Native Village 
Youth and Education News
May, 2013

Rare, 1920 film featuring 300 Comanche and Kiowa actors to premiere in Kansas
Condensed by Native Village


This photograph was made from a silent movie made in 1920 but never released.  "The Daughter of Dawn" features a cast of 300 Kiowa and Comanche people, descendants of those who once roamed the Western Plains of Kansas and Oklahoma. The movie, still considered a work in progress, premiered at For Larned on April 27.

Kansas: "The Daughter of Dawn", a movie more than 90 years in the making, saw it's 21st-century premiere in Larned, Kansas. It was shown to the public only once before -- in a 1920 viewing in Los Angeles.

The Daughter of Dawn was filmed in 1920 and features a cast of more than 300 Kiowa and Comanche people. The film's story line takes place before European settlers impacted Native American lives.

What makes it so valuable are the actors. All are the sons and daughters of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes who once roamed the Plains of Kansas. They brought their own clothing, horses, tepees and everyday objects to be filmed on location in the Wichita Mountains. Key actors were children of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker: White and Wandada Parker.

“Very few movies with all-Indian casts were shot in Indian Country,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

When Kit Farwell learned “The Daughter of Dawn" would be premiering in Kansas, he flew in from Virginia for the showing.  A descendant of the Comanche nation, Farwell hoped to see long-deceased family members. Some are listed in the movie’s credits.

“It is something to be proud of,” Farwell said. “It’s something for all Americans to be proud of. This is seeing the Comanches and Kiowas before the English landed and moved in.”

Over the years, word spread that such a movie once existed, but only a few black-and-white photos and the movie script were proof of its existence. Only one copy had been made, and that was on highly flammable and easily decomposable silver nitrate film.  Most believed the film was lost to time or the elements.

Then, less than a decade ago, the movie was plucked from obscurity.

Blackburn says the way it evolved into the 21st century was happenstance. In 2005, he received a phone call from a private investigator in North Carolina. The detective had received the only copy of the movie as payment for a case he worked on.  The film had been stored in a garage for decades.

The detective asked if the Oklahoma Historical Society [OHS] wanted to buy the movie. Blackburn didn’t. Not for $35,000.

“It was 2005, and we were in the midst of building the Oklahoma Center, a $62 million investment,” Blackburn said.
Negotiations began. Two years later, the detective sold the movie to the OHS for $5,000. Grants were received to restore it.

“When we received it, it was in five reels,” Blackburn said. “Some of the parts of the film were in bad shape. Some of it had been spliced together with masking tape. We didn’t want to risk further damage.”

Miraculously, the entire movie – all 83 minutes – survived intact. The film was digitized, with closed captions added. What was missing, however, was a musical score. So Blackburn commissioned David Yeagley, a Comanche symphonic composer, to compose it.  Oklahoma City University students performed and recorded the score. Once it is completed and premieres through the film festival circuit, The Daughter of Dawn will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The Daughter of Dawn film clip

Already the film has led to important discoveries.  Historians noticed a tepee with unusual markings – yellow and black horizontal stripes. Known as the Tipi with Battle Pictures, it was given to the Kiowa by the Cheyenne as a symbol of peace.

Historians believe the Tipi with Battle Pictures was present when the Kiowa signed treaties at Fort Larned in 1865  and at the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty of 1867.

Each year when the tepee was remade, the paintings were copied to the next tepee. These paintings were handed  down from one generation to the next – a virtual history of the Kiowa. The tepee’s paintings served as a record.

By the turn of the 20th century, the tepee was only a memory. The U.S. used military force and government boarding schools to strongly discouraged Native ways, language and customs. The Kiowa and Comanche were pushed from Kansas into Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

In 1916, the paintings on the Tipi with Battle Pictures were re-created from memory on a new tipi by Kiowa artists Stephen Mopope, James Auchiah, and Silverhorn. But no one knew what had become of it. Then one day, while Matt Reed was in the OHS basement, he came upon a canvas bundle tied together with rope. He took it off the shelf and began to unroll it. The unmistakable markings on the canvas stood out.

“The design is so unique to Kiowas,” said Reed, curator of OHS museum collections. “It is a direct connection between Kiowa tradition all the way up until contemporary art. It embodies Kiowa military tradition and history.”

Eugene Stumbling Bear is descended from the Kiowa. Chiefs Stumbling Bear and Satanta were his great-grandfather and great-great-uncle. Both were present at the signing of 1865 and 1867 treaties. And he may have relatives in the movie.

“Just seeing the old Kiowa people will be worth it,” Stumbling Bear said.

The Daughter of Dawn


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