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Indians in the Early Western

Along with the cowboy, the other major Western figure during the Western movies first ten years is the Indian (the reason �cowboys and Indians� means a Western).  Along with �cowboy and Indian� conflicts, there are a surprising number of films that deal with Indian life.  These films are without white characters.  The film Hiawatha (1909) uses Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem as its theme.  D.W. Griffith�s A Squaw�s Love (1911) for Biograph Films, is a stories of Indian love affairs.

A mix marriage theme is common in early Westerns.  Inevitable, this love is doomed.  Back to the Prairie (1911), a Path� film, Red Fox falls in love with the daughter of a white man he has rescued.  The girl�s father rejects his suit and disillusioned, he returns to his own people.  At times, love between white and Native American is successful.  

In Flaming Arrow (1913) for Bison 101, White Eagle, the son of a white prospector and an Indian woman, falls in love with a colonel's daughter from the neighboring fort.  After he saves her from an Indian attack, the final close-up shows the white girl and White Eagle together.

In Romona (1911), you find the usual outcome, the best known of the early films on this theme.  D.W Griffith for Biograph made the first version of Helen Hunt Jackson�s novel in 1910.  Ramona, a young girl growing up on her adoptive mother's rancho in California, falls in love with the Indian lad Alessandro.  Her family denies permission for her to marry Alessandro.  The two lovers elope, only to find a life of great hardship and unhappiness amidst the bigotry and greed of the white landowners.  Eventually hostile whites shoot him.  The movie ends with her grieving at his gravesite.

Not all early films involve just cowboys or Indians.  No less than thirty-seven films from the period 1908 to 1816 have �Mexican� as the first word in the title.  Usually characters from south of the border are villains and often referred to in the most ugly terms, like D.W. Griffith's The Greaser's Gauntlet (1908).  

There are stories about miners, lumberjacks and emigrants in wagon trains.  There are films about real life characters such as Kit Carson or Daniel Boone, and many set in the far Northwest or Mexico.  There are films about the Civil War, many with Western elements, almost comprise a genre on their own.


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