Garryowen

Charles Schreyvogel’s “A Sharp Encounter”

There are many stories braided into the history of the American West. There were the settlers, the outlaws, the railroads, the Chinese, the Mexicans—and there were the Indians in their battle against the U.S. Army. I have just finished reading Robert M. Utley’s Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866-1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). According to Utley, there were “more than 1,000 combat actions, involving 2,000 military casualties and almost 6,000 Indian casualties.”

And yet, most of us know about the Indian wars from a handful of Hollywood Westerns, such as Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On (about Custer) and John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy: Fort Apache, Rio Grande, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (about the Apache wars). In most of these films, we heard the military bands playing “Garryowen,” which was adopted by Custer for his Seventh Cavalry.

From Ford’s films, one would naturally assume that most of the cavalrymen were either Irish or unreconstructed Johnny Rebs. In fact, far more of them were black. Several entire regiments consisted of 100% black enlisted men—and, of course, 100% white officers. (In all fairness, John Ford covered the subject in his little-known Western Sergeant Rutledge.)

Frederic Remington Photo of Black 10th Cavalry Troopers

The Black Troopers, popularly known as Buffalo Soldiers, had a distinguished history, which, today, is largely forgotten. They were every bit as brave as the White troopers, and they were more likely to re-enlist.

If you want to see depictions of the U.S. Army in the West, I recommend to look at the photos and paintings of Frederick Remington and the paintings of Charles Schreyvogel.

John Wayne Never Fought Them

Old Photo of Jemez Pueblo Architecture

The Indians we know most about are the ones that appeared in the old Westerns: The Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux. There are some twenty Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that, insofar as I know, never appeared in any. John Wayne never fought them, nor did Randolph Scott or Jimmy Stewart or Audie Murphy. I am referring to the Pueblo Indians, most of which are located around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We know that the Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux have been warlike. But did you know that the only successful Indian revolt against Western colonization was fought by an alliance of Pueblos in 1680. It was not until twelve years later that the Spanish reconquered the territory, but even then with difficulty. Many of the most warlike Pueblos simply united with the Hopis and Navajos.

I have just finished reading The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). The key word in the title is “secret.” To this day, the Pueblos do not choose to discuss the conflict—even one that occurred over four centuries ago. Consequently, most people do not know about it.

Pueblo Revolt Scene Painted on a Hide

Why the secrecy? I think it is a cultural trait. Years ago, Martine and I spent the night on the Zuñi Reservation at a time when most of the town and surrounding areas were off limits to non-Zuñis because some tourist had misbehaved at a ceremonial in the distant past. One cannot just waltz into a Puebloan reservation and have the run of the place. You will be referred to the tribal authorities, who most likely will ignore your request as a matter of course. It’s not that they are unfriendly: For them survival involves buttoning their lips, even if it involves a 450-year-old secret that just happens to be none of your beeswax.

Favorite Films: Stagecoach (1939)

The First Shot of John Wayne in John Ford’s Stagecoach

The First Shot of John Wayne as the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s Stagecoach

Until John Ford filmed Stagecoach in 1939, the Western was in sad shape as a genre. There was a lot of galloping horses chasing other galloping horses. In one fell swoop, Ford opened up the Western. For starters, it was the first Western to take advantage of the stunning scenery of Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border. The Indians in the picture were real Indians—even if they were Navahos playing Chiricahua Apaches.

Although it was John Wayne’s first major release, it was by no means a John Wayne vehicle: Rather, it was an an ensemble production (see poster below) in which Claire Trevor received top billing as a prostitute driven out of the town of Tonto by the forces of morality. At roughly equial billing were Thomas Mitchell as a boozy physician; George Bancroft as a sheriff; Andy Devine as the stagecoach driver; John Carradine as the gambler Hatfield; Louise Lasser as the pregnant wife of a U.S. Cavalry officer; Berton Churchill as an obnoxious banker; and Donald Meek as a, well, meek whisky salesman.

Stagecoach is a film that is always in motion, even when the scene moves indoors. Ford plays one character off against the other. Their stage ride to Lordsburg takes them through an area where Geronimo, having broken out of the reservation, is attacking ranches and preventing the stagecoach from having a reliable Cavalry escort.

Poster Emphasizing the Ensemble Acting in Stagecoach

Poster Emphasizing the Ensemble Acting in Stagecoach

The Apache attack on the stagecoach contains some of the most outstanding (and dangerous) stunt work to appear in a Western. At one point, stuntman Yakima Canutt, dressed as an Indian, jumps on the lead horse of the coach’s team, is shot by John Wayne, and falls under the team and under the wheels of the coach, being dragged by the lead horse for several feet before letting go. The chances for such a shot to end in tragedy are almost overwhelming.

In the end, the film leaves me with the impression of all the legendary elements of the Western in a single film: Cavalry, Indians, gunfights, thieves, Mexicans, and—above all—the wide-open spaces of Monument Valley.

This is a great film; John Ford is a great (if not the greatest) film director; and, together with Samurai films, Westerns are my favorite film genre. That’s a pretty formidable combo.