Pawnee Bill's Lost Western Films by tomemania

VIEWS: 34 PAGES: 5

Producer William Selig instructed Tom Mix, the cast, and crew that the goal was to bring to audiences an understanding of a way of life. This required as much detail as possible. Real live Indians were an absolute
condition. All the actors needed to be skilled; they must really ride horseback, fight, and hunt buffalo.
Tom Mix had visited Pawnee Bill’s Ranch in Indian Territory and Mix recommended this as the shooting location. He contacted Pawnee Bill and the Selig Production Company went there to film at great expense.

More Info
									                                                                                           1
Pawnee Bill and His Silent Western Films.
By Rhonda Tintle, PhD.

This is a study guide and primer for “Film and
Technology: The Advancement of Silent
Westerns From 1898 – 1926”

Here are some film companies of interest:
   • Pawnee Bill Film Company
   • Pawnee Bill’s Buffalo Ranch Feature
       Films
   • 101 Ranch Bison Film Company (aka The Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Feature
       Film Company)
   • Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill Film Company
   • Buffalo Bill Film Company


        The first silent films were more

novelties. Before 1900, most silent films

were only several minutes in length. By

1910 film technology was more complex.

The Old West was a favorite topic for

early filmmakers and their audiences.

The adventures, legends, and morals of

the Old West were already popular as magazine serials and dime novels.

        Filmmakers produced the earliest Westerns in New York. Easterners based those

silent Westerns on dime novels and Wild West Shows. Producers used parks, meadows,

and painted backdrops to represent the landscape of the Old West. The reasons for this

were practical ones. It was not feasible to transport a production to the West where there

limited or no utilities.

        From an historical perspective, silent Westerns were an intersection between the

observable death of the Old West and the new era. Filmmakers, travelers, chroniclers,

and others felt the need to document the frontier as it slipped away. These films are an
                                                                                              2
example of how people tried to document the vanishing Old West. Cowboys became

actors and western landscapes became movie sets.

       William Selig was a pioneer film producer. He relocated his production company

from New York to Southern California after 1900. There he produced feature-length and

serial films. Selig hired Tom Mix, a cowboy turned

actor. Mix was a real cowboy who had reinvented

himself as a hero in Wild West Shows. He adopted the

ten-gallon Stetson hat created for and worn by Buffalo

Bill. Mix imitated Buffalo Bill’s style of dress complete

with silver buckles and fringe.

        In 1913 Selig contracted Tom Mix to make the

movie version of Zane Grey’s novel, Days of the Thundering Herd. The plot was typical.

Pioneers cross the plains to join the California Gold Rush in 1849. Selig wanted the film

to be as accurate as possible. Westerns performed in front of painted backdrops in

Central Park New York were a dime a dozen, literally. They no longer drew audiences.

Selig’s goal was “true and authentic insight” into life in the “far middle west” during the

Gold Rush Era.

       Selig instructed Tom Mix, the cast, and crew that the goal was to bring to

audiences an understanding of a way of life. This required as much detail as possible.

Real live Indians were an absolute

condition. All the actors needed to

be skilled; they must really ride

horseback, fight, and hunt buffalo.

Tom Mix had visited Pawnee Bill’s

Ranch in Indian Territory and Mix
                                                                                         3
recommended this as the shooting location. He contacted Pawnee Bill and the Selig

Production Company went there to film at great expense.

       Tom Mix and Pawnee Bill had both rewritten their personal histories to include

tales of frontier life, fighting bandits, and saving ordinary folk from harm. Like Tom Mix

                      Pawnee Bill was not content to fade into the background along

                      with Wild West Shows. He too had updated ambitions; he wanted

                      a career in moving pictures too. Once he had Selig’s cast and crew

                      out in North Central Oklahoma-Indian Territory, Pawnee Bill

                      started making demands. He wanted the title of and credit as

                      "Producer" of Days of the Thundering Herd. Pawnee Bill’s over-

bearing attitude and demands enraged Selig so much that the producer never returned and

refused to work with Pawnee Bill ever again.

       Pawnee Bill bought film and photography equipment to start his own film

company, as did his neighbors at the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. Neither was a financial

nor box office success; they could not compete with Southern California’s access to

technology and mass distribution of films. See below for some films that never made it

to the big screen.
                                                 4
Some films that Hollywood audiences never saw:
                                                                                         5

References:

Zane Grey “The Thundering Herd”
Henry Nash Smith “Virgin Land the American West as Symbol and Myth”
Janet Walker “Westerns: Films Through History”

Films:
 “May Lillie Queen of the Buffalo Ranch”
 “The Buffalo Hunters”
 “The White Chief”
 "The Frontier Detective” all circa 1915.
 “In The Days of the Thundering Herd” circa 1914 and re-released as “Wagon Train”
1920.


This article is copyrighted. You are free to cite this review in your work. Here is how to
foot/end note this source:
Rhonda Tintle, "Pawnee Bill and His Silent Western Films," June 2012,
< http://www.scribd.com/ > (insert the date you retrieved this article).

								
To top