoy's END OF THE TRAIL (Columbia, 1932). And it became one of the most oft used pieces of 'stock footage' and can be seen in dozens of westerns and serials including:
THE SINGING VAGABOND (Gene Autry, Republic 1935)
PAINTED STALLION (Republic, 1937, 12 chapter serial)
OVERLAND EXPRESS (Buck Jones, Columbia, 1938)
ROLL WAGONS ROLL (Tex Ritter, Monogram, 1939)
OREGON TRAIL (Universal, 1939, 15 chapter serial)
PRAIRIE SCHOONERS (Bill Elliott, Columbia, 1940)
PIONEERS OF THE WEST (Three Mesquiteers, Republic, 1940)
LAWLESS PLAINSMEN (Charles Starrett, Columbia, 1942)
FRONTIER FURY (Charles Starrett, Columbia, 1943)
THE LAW RIDES AGAIN (Trail Blazers, Monogram, 1943)
THE SCARLET HORSEMAN (Universal, 1946, 13 chapter serial)
INDIAN TERRITORY (Gene Autry, Columbia, 1950)
APACHE COUNTRY (Gene Autry, Columbia, 1952)
SON OF GERONIMO (Columbia, 1952, 15 chapter serial)
BLAZING THE OVERLAND TRAIL (Columbia, 1956, 15 chapter serial)
WILD DAKOTAS (Bill Williams, Associated, 1956)
There's a photo of the Shoshone Indian village and the Wind River area at Jerry Schneider's Movie Locations Guide website: http://www.movielocationsplus.com/LWRIVER.HTM.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Pictured in the lower left corner of this pressbook ad is Native American and Olympic champion Jim Thorpe.

Note the ad copy: "... in the glamorous days when the Buffalo roamed the plain and the Indians went on the war path!" Personally, I would never describe Indians on the war path as glamourous.


The film industry rapidly matured and talkies arrived.  The inexpensive B western had been tweaked and Hollywood settled on a basic formula to fill six reels, roughly 55-60 minutes of running time - i.e., the good guy wore a white hat and rode a fine steed; there always seemed to be a doey-eyed heroine whose father was killed or was losing the ranch or her brother was in trouble; and the villain was a crooked lawyer or banker, a competing ranch owner ... or a band of Indians, on the warpath, and out to halt a wagon train, or the telegraph, or the stagecoach line.

The storylines which were dreamed up by the Hollywood script writers and producers were as fictional as the Dime novels of the late 1800s - this was the "reel west", not the "real west".  A good example of Hollywood myth is shown in the pressbook ad on the left which proclaims:

"As a fighting captain of U. S. Cavalry ... in the glamorous days when the Buffalo roamed the plain and the Indians went on the war path!"

Who was writing this hogwash ... and who and why would anyone use the phrase "glamorous days" to describe Cavalry vs. Indians battles.

Additionally, the western and serial (and other films) included a significant amount of racial, ethnic and gender stereotyping.

The heroine in many of these oaters is little more than scenery - and her primary job was to scream and faint when the villain abducts her in reel five or six.

There was other stereotyping - i.e., unfair and unflattering portrayals of various racial and ethnic groups. Examples are Oriental Willie Fung and Black actor Fred 'Snowflake' Toones. Both did B westerns and were usually relegated to playing a comedic cook, servant, etc.

The Indian was also a victim of this stereotyping - he was often portrayed as vicious, gave no quarter, and constantly on the warpath. They were also shown to be easily manipulated by firewater, trinkets and false promises and deals made by the unscrupulous villain, a white man. In many westerns, Indians weren't the instigators of the problems as much as they are the tools used by the baddies to accomplish their nefarious goals. And in some films, the real Indians are wrongly accused of attacks which are carried out by whites who are masquerading as a band of rampaging warriors.

There were a few occasions where the Indian was given a positive and/or heroic role. A few examples come to mind: there was Hawkeye and his Native American helpers in the several versions of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS; Chief Thunder Cloud portrayed "Tonto" in Republic's two LONE RANGER chapterplays of the late 1930s; when Ken Maynard exited the Monogram Trail Blazers series in the 1940s, Thunder Cloud was his replacement; and in THE COWBOY AND THE INDIANS (Columbia, 1949), it's Gene Autry, Jay Silverheels, Chief Yowlachie, Charlie Stevens and others in a tale of Indians being cheated by crooked trading post owner Frank Richards and his gang.



(Courtesy of Les Adams)

The star of CYCLONE OF THE SADDLE (Weiss/Superior, 1935) was Rex Lease and his helper was young Bobby Nelson.  George Chesebro (as 'Cherokee Charlie') and his assistant Yakima Canutt (as 'Snake') are doing their best to get the Indians on the warpath against a wagon train.  Native American performers included Chief Standing Bear (as 'Chief Yellow Wolf'), Chief Thunderbird (billed as 'Chick Davis' and playing 'Chief High Hawk'), Chief Thunder Cloud, and Artie Ortego.  From L-to-R in the lobby card above are Chief Standing Bear (coming through the window - appears to be a stunt double), Artie Ortego (yellow shirt), Rex Lease, might be Chief Thunderbird (in shadows behind Lease), Milburn Morante (background with coonskin cap), Janet Chandler and Helen Gibson.

Chock full of wagon train and Indian stock footage from silents, CYCLONE is unremarkable ... except for the quantity of Native Americans in the cast ... and the weaponry utilized by Yak Canutt.  Yak ties a knife to the end of the bullwhip and silently dispatches foes by snapping the whip at them.  Ouch!

And the scene shown in the lobby card was not in the movie (and that may be the reason there's a double for Chief Standing Bear).



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