IN THE DAYS OF THE THUNDERING HERD
Starring Tom Mix, Bessie Eyton, Wheeler Oakman
THE MOVING PICTURE WORLD
December 12, 1914
About twelve months ago, Colin Campbell and Tom Mix paid a visit to Chicago and went over the story of "In the Days of the Thundering Herd" with Gilson Willetts, which had been written wit the object of giving an accurate glimpse of life as it was lived in the far middle west in the years around '49, when gold was first discovered in California.
I was favored by being present at some of these "talks," and was impressed by the decision arrived at, on the suggestion of Mr. Selig, that strict attention should be paid to historical correctness, both in incidents and detail, in the production. In other words, the Indians of those days and the plainsmen, their manner of living, their camps, their hunting expeditions, their fierce and sanguinary engagements, etc., should be visualized as nearly to the life as possible. To bring back the days of the buffalo chase realistically, it had already been arranged at the time that that 7,000-acre buffalo ranch of Pawnee Bill, at Pawnee, Oklahoma, with the largest herd of buffalo in the world, should be used in the hunting scenes. A large force of native Indians had been secured among the tribes in Oklahoma and a carload of tepees had been manufactured in Chicago, on the order of Mr. Selig, to furnish the pictures a typical Indian village. How well the plans and preparations have succeeded remains for each spectator to judge for himself.
From my viewpoint, after viewing the picture twice, I can say fearlessly that the five reels teem with action and radiate with atmosphere of the old days with a vividness that can be felt. One is translated from the wonders of modern days to the old Santa Fe Trail and the long, winding lane of "prairie schooners" headed towards the setting sun. We see them making camp for the night and watch the stealthy approach of the Indian girl, who soon makes known to her people the presence of the white men.
Then comes the attack by the red devils, who gallop swiftly
around their victims, discharging their muskets as they circle,
until only two of the whites - the hero and the heroine of the
story - are left alive. Next follow the thwarted torturing of
the man and his escape with the white girl, only to be pursued
and recaptured, and their next get-away which is successful. This
time they come upon a band of white hunters, and this camp is,
in turn, attacked by the same tribe of Indians. A running fight
takes place, in which the white men are pocketed in the hills
and are saved from annihilation by the timely arrival of another
group of white hunters.
This battle, which results in the defeat of the redskins and in the death of their chief is a most exciting spectacle, and may well be termed the last word in a scene of this kind.
The reader naturally concludes that where there are so many hunters there must be an abundance of big game, and he is not disappointed. We watch both the Indians and the white men as they kill the buffalo, the former bringing down the animals with bow and arrow just as skillfully as do the white men with musket or old-time rifle. The big herd is shown many times in the pictures, under varying conditions, and some of these scenes are strangely impressive. It is to be regretted that still pictures of these remarkable scenes, which can never again be taken, were not included among those snapped for the occasion.
Tom Mix is pre-eminently the "big chief" in the photoplay, and this is no reflection on the admirable work of Wheeler Oakman in the role of Chief Swift Wind. Tom is Tim Mingle, the pony express man, and afterwards the leader of the white men in their fierce fights with the Indians. He is the sweetheart of Sally Madison, for whom he forsakes the pony express business to accompany her on the journey to join her father in the state of the Golden West. The amazing equestrian feats performed by Mr. Mix, as the pony express man, will probably never be repeated again in moving pictures. Seen one hundred years from now, they will cause men to open their eyes in wonder. In the Indian fighting scenes, Tom holds the eye with the same magic spell.
Miss Bessie Eyton is a worthy companion for Tom Mingle in the part of Sally Madison. I never suspected that she was such a daredevil on horseback. After that terrific fall, when she is swept from the saddle by the low hanging bow of a tree, I surely thought she had suffered broken bones, if not insensibility. But no; she was up again, after a moment of careful feeling, hastily making her way to a tree, in whose branches she sought safety from the stampeded herd of buffalo. Here's to you, Miss Eyton, for wonderful horseback riding and just as convincing acting.
Wheeler Oakman so cleverly disguises himself in the part of Indian, Chief Swift Wind, both in make-up and impersonation, that one is often impressed with the belief that he is a real redskin. The final contest between him and Tom Mix is a most realistic struggle.
The poetic role of Starlight has been sustained most creditably by Red Wing, the full-blooded daughter of the Indian chief. In a very subtle way, almost imperceptibly, she shows that she is in love with Tom Mingle and that her love is hopeless.
It is needless to emphasize, after what has been written, that
the production has been worthily made by Colin Campbell. I will
just direct attention to the closing scene, in which Tom Mingle,
Sally Madison and Starlight are shown as they set out for the
land of promise. As we pathetically gaze at it, new vistas rise
out of the saffron west, and we rub our eyes to find out whether
or not we are dreaming.
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