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The Greatest Western Ever Made: The Searchers at 65 66 : No More Heroes

The Texas History Behind John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ 

A nine-year-old girl is with her extended family, they’ve settled in central Eastern Texas on a fortified farm, and one day in May of 1836, a group of Kiowa and Comanches come along and attack. Five people are killed, including her father and her grandfather, and five young people are captured, including Cynthia Ann. She spends 24 years with the Comanches, she marries a Comanche, she has three Comanche children, and then one day in December 1860, another group of raiders come to the village she’s living in, only this time it’s the U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers. And the people around her, the dear ones, are killed again. She and her little daughter Prairie Flower, a baby, are captured. It seems like [the soldiers are] about to kill her–she looks like a Comanche woman–but then they notice she has blue eyes, and so they take her back to Camp Cooper [in present-day Throckmorton County]. They figure out along the way this must be Cynthia Ann Parker. She’s already sort of a known mythic figure in Texas history. They get in touch with her family, and she’s returned to them. The only problem is of course that she’s become a Comanche. She doesn’t want to be back with the Texans. She doesn’t want to be embraced in Christendom. She wants to be back with the Comanche family, with her sons, with her husband, with her village. And so it becomes a very tragic tale for the second time. She’s a traumatized victim of the Comanche-Texan wars.

Gerard Van der Leun // 1692 Mangrove Ave Apt: 379
Chico, CA 95926

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn August 20, 2022, 1:07 PM

    Oh, the Duke’s incapable of changing his prejudices is he?

    Everything about this story supports the fact that The Searchers is the best western ever, in the most American genre, the Western, and is fundamentally America’s art form. Maybe the narrater is better than all this, but here he is, celebrating it.

    My dad always thought The Quiet Man was the best movie ever. I have always held that to be: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Best. Best. Best. More bests. Must be some reason for this, Mr. Fancy Pants Narrator.

    Hey. It ain’t Marvel. It’s cinema. BTW, I’d like to get a playbill list of all the movie cuts in this, because some of those I have not seen.

    • Vanderleun August 20, 2022, 1:29 PM

      Okay, I attached a few.

      • Casey Klahn August 20, 2022, 4:40 PM

        Thanks! I did figure out The Wings of Eagles, which I actually did watch during the lockdown.

        Rubs hands…movie binge time.

    • Mike Austin August 20, 2022, 4:04 PM

      Any American who does not like “The Searchers” should leave the country.

      • Casey Klahn August 20, 2022, 4:41 PM

        I’ll pay for their boat ride!

        • ghostsniper August 21, 2022, 12:25 PM

          U speld helicopter rong.

          • Vanderleun August 21, 2022, 1:01 PM

            Oh, sniper, you funny man! Me love you long time boom-boom.

            • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 1:48 PM

              Every man has a bit of Pinochet inside him begging to get out.

          • Casey Klahn August 21, 2022, 4:52 PM

            Saddle up!

    • John the River August 20, 2022, 7:28 PM

      I have them all in my “John Wayne” section of my DVD library.

      Because the books, the movies, and the thoughts ‘They’ don’t want us to see ain’t on streaming.

  • Mike Austin August 20, 2022, 3:57 PM

    The Comanches—what Cynthia Ann Parker called “her people”—were without question the cruelest and most bloodthirsty people in History. They exceeded even the Assyrians and the Aztecs in their sadism. Extreme rituals of torture, mutilation, disfigurement and scalping were, for the Comanches, all in a day’s work. They practiced these arts upon all who crossed them, whites, Mexicans and Indians included. Every one of their Indian neighbors hated their guts. The Comanches ended US Western expansion and Manifest Destiny for 40 years. The US Army at the time had no defense against them, as it was composed mainly of infantry while the Comanches were a nomadic horse culture.

    It took America’s greatest Indian fighter, Ranald S. Mackenzie (1840 – 1889), to finally exterminate these beasts (1874). He did it by greatly expanding the US Cavalry, training them to fight as the Comanches fought, and employing new weapons of war, mainly the newest Colt revolvers.

    One of Cynthia Ann Parker’s sons was none other than Quanah Parker (1845 – 1911), a great Comanche war chief. After the destruction of his people Quanah Parker settled down in Oklahoma with his many wives, started his own church, grew rich and went on hunting trips with Theodore Roosevelt.

    • ghostsniper August 20, 2022, 5:41 PM

      Excellent, Mike.

    • Aggie August 21, 2022, 9:58 AM

      The actual kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker was in 1836, the same year the Republic fought the battles of Alamo and San Jacinto – a busy, chaotic time. The kidnapping took place in a fortified settlement town that is now called Fort Parker, at the headwaters of the Navasota River in Central Texas. There’s a state park there now, midway between Groesbeck and Mexia on what is generally called Post Oak Savannah. I never knew the story from The Searchers was based on this history, nor of the significance of Fort Parker, even though I’ve been there, years ago.

  • PA Cat August 20, 2022, 4:17 PM

    I always associate John Ford with his 1942 Battle of Midway, which is the first film of his that I ever watched full length after seeing clips from it spliced into countless WWII documentaries. I learned later that he was wounded while filming the battle. Watching Midway again this afternoon, I was struck not only by some of its iconic scenes (for example, the 48-star flag atop the island’s flagpole silhouetted against the black smoke from a burning oil tank) and Henry Fonda’s narration, but also by some items in the sound track that would never get past the PC censors today (for example, the hymn tune “Onward, Christian Soldiers” playing in the background as the wounded pilots are retrieved from the ocean and sent for medical care). The lack of CGI and other special effects is actually refreshing, to my eyes at any rate.

    The entire film is only 18 minutes long, and can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW8tQ_6dqS8&ab_channel=ZenosWarbirds

  • Callmelennie August 20, 2022, 5:00 PM

    The Comanch apparently became the first tribe to understand the significance of this creature that appeared out of nowhere when the mysterious Spaniards ventured i to their land. This gave them a leg up on other tribes and they used it to wipe out competing tribes

    And the more success they had, the bigger their empire became, the more ruthless they became in expanding and defending their gains. Basically they were the Western Hemisphere’s version of the Mongols

    Second to the Comanch in brutality would be the Apache. My Dad came to Arizona as a Public Health doctor on the San Carlos Indian Reservation. Told me a few stories about them

    Firstly, he said Apaches had a penchant for setting their squaws on fire if they cheated on them or even on a rumor of infidelity. He had to deal with several incidents like this.

    Then he told the story of an old Apache who came into his office complaining of loss of hearing. After the words shortest examination he discovered the source of the problem .. There was a tick inside his ear with its proboscis in the mans eardrum. The ear canal was fiery red with inflammation. And yet the man betrayed no sign that he was in pain. I guess the point was to illustrate how tough these people were

    • Mike Austin August 20, 2022, 5:41 PM

      Both the Apache and Comanche had the irritating habit of cutting of the noses of all white women they kidnapped. This of course happened after the women were gang-raped by the entire tribe.

      Nice folks.

      • Jack August 20, 2022, 6:17 PM

        The only white woman I know of, who had her nose cut off, was Matilda Lockhart. She endured some of the most traumatic torture the Comanche’s could deal out to her and after her return to white society she died within a few months from the brutality. She was burned over more than half of her body and her feet were burned so badly that she couldn’t walk, among other hideous tortures.

        But Matilda was only one of dozens who were held by these Indians and you are correct, all of them were gang raped, beaten and tormented to the point of insanity. J. W. Wilbarger who lived during most of those years in Texas…early 1800s – 1875+/-, wrote a book called Indian Depredations In Texas and I believe it to be the best book on the subject that has ever existed. His reporting is very extensive. The book is available from Amazon and it is a definite keeper.

        Quanah Parker has been lauded by white people and all of that BS began after he surrendered. So were several other of his tribe who were brutal killers. Of the Kiowa, Satank, Satanta and Big Tree were sent to prison for bragging about the Warren Wagontrain Fight murders where a war party over ran a half a dozen men. They killed and scalped all of those men and then tied one who was not dead to a wagon wheel and set the thing on fire, burning their victim to an unrecognizable rubble. Satank died on his wagon ride to the penitentiary in Huntsville after starting a fight and Satanta and Big Tree were finally sentenced and served a couple of years….for all of their admitted murders.

        Satanta could not stay out of trouble and he was resentenced to prison. During stay number 2, that old killer took a dive out of the Texas State Penitentiary and killed himself. Big Tree and several others joined the reservation and over time they ended their killing, raiding and stealing.

        It has always bothered me that the US Government (under pressure from the Quakers and other soft headed people who did not have any experience with these Indians), did not ignore their pleas for mercy and instead, hung every damned one of them. Even after his ‘civilization’ Quanah offered his services to hunt down and kill a few Indians who would not come in to the reservation. He and all of these other famous Indians were famous for the brutality and their murders and everyone of them should have been executed. And today, he is a role model and hero of the Southern Plains tribes.

        • Mike Austin August 20, 2022, 6:33 PM

          The Americans who actually lived on the frontier and had to experience up close and personal the depredations of the Plains Indians wanted the US Army to exterminate them. The progressives of the day—like those comfortable and well-fed Quakers—all resided East of the Mississippi and had no contact with the frontier and the Indians who worked their cruelties upon anyone they wanted.

          No civilization could tolerate such creatures as the Plains Indians. They had to go. Soft-headed types of today who romanticize Native Americans have no idea of what sort of creatures they were. The word “savages” hardly do them justice.

  • ghostsniper August 20, 2022, 5:49 PM

    It’s a long flik.
    I’ve seen it a couple times.
    The best scene of all is close to the front where Duke is on his horse and his doods are all around and a dead injun is on the ground.
    Duke pulls his pistol and simultaneously twirls it in mid air and shoots the eyballz out of that dead injun.
    Without eyeballz the dead injun can never cross over to the promised land and will spend eternity wandering aimlessly and that will serve as a warning to other injuns.

    Twirling a 3 lb pistol is no easy feat but to do it effortlessly, while sitting up on a horse, without looking at it and then firing it 2 times is, well, stunning.

    Searchers is not, in my opinion, Dukes best.

  • Anonymous August 20, 2022, 6:50 PM

    Totally Unrelated:


    And here’s to you, Mrs Robinson… (Also totally unrelated. You can take that to the Reichsbank.)


    Peoples Fall. Other Peoples Rise.

    • ZaphodIsAbsolutelyNotNutella August 20, 2022, 6:52 PM

      Oopsies. One’s enthusiasms do sometimes tend to short-circuit one’s remembering to fill in the comment text boxes.

  • Gree Leenwood August 20, 2022, 7:04 PM

    But, but, but, the natives had a golden utopia going until the Europeans came along.
    They never fought each other in the most brutal manner possible as they were too busy at the Benetton fountain filling golden pride cups with the free rainbow stew bubble up.

    • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 8:50 AM

      I taught 8th grade US History for 15 years in Oklahoma City. I had quite the run-in with a self-described “Indian Activist” mother of one of my students. She was as deluded as they come, and even believed that Native Americans had reached Europe long before Europeans had reached the New World. She hated Columbus, naturally. I let her speak to all my four classes, and she ended each one by calling the White students “fascists” and “Nazis”.

      She was ugly and fat as well. I still laugh when I think of that pitiful creature. Obviously she didn’t live in a tee-pee or send her precious daughters to Indian schools.

  • John the River August 20, 2022, 7:35 PM

    I cried like a baby when I heard that John Wayne had died.

    • Casey Klahn August 20, 2022, 9:28 PM

      I was in the army ng at the time. It was like the lights had dimmed.

      • ghostsniper August 21, 2022, 4:40 AM

        You gotta see “The Shootist”, Dukes last flik.

        • Casey Klahn August 21, 2022, 5:16 AM

          Among his best, too. You hold the pistol in your hand, and find the balance. Then, you squeeze the trigger. After he taught that to Opie…

  • Casey Klahn August 20, 2022, 9:36 PM

    If you don’t feel the Indian Wars or the Plains Wars ought to be counted as unified wars, then you at least have to admit that the two Seminole Wars were the same war, with a pause, and were America’s longest war.

    This makes the American Indian our most formidable foe, and BTW John Wayne had respect for the Indians in his movies, in spite of what Mr. Fancy Pants Narrator says in his essay video. The Comanches notwithstanding, the Indian was, if not worthy of trust, at least an adversary to respect.

    Now, we have wiped the name of “Indian” from our geography and our cultural institutions, to include high school names and mascots. This, in the name of liberality. I suppose if the libs had their way they’d can those John Wayne movies and lock them up.

    • PA Cat August 20, 2022, 10:26 PM

      Every time I see the new name (“Guardians”) of the Cleveland MLB team formerly known as the Indians, I snort. The Atlanta Braves are next up for renaming; their old mascot, Chief Noc-a-Homa (who was portrayed by an actual Native American), has long since been replaced by Blooper, “a big, fuzzy creature with extendable ears.” Well, the CDC is headquartered in Atlanta, so I suppose they have to rid the city of anything non-woke.

    • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 3:00 AM

      The war against the Native Americans waged by the Caucasians of North America was the longest war in American History, lasting from 1608 until Wounded Knee in 1890. It was waged on both sides with a brutality scarcely known in European warfare.

      There were two main theaters, the land east of the Mississippi and the Great Plains. They could hardly have been different in their native cultures. The horse was seldom used in warfare east of the Mississippi until the US Civil War, and the natives were more or less sedentary and settled into permanent towns and villages. Agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting were the sources of food.

      The native cultures of the Great Plains were hunter gatherers until the adoption by the natives of the horse (c. 1700). It was the horse that changed everything, and radically so. The Plains Indians developed into one of the finest light cavalries the world had ever seen, probably even better than the Numidians of North Africa (300 – 100 BC).

      The cause of these wars was what you would expect: land. The Whites wanted it; the Indians had it. In no way could any native culture exist side by side with White culture. So one would have to go. By 1840 all Indians east of the Mississippi had been forced west across that river.

      The destruction of the Native American culture on the Great Plains could only begin in earnest after the US Civil War. The Whites had to change their army from an infantry heavy organization to one relying mainly on cavalry, as infantry were useless on the Great Plains. As well the railroad, Samuel Colt, whiskey, smallpox and the purposeful extinction of the buffalo played their part.

      A relatively unknown aspect of these wars was that the natives came very close to pushing the Whites back into the Atlantic during King Philip’s War (1675 – 1678). Man for man, it was the bloodiest war in American History. The three Seminole Wars (1816 – 1858) were unusual in that the US Amy never could entirely wipe out the Natives in Florida. Their descendants are still there.

      • Wild, wild west August 21, 2022, 5:13 AM

        I was in Viet Nam with a young Sioux (who could only be described as a Warrior) and can guar-on-damn-tee he would differ with you on the ending date you picked for cessation of hostilities.

        Otherwise, a good analysis.

        • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 5:38 AM

          I had not considered that, but I should have. I know a full-blood Chickasaw—hair to his waist, speaks the language, went to Indian schools—who I can tell keeps his ferocity toward the White Man under control. Most of the time.

          I am half Chihuahua Indian—that is, Mexican—and half Caucasian. My mind is Caucasian, my blood is Latino, my culture is Western Civilization.

      • Casey Klahn August 21, 2022, 5:29 AM

        Three Seminole wars, was it? I go by memory and not research, and damned if I didn’t assume the consequent when I heard “Second Seminole War”. Thank you for the correction.

        Memory, or legend, also informs me that the origination of the army non-sense slang word, “hoaoh!” comes from the Seminole chief, Coacoochee, who raised a glass in toast at a regimental Dining In. His comedic timing was such, that the joke lasts down to this day.

  • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 5:46 AM

    I had thought that there were only 2 Seminole Wars as well, until I checked. Oops. My memory at 69 works in mysterious ways. Sometimes it forgets why I entered a room. Other times it remembers the most arcane information about some rando Roman senator.

  • A Nonny Moose August 21, 2022, 6:41 AM

    All these comments and nobody has mentioned the cool trivia fact? The Searchers was a big influence for George Lucas and the first Star Wars movie (ep. 4). Lucas said so himself.

    And everyone knows the best Wayne movie was The Horse Soldiers. Come on guys…

  • Gordon Scott August 21, 2022, 8:44 AM

    Oklahoma Seminole on my mother’s side, Cherokee on my father’s. I was the first among recent descendants to find the records on my father’s side. Whaddyaknow, a clan chief in the late 1700s? Probably the branch of the Cherokee that hid behind the trees and didn’t have to walk to Oklahoma, but I need to do some verification.

    My mother’s side is much more recent, and due to her I can walk onto reservations and folks think I’m a cousin.

    I was in a Walmart parking lot in the Minneapolis burb next door. A black gal hit me up for money and I turned her down flat. She called me an evil white man, then she looked closer and decided I was just a man. “But dammit, you said I was evil. I’m not letting that go. Evil man, right?” She was giggling by that point.

    I did get into a discussion about intersectionality on another board. Black folks being most oppressed, and all that. I pointed out that the blacks eagerly hired on to be the agents of genocide against my people. Einsatz buffelsoldaten.

    It got really quiet after that, but for one “whoah.”

    • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 9:34 AM

      My family on my mother’s side fought with Lee almost until Appomattox. And being half Mexican—that is, Chihuahua Indian—I can get away with doing and saying and writing all kinds of stuff just by bringing up parts of my heritage when it is useful. I’ve dined out many times by using that tactic.

  • jiminalaska August 21, 2022, 8:46 AM

    Growing up in south Florida where our back yard ended the Glades began, I’d run into the occasional Seminole. Sometimes a nod in passing but never a hello or conversation. I hadn’t thought about, until today reading this, how insular they were, at least back then.

    Here in Alaska every class pretty much had, when my kids were in school and also now has, Athabaskans and Eskimos among the students. I don’t remember any Seminoles within the school system.

    Just occurred to me, might have been a segregation thing back in those days.

    • leo August 22, 2022, 8:30 AM

      I grew up in Belle Glade in the late 50s-60s and remember Seminoles coming to school in full seminole dress

  • LadyBikki August 21, 2022, 8:46 AM

    …all shall be well.
    Thank you and God bless you.

  • Wade Gabriel August 21, 2022, 8:48 AM

    Major problems for it being the greatest western………
    1. it was filmed in Utah or Arizona….central north Texas looks nothing like that…Think Last Picture show scenery…………Course the Cheyenne ranged from south Texas up thru Oklahoma from New Mexico to just west of Ft. Worth.
    2. The weapons (Colt 1873s and various Winchester rifles) used in the movie were not manufactured or in wide spread usage for another 20, 30 to 40 years.

    Sorry, but the obvious geographic snafus and the anachronistic weapons (and other kit) just spoil my ability to believe the story line……

    • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 9:11 AM

      “The Searchers” was not made to be a documentary or a commentary on geography or a history of the revolvers used on the frontier.

    • Elwood August 21, 2022, 9:57 AM

      What a sad sack you must be. I can’t imagine sitting watching a movie with you and hearing a constant “look, that’s not right” narration.

  • Harry August 21, 2022, 10:50 AM

    Recommended reading: Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Empire-of-the-Summer-Moon/S-C-Gwynne/9781416591061

    • Mike Austin August 21, 2022, 10:57 AM

      I read it. An excellent read.

      • Vanderleun August 21, 2022, 1:07 PM

        I third that.

  • james wilson August 21, 2022, 2:14 PM

    In 1831 Tocqueville met with Indians from Western New York all the way down to New Orleans. He greatly admired the better qualities of Indians, those who were not drunk, but was never unaware that their hospitality could turn on a dime and his life with it. French fur traders were the toughest white men in the world at that time, and they wittnessed things that terrified even them. And it was by no means only the Indian males that made sport of captives.

  • A Nonny Moose August 21, 2022, 3:17 PM

    I work with a full blooded Navajo, and he has a truly hilarious, dry sense of humor, making fun of white man and red men alike, all day long. Not even a little bit politically correct. Spend a day with him and you’ll belly laugh at least twice. EG: “The explorers sailed west looking for India, that’s why they call us American Indians. It’s a good thing they weren’t looking for Holland, we’d be the American Dutch!” Or “Do you think the people who live in India hate us? Those American Indians, what posers”. Anyway, he’s a great guy and a very hard worker. Good dad too.

  • Nori August 21, 2022, 9:47 PM

    Thirteen Comanche Code Talkers,radiomen and line repairmen,landed with Allied troops at Normandy on D-Day. Their landing craft missed its designated target by 5 miles. The first msg from Utah Beach was from Pfc Larry Saupitty: “Tsaaku nunnuwee. Ahatu nunnuwee.”
    Translation: “We made a good landing. We landed in the wrong place.”

  • Tellurian August 21, 2022, 11:54 PM

    “It was simply a result of their inherent criminal nature.” I believe this quote is not about the cruelty of the red man but is the Duke of Wellington’s rationalization of his own redcoats savagery. (Philip Henry Stanhope (ed.), Notes of Conversation with the Duke of Wellington, 1831-1851, (London: John Murray. 1888), p.18) My point is not to excuse savagery on one side of the Atlantic or the other. Rather, I think it is worthy of consideration to know what exalts one culture above another. Whatever it is, it would behoove us all to hold it fast. One thing we know it’s not; it’s not our humanity.