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Touring Texoma: Daughter of Dawn

Our most recent Touring Texoma report is about a recently discovered lost treasure of the Wichita Mountains.
It's a movie shot right here in Texoma almost a hundred years ago, a movie that has joined other films like "Mary Poppins", "The Quiet Man", and "The Right Stuff", recently selected by the Library of Congress to be inducted into the National Film Registry.

The Library of Congress selects 25- films each year for that honor.

Just like the others, "Daughter of Dawn" represents important cultural, artistic, and historic achievements in film making.

They're qualities that make it a cinematic treasure.

Bob Blackburn's the executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, who's proud of this largest single gallery in the entire Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to American Indians.

Blackburn: "Been collecting since 1893, so a lot of the objects in this gallery would tie back to the time period of this movie."

Blackburn's talking about one of the Oklahoma Historical Society's greatest acquisitions, the 80- minute silent film, "Daughter of Dawn", shot in the beautiful Wichita Mountains in July, 1920, and starring among others a son and daughter of Chief Quanah Parker.

Blackburn: "Daughter of Dawn is the daughter of the chief of a Kiowa head man, and beautiful young lady. Two Kiowas want to marry her. One wants to marry out of love and respect. The other wants to marry because that means he's going to be the head man with all these new possessions and teepee, and all the status. So, you get this love triangle, and then there's a Kiowa woman who loves the bad guy who is spurned throughout this whole story."

"Daughter of Dawn" is an extremely rare film because its estimated only 15 to 20 percent of all the silent movies on nitrate film have survived.

Even rarer, this film has an all American Indian cast.

Nearly 300- people from the Kiowa and Comanche tribes were in the film and helped promote it.

Blackburn: "Scrapbooks have turned up that were kept during the filming of the movie. We have people who have found notices of showing this movie in Kansas City. We have photographs of this being shown in Tulsa. We have newspaper articles of how some of the Kiowas and Comanches were touring with the movie and doing stage performances."

But, then for whatever reason, the film just vanished.

Blackburn: "We don't know the entire story, but we know the film disappeared from history in the 1920's. No one knew what happened. Well, in 2005 we get the first phone call from a private detective who said, I've got 5 of the 6 reels. I've done the research. I know the movie was made. I know there's no other copy."

Blackburn says eventually, in 2007, both sides agreed on $5,000 for the movie, $30,000 cheaper than the asking price in 2005.

Then, the biggest bonus of all, while dubbing the movie off the highly flammable nitrate film, they realized the entire movie was actually there.

Blackburn: "There were no inner titles in that copy. Once we added the inner titles, you know the words in between the scenes, and we knew what the words were because of the script, it was 6 reels. We didn't lose a minute of the film." "It was probably in some lab on some shelf, and then in some family. Then, this private detective did some work for whatever family it was, and got that as partial payment. They'd say, oh this is real valuable, take this in lieu of cash. And, that's when we got the call."

The Oklahoma Historical Society recognized right away what an amazing artifact they were getting. When 300 of the Kiowas and Comanches, with the elders, came to the Wichita Mountains to shoot "Daughter of Dawn", they replicated their dances, how they set up their camps, and how they hunted buffalo, among so many other things. That's a piece of history you just can't get through documents or still photographs."

Blackburn: "By seeing them using the material culture in this very special place, within the communal group, and the way they reacted to one another, where would the elders sit? Where would the young people sit? Where would the women be in a dance circle? Where would the most prominent teepee be in a camp setting? It's all in this movie."

In fact, that most prominent teepee, seen throughout the movie, had already been with the history museum almost since the movie was made.

Matt Reed/Curator, Oklahoma History Museum: "You know, you always hear about people finding things in museums that they didn't know they had. I'd heard the same stories and always thought, wow, they're really bad at their job. Well, I found a bundle of fabric in our collection storage area." "So, I started comparing photographs we have in our collection that came from the movie and all of this, and then it became like, wow I think it's not just a teepee that looks similar to it. I think it is the teepee."

Blackburn: "It was labeled, Iowa Teepee. Someone had dropped the "K" in the distant past. It's the teepee from the movie. It still moves me when I even tell the story. The Kiowas came down and confirmed this is the teepee. It turns out the family had donated it to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1928. We had preserved it since that time, but did not know its value, its significance. Now we know about that because we were able to acquire the movie. Otherwise, this artifact might have sat very sleepily on that shelf forever without ever knowing the significance."

Reed: "One of the things that's important about the teepee, is the essential designs that are featured on it, and that you see in the movie, basically came to the tribe and reflect their history from 1840 all the way up until the time you're seeing the movie in the 1920's."

"Daughter of Dawn" is now safe and preserved for many future generations to see, and just like the beautiful Wichita Mountains where it was filmed almost a century ago, the movie truly is a window to our past.

Blackburn: "There is nothing like "Daughter of Dawn". It is unique. There's not an A, B, C, D because it is one of a kind. It is this window into our past that tells us a lot about the Kiowas and Comanches from that time, and by connecting the dots, I'll be able to take that story and connect it to all these other stories of Oklahoma. So, it's unique, and it's priceless. I feel fortunate that I was part of a team that has found this, and preserved it, and now sharing it."

The Library of Congress decided to add "Daughter of Dawn" to their film registry because of its huge historic significance.

Thanks to the original generation of filmmakers, and that very special generation of American Indian leaders, in the movie, who made the transition from traditional lifestyles to a new way of life, "Daughter of Dawn" will be a legacy to the Kiowas and Comanches, to Texomans and Oklahomans, and to the history of film.

Blackburn says the Oklahoma Historical Society is acting on the behalf of Southwest Oklahoma by preserving the film for all time, and by sharing it with as many people possible.

They've already signed with a distributor out of New York City, and plan to take the film to festivals around the world, and then do a theatrical release in portions of the country, including in Lawton, before going to broadcast.
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