What if a 1923 epic silent movie “The Covered Wagon” that cast 200 Arapaho tribal members from the Wind River Reservation was retold from a tribal perspective?
These days, Wyoming isn’t known for it’s movie industry, but it has a unique one dating back to the early 20th century and silent films. “The Covered Wagon” was an epic silent movie filmed in Utah with 500 mostly Northern Arapaho tribal members cast by Ed Farlow of Lander and future cowboy movie star, Tim McCoy, who also lived in Lander and later Thermopolis. McCoy’s Hollywood life story has been thoroughly vetted, but his early career breaking into the movie business, not so much.
This project, in part, chronicles his role as casting liaison tor the 1923 epic, “The Covered Wagon” and his relationship with Wyoming tribal members but from a Northern Arapaho Tribal perspective.
Native Americans play in the movie background as extras, but what if a documentary was produced about the making of the film told from a tribal perspective that includes a contemporary silent movie sound track written for western instruments and traditional Northern Arapaho drumming.
Native Americans are generally portrayed in popular culture as “side kicks” or as the “noble savage” or “actual savages.” This documentary delves into historical Native American stereotypes and perspectives from contemporary Northern Arapaho voices, how they have changed and outlooks about the future.
The documentary project consists of two interrelated storytelling components. The first is a contemporary scoring of the 1923 silent movie classic “The Covered Wagon” will be written by Anne Guzzo, PhD. She is a scholar of silent film and early cartoon background music. She is a collaborative composer and has partnered with diverse groups and disciplines over the years – vertical dancers, a geologist, a rangeland ecologist, a painter, and a microbiologist.
Anne will be commissioned to write a score that is a Wyoming music genre creative crossover. The preliminary featured artist list includes:
• Susan Stubson – Six Generation Wyoming native, pianist and relative of Tim McCoy
• Local string players from Lander/Riverton; Laramie and Casper (TBD through audition)
• Northern Arapaho Eagle Society Drum – drummers/singers (Harvey Spoonhunter)
This project features an original score performed by Wyoming artists, including the Arapaho Eagle Drum Society. “The Covered Wagon Redux” will premiere in two Wyoming venues TBD in Fremont, Albany and Natrona counties.
All recognize this is a challenging task given fundraising timelines. The feature-length movie total run time of 97 minutes is a challenge for an independent film project score and largely a labor of love for the participants. Contemporary silent movie music sound tracks are largely electronic music because of the complexities and cost.
The second part of the project is the production of a documentary about the making of “The Covered Wagon Redux.” Because the vast majority of the movie tribal extras cast were Northern Arapaho, tribal elders and others related to cast members will be subjects of the documentary.
A notice was posted on the “NONO’EINIIHI’ – In the Arapaho Way” facebook page asking if there are tribal members with memories about friends or family members who were in the movie. The post was deluged with responses about old photos, and traditional regalia worn in the film.
Production is underway: Firming up the documentary story about Native American stereotypes in pop culture and undoing them into the future; Finalize participating musicians, taking into account schedules, performance tours and concert seasons; Working with musicians and the composer develop a time schedule for the collaborative scoring of the movie.
The historic cultural content will be interwoven with the creation of the music score culminating in the movie screening and music performance in 2019 and 2020. Many thanks to the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, the Wyoming Arts Council and the Wyoming Humanities Council for their funding.