Native Village
Youth and Education news
October 2010 Volume 4

The first Native American director
Condensed by Native Village

James Young Deer, (front and right)

In the early days of film, James Young Deer was an actor, director and producer who managed a California film studio. Lame Deer specialized in westerns that were different from all the rest -- the Indians were never the villains. Instead, they were heroes with moral authority. When an Indian killed a white man, he did it with justice on his side and audiences applauded.

Young Deer was celebrated as that unaccountably rare being, a Native American film-maker a member of the Winnebago tribe.

He also faced a murky and strange conflict. In 1913, San Francisco newspapers hinted that he was involved with a "white slavery ring" in Orange County. Young Deer said he was the victim of a racist conspiracy "the vengeance that the white men meted out to Indians."  With the judge's unspoken approval, he jumped bail and fled to East Finchley, England, a quiet London suburb,

Young Deer then worked for British and Colonial Films making crime films about heroic street urchins and dashing heroes of Empire. His Indian/Cowboy justice gave way to The Black Cross Gang and The Water Rats of London.

Young Deer's career preceded World War I when films didn't have a permanent sense of value. His British films are now lost only stills and poster images survive. But several of his U.S. pictures escaped destruction. One is White Fawn's Devotion, a western in which a cross-cultural relationship does not trigger disaster, but prevents one.

Information about the man himself is scarce. Even the most basic facts of his biography are disputed, including the date of his birth. We do know James Young Deer was born J. Younger Johnston.  He married actress Lillian St. Cy. Lillian on April 9, 1906. Lillian, a member of Nebraska's Ho-Chunk tribe, was known by her stage name of Princess Red Wing. James and Lillian were both an "influential force" in early one-reel Westerns during the silent film era.

In the 1960s, an old cowboy actor recalled that Young Deer retired from movies to begin an acting school in San Francisco. After that, the trail goes cold until his death in April 1946. Today, he remains unknown beyond the small world of film researchers .

Man of Courage (1922) .... Aquila
Under Handicap (1917) (as James Youngdeer) .... Lonesome Pete
Against Heavy Odds (1914)
The Unwilling Bride (1912)
Little Dove's Romance (1911)
Red Deer's Devotion (1911)
Young Deer's Return (1910) .... Young Deer
The Red Girl and the Child (1910)
The Indian and the Cowgirl (1910)
The Cowboy and the Schoolmarm (1910)
Young Deer's Gratitude (1910) .... Young Deer
The Ten of Spades; or, A Western Raffle (1910)
Young Deer's Bravery (1909) .... Young Deer
Red Wing's Gratitude (1909)
The Mended Lute (1909) .... Indian
The True Heart of an Indian (1909) ... aka A True Indian's Heart (USA)
Lieutenant Daring RN and the Water Rats (1924)
The Stranger (1920/I) (as James Youngdeer)
Who Laughs Last (1920)
The Savage (1913)
The Unwilling Bride (1912)
The Squaw Man's Sweetheart (1912)
Red Deer's Devotion (1911)
The Yaqui Girl (1910)
Cowboy Justice (1910)
An Indian's Gratitude (1910)
A Cheyenne Brave (1910)
The Red Girl and the Child (1910)
Under Both Flags (1910) White Fawn's Devotion: A Play Acted by a Tribe of Red Indians in America (1910) (uncredited)
Red Wing's Gratitude (1909)
For Her Sale; or, Two Sailors and a Girl (1909)
The Falling Arrow (1909) [edit]
Lieutenant Daring RN and the Water Rats (1924) (writer)
Neck and Noose (1919) (story) (as Jim Youngdeer)

Watch "White Fawns Devotion"

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