Daughter of Dawn: A Fascinating Silent Film is Rediscovered

Welcome back. Over the years, I’ve traveled with many Native American Indians, Delaware, Cherokee, Osage, Comanche and Sioux just to name a few, and I have enjoyed listening to stories about their ancestors.

At museums like Gilgrease in Tulsa and Woolaroc here in Bartlesville you can see photos and paintings of many Indians along with clothing and artifacts from their daily lives but until recently most of the known film footage about Indians was created in Hollywood and depicted them in a one dimensional way to fit a particular story line. The clothing, the tepees and most of the actors all came from Hollywood.
Always on the lookout for an interesting piece of the history, this past week I learned about something that grabbed my interest. The year was somewhere around 1919 and the film industry was just getting started. It was around this time that director Nobert Myles from the Texas Film Company got an idea. Why not shoot a movie about Indian life and culture not with big name stars but with real people in an all Indian cast? It would be a drama with romance, buffalo hunts and fighting. Myles would film it in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, hiring over three hundred Kiowa and Comanche people as actors. These people brought their own tepees, horses and other personal items, built an entire village in the Wichitas and then went about their daily lives, observing their own traditions while Myles filmed different scenes. The shooting wrapped up in 1920 and the movie was a true gem which reflected the real lives of Indian people. All of the actors dressed in their own traditional clothing, hunted buffalo as they had for hundreds of years and danced to the drums of their ancestors. The story was titled Daughter of Dawn and the central character Dawn was the daughter of an actual chief of the Kiowas who also had a role. The movie was shown in only a handful of theaters including one in Tulsa and then tragedy struck. The details are lost to time but the print disappeared and for over ninety years everyone involved was baffled presuming that it had been lost. Then in 2013 the film reappeared and the Oklahoma Historical Society was able to purchase it. They restored the multi reel silent film and commissioned a musical score to accompany it.

It’s an unbelievable story and you can learn all about it in an exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. The Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive and friends not only can you view the film here but you can also see over 2,000 artifacts all related to the history of Oklahoma. The exhibits are housed in a beautiful 215,000 s.f. state of the art facility and the Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum system so they are able to exhibit items from the Smithsonian’s huge collections as well. Bob Blackburn is the Director of the Center and as the author of 18 books on Oklahoma history this is a guy who knows his stuff. It’s definitely a must see place and well worth a drive to Oklahoma City.

While you’re there the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum is also in Oklahoma City and they have a wide range of art and artifacts on display related to both western and Native American history. I also just learned that starting this Friday, in conjunction with the Western Heritage Awards, they will be having a big Navajo rug sale and auction. It’s all adding up to be quite weekend at the museum and I hope to see you there.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

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