Sunday, June 16, 2019

Celebrating Native Americans in the United States Military

After decades of broken promises and atrocities committed against their people, it makes us wonder sometimes as to why the Native Americans (especially the plains Indians) would want to serve in the military of the nation which severely oppressed so many of them.

But serve they did. And they served valiantly, and continue that tradition today.

Most of us remember the movie, “Windtalkers,” which depicted the degree of courage, honor, pride, and physical and mental toughness that was demonstrated by our Native American troops during WW-2. But their allegiance to America's causes began as far back as our Revolutionary War... Well sort of.

Pre-World War II

While there were some Native American tribes serving with the colonists, some served with the British who promised them their help to push back against the expansion of the settlers. And then again in the war of 1812, the Native Americans were pretty well divided as to who's side they were on.

During the Civil War, the Native Americans served valiantly for both sides. And in my opinion, the men of the Confederacy were just as much real Americans as those of the Union. So, I'd say that this was the first war where the Native Americans had fought wholly for American causes.

In The Spanish American War, Teddy Roosevelt didn't hesitate to recruit Native Americans into his famous fighting force called the Rough Riders when they went into battle in Cuba in 1898. And likewise, General John J. Pershing recognized the combat and scouting prowess of the Indians when they went against Poncho Villa in Mexico. But in the Mexican campaign, there were also four Native American Catholic Sisters from South Dakota who worked as nurses.

By the time that WW-1 erupted, more than 12,000 Native Americans stepped forward and volunteered to fight for the United States. Many of those troops were awarded high honors and medals, including France’s Croix de Guerre and the Church War Cross for courage. And what is interesting here is that when eight Choctow Indians who were assigned to a communications unit became surrounded by Germans, they were able to send tactical messages to our troops in their native language.

Yes. These were the first of the Code Talkers. Later, in WW-2, It would be members of the Navajo tribe who became so widely recognized. And also, as in the Mexican campaign, there were Indian women serving America in the Army Nurse Corps.

World War II

Native Americans had been granted citizenship by then, and were eligible for the draft. But the tribesmen did not wait for the draft. In record numbers, 44,500 signed up and served honorably in both the European and Pacific campaigns. No other ethnic group had a higher per-capita rate of participation in the war than our Native Americans. Which brings us again to the legend of the Navajo Code Talkers.

There were more than 400 Navajo Code Talkers deployed with the U.S. Marines throughout the Pacific. And as it was in WW-1 with the Germans, these Code talkers managed to stymie the Japanese who intercepted our U.S. military messages. The Navajo language was virtually impossible for our enemies to understand. But what some people are not aware of is the fact that likewise in the European campaign, seventeen Comanche Code Talkers served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and fought under brutal combat conditions as they faced the Germans. And in the same manner in which the Navajos fooled the Japanese in the Pacific, the Comanche Code Talkers prevented the Germans from interpreting U.S. messages.

One of the most iconic photos of a Native American in the service of our country is in the photo of the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, where Ira Hayes, a full blood Pima Indian is shown among those other brave and dedicated Marines.

Post World War II

In the Korean conflict, our Native Americans again answered the call with an estimated 10,000-15,000 men who voluntarily enlisted.

A massive number of Native Americans signed up for duty in Vietnam, which has been estimated to be over 50,000 men.

Then in 1991, 3,000 Native Americans answered the call for Operation Desert Storm (the Persian Gulf War).

In the post-911 era, Native Americans continued to serve in a higher percentage than the veterans of other ethnic groups. 18.6 percent vs. 14 percent, respectively.

And there are currently approximately 31,000 Native American men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces. A great number of them are deployed to combat duty.

In recognition of the courageous service of our Native Americans, The Smithsonian's National Museum of The American Indian has spearheaded a project, which has now been commissioned by congress, to build a museum on it's grounds in Washington, DC that will honor our American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian veterans.

It is great to see that this acknowledgment will finally be taking place. It is hoped that the anticipated millions of annual visitors to the museum will gain an insight as to the service and sacrifices made by our Native American citizens as they answered the call to serve our nation.

Happy Trails
Gary Miller

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Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West - part 2

Previously, we explored Sedona’s rich history and examined some of the classic western films shot there. As the town was still being developed, major studios arrived, taking full advantage of the unique topography and open vistas, transforming the rural community into a ‘little Hollywood” that remains a significant industry today.

In this second part we’ll look back at a few more of the westerns that focused their lenses on the red rocks and finish up with a brief rundown on what to do and expect when visiting. On that note, one additional thing to consider; Temperatures in Arizona can reach the hundreds by June, leading some residents and businesses to vacate entirely during summer months, so plan accordingly when booking a trip. Finally, don’t be surprised if you encounter one of these! (part 2 follows)

Part II


In 1954, Burt Lancaster starred in and produced Apache, based on Paul Wellman’s novel, Broncho Apache, which proved a successful outing for Lancaster’s own production company. He portrays Massai, an Apache warrior who, after Geronimo’s surrender, escapes an army transport during relocation to a Florida reservation. He travels east on foot and takes up the Cherokee practice of farming corn, an Indian symbol of sustenance and a gift from the Great Spirit.

Co-starring Jean Peters as Massai’s lover and Charles Bronson as a traitorous Apache scout, there was no apparent attempt at casting actors with identifiable Native American physical traits.

Indeed, it now seems inappropriate and even laughable but one needs to take it in the context of the theatrical style of the 1950s. It‘s also easier to digest in light of the fact that by this point in time, Hollywood stories were being told from Indians’ perspectives. Ironically, it is the “blue-eyed Indians” that contemporary viewers will find unacceptable and not Massai’s patterns of violent spousal abuse.

Despite a dearth of realism and plot, the film holds up as an overall enjoyable and thoughtful adventure. The scenery too, can be fully appreciated here as the majority of Apache is set outdoors.

Johnny Guitar

Also, in color, from 1954 we have the classic, Johnny Guitar starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden. Crawford plays a saloon owner named Vienna, ensnared in a local war between cattlemen and a coming railroad. Vienna’s rival, Emma(Mercedes McCambridge), turns the screws on Vienna by rallying townspeople and some pernicious outlaws against her. An ally arrives in one Johnny Guitar(Hayden)and their relationship gets as hot as the action that follows.

Johnny Guitar’s production was a tumultuous and dysfunctional affair by many accounts and was not received well by critics at the time. As the years passed, viewers have picked up on its sexual undercurrents and allusions to McCarthyism. In Europe, especially, it has grown in reputation since 1954. Its storyline figures heavily into Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West as a deliberate homage.

Stay Away Joe

Elvis Presley’s movie career plays out stranger in retrospect, in part due to the decline of movie musicals, and 1968’s Stay Away Joe may be his strangest. Elvis plays Navajo rodeo rider Joe Lightcloud(it’s strange, already) who returns to his family’s home on a reservation which he turns into a cattle business. This results in a bull riding competition which Joe organizes to bankroll the business.

A strong supporting cast(Katy Jurado, Burgess Meredith and Joan Blondell) and plenty of Arizona scenery didn’t rescue the sitcom-styled comedy from critical slander. Actor L.Q. Jones claimed to have almost killed Elvis on the set after throwing a firecracker into his trailer as a prank. If only the cameras were rolling for that!

In any case, the King was now primed for a “comeback” and preparing to leave Hollywood for good.

Additional Landmarks to Visit

Whether you’re passin’ through or hangin’ up your hat for a spell, there’s a lot you’ll want to do in Sedona. Resorts, museums, entertainment and fun activities are all there, ready to be experienced. Here are some of them to consider:

Montezuma Castle National Monument

This captivating cliff dwelling alcove in nearby Camp Verde was once inhabited by the Sinagua and the Hopi almost one thousand years ago and is a testament to the indigenous peoples’ architectural ingenuity.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross

Built within a red butte, this Roman Catholic chapel has become an iconic landmark since its completion in 1957.

Kachina House

The largest distributor of Native American arts and crafts in the state, this shop boasts a fine variety of artwork, pottery, jewelry, artifacts and more.

Rainbow Trout Farm

For unbeatable fishing in the legendary Oak Creek Canyon, this fresh fish farm provides poles, bait, tables, barbecues and the perfect view to boot.

Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park

For some peaceful meditation after a good hike through the trails, you can visit this sacred Buddhist structure surrounded by juniper pines, sought for prayer and enlightenment for over two-thousand years. Ostensibly a paradox for this part of the world, it actually seems more and more appropriate considering the healing powers many say are inherent in the Sedona valley.

Sedona International Film Festival

To help celebrate Sedona’s rich cinema heritage, this nine-day festival features indie films of all kinds with guests from across the globe to help you take it all in.

Getting Around

Roam Sedona however you chose. Whether you prefer guided ATV tours, jeep rentals, horseback rides or balloon expeditions, it’s all available.

In conclusion, the next time you’re watching your favorite cowboy picture, look beyond the shoot-outs, stampedes, cavalry battles, stagecoach chases and cattle drives to stop and appreciate the view. Much like in real estate, the movie business can be summed up in three words-Location, location, location!

Chris Robinson

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West - part 1

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Word on Gunsmoke and James Arness

I'm sure that most of us over the age of 40 can remember spending an hour every Sunday evening with James Arness, the main character on the Western show known as Gunsmoke. Janet Arness, his wife, weighs in on what it was like to live with this tall, powerful actor.

An additional bonus, brought to you by "A Word on Westerns," a weekly video commentary on the old west.

If you enjoyed this Gunsmoke video post on Western Magazine Digest, please take our movie poll up top on the right. Thank you!

Al Colombo

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West

Pristine desert skies frame natural sculptures of orange sandstone. Breathtaking panoramas of canyon buttes, gorges and color-shifting cliff walls are simply the background of your many favorite western movies. It is also an experience one can only fully appreciate by paying a friendly visit to the red rock region of Sedona, Arizona.

This unique and captivating place was once populated by several native peoples notably the Sinaguas, whose rich legacy and culture is prominent enough to be enjoyed today. Apache and Yavapai also inhabited the land before being moved to reservations. Not surprisingly, this coincided with the first European settlers’ arrival in Oak Creek Canyon in the 1870’s. In the years following the closing of the true ‘Old West’ era, the dawn of cinema had already arrived.

1923’s Call of the Canyon was the first Hollywood film to be produced in Sedona. All the major film studios soon built ‘Old West towns’ to produce westerns on a regular basis. Eventually, real towns replaced the artificial back lots, of which only a telegraph office still stands. Navajos doubled as various Indian characters and locals who knew the land and the life were employed in different capacities.

Lee Doyle, a rancher and guide from Flagstaff, became extremely instrumental to this burgeoning film industry as a location manager and scout, even accompanying famed writer Zane Gray to Oak Creek Canyon for narrative inspiration.

Bob Bradshaw, a photographer, scout and stuntman, came to the town in 1949, creating a movie set on his 140-acre ranch. Later, he even published a book detailing all the films he worked on. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the Bradshaw Ranch became an alleged hotspot for orbs, vortices and inter-dimensional portals(!)

Despite its signature red motif, the region always seemed to have been used to the greatest effect in monochrome. Against the background of some of the grainiest black and white horse operas lies a landscape unobstructed by buildings or power lines for miles in all directions that stole the show from Tinseltown’s brightest stars.

The Technicolor “post-golden age” saw less film activity with the rise of television and a general decline in popularity of western and rural-themed stories. Bigger- budgeted “revisionist” westerns and non-genre movies with peripheral detours to the Red Rock region still bring film crews today. Some latter-day examples include The Kingdom of the Spiders, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Karate Kid and Dead Man.

But when that red sun sets on a majestic butte, it’s those classic cowboys who put that land on the proverbial map. Let’s round up some of the best and most interesting of the herd:


Director John Ford is inextricably connected to Monument Valley, the land in the Colorado Plateau bordering Arizona and Utah. The region was used to marvelous effect in 1939’s Stagecoach, the acclaimed western adventure of stage passengers travelling from Arizona to New Mexico. Following a lean decade of B-western obscurity, John Wayne, clutching a Winchester carbine, was given his big break at last. Though the majority was shot in Northeastern Arizona, utilizing his backdrop of choice, Sedona’s red rocks also creep up in the classic that spawned two remakes and earned Ford two Oscar nominations.

Billy the Kid

In the Forties and Fifties, Hollywood not only took gratuitous liberties with true life events and figures but also toyed with the public perceptions and reputations of those figures. Lawmen and the most cautious and restrained of gunfighters could be condemned as morally bankrupt while vengeful outlaws were lionized as misunderstood underdogs. With a story based on Walter Noble Burns’ book, The Saga of Billy the Kid, M-G-M cast Robert Taylor as titular character William Bonney. This rather poorly received 1941 version of the Kid’s life and exploits nonetheless used Technicolor to rewarding effect, at least in the outdoor scenes they chose to shoot in the outdoors.

Tall in the Saddle

This 1944 action-packed western from RKO Pictures had the Duke butting heads with locals in Arizona while trying to solve the murder of his employer. Tall in the Saddle was co-scripted by the great character actor, Paul Fix, who memorably portrayed Marshal Micah on The Rifleman, in addition to countless other roles. It also surprisingly teamed Wayne with sidekick extraordinaire Gabby Hayes for the last time.

Angel and the Badman

It may be a frequent item in your neighborhood dollar store or discount outlet but don’t let that put you off. Angel and the Badman is, without a doubt, one of John Wayne’s finest movies as well as the first in his own production company. There are fisticuffs and gunfights but the emphasis is mainly on the story with themes of redemption and a clash of cultures. An Old West movie town set was especially erected for the production near Coffee Pot Rock in West Sedona.

This is the first of a few movies Wayne made alongside Gail Russell and their off-screen love affair influenced their on-screen chemistry in the film. During production, they would often break away from the cast and spend the night at the Cottonwood Hotel. Today, a suite at the historic inn features complimentary in-room screenings of the movie, presumably acquired from the local dollar store.

Broken Arrow

“What took place is part of the history of Arizona and it began for me here where you see me riding.” In many tribes, a broken arrow symbolizes peace at a war’s end. It is almost prophetic considering Broken Arrow signaled a new era in Hollywood where Indians were henceforth portrayed sympathetically, if not multi-dimensionally. This fact raised the film’s profile and, in turn, gave it a controversial reputation to a certain degree.

Ex-soldier Tom Jeffords, played by James Stewart, enters into peace negotiations with Apache chief Cochise(Jeff Chandler) on behalf of the stage lines, army wagons and mail carriers. During his visits to the camp, he falls in love with and eventually marries a young Apache girl(Debra Paget). Today, most criticism concerns the eyebrow-raising age difference between those stars. The rest is, inevitably, aimed at the typical “Caucasians playing Indians” problem. Nevertheless, you can watch for Jay Silverheels as Geronimo.

Broken Arrow was later adapted for a short-lived television series in 1956.

Chris Robinson

The Many Faces of Sedona’s Red West - part 2

Editor's Note: Be sure to tune in on the 2nd of June for part 2 of The Many Faces of Sedona's Red West!

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Photo by John Fowler on Unsplash

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Discover how the Civil War affected Texas

Texas State Historical Association

While Texas avoided much of the destruction caused by the Civil War, the last land action of the war took place at Palmito Ranch on this date in 1865. Texas seceded from the Union prior to the war, and approximately 90,000 Texans saw military service. Additionally, those who did not fight experienced commodity shortages, transportation issues, and, in many cases, the loss of loved ones.

Discover the stories of Texan participation in the Civil War with TSHA's Civil War in the Lone Star State eBook: click here!

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Native Americans and Their Legends

The legends believed by the Native American tribes were / are very expansive, and involve everything from birds and animals to spirits and shadow beings.

With thousands of years of myths and story telling, our Native Americans have kept many of their legends alive even to this day. When we were visiting Alaska back in the 1990's, I became interested in the customs and stories told by the Tlingit (pronounced klink-it) and Haida tribes people we came in contact with. And for those who remember the TV series called "Northern Exposure," you may have also become interested in the ways of the their culture as portrayed by several members of the cast, where many of their tribal customs and legends regarding bears, ravens, eagles, foxes, and even frogs were brought to light.

I'm glad to see that the Native American culture has been kept alive in places like the California San Juan Islands, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Alaska, and other areas of the US. Statistics show that we still have 573 federally recognized American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes and villages in the United States. We need to honor them by learning something about their cultures and by remembering the sorrows that they have suffered through.

I have selected a few legends and stories that caught my eye when I was searching this topic online. I hope you will also find them interesting and informative.

The Choctaw tribes are known to share some very dark tales regarding some of the birds. Even the common horned owl, which they called Ishkitini, had a foreboding reputation. The Choctaw stories have it that Ishkitini is responsible for (or linked to) the deaths of men and animals. When the Choctaw heard the screech

The Hopi Indians

of the owl, they believed that a child of seven years or younger would die. If the owl hooted from the trees, it was feared that death was stalking their close adult relatives.

One variety of Paiute mythological figures from the dark side are called Nimerigar. They have been described as a race of small, but violent, magical people who are cannibalistic in nature.

But many legends among the tribes in America regarding birds, animals, and other creatures were more uplifting, or even humorous.

This Cherokee legend goes into great lengths to explain why rabbits have short tails. It seems that back when the world was young, tsi-s-du (the rabbit) had a very long bushy and beautiful tail. And he was always bragging about it to the other animals. Then one day, tsu-la (the fox) became very weary of hearing the rabbit's boasting, and he decided to put an end to it.

So, when the lake waters were frozen, the fox cut a hole in the ice and tied four a-tsa-di (fish) to his tail and waited there for the rabbit to come by. When the fox saw the rabbit come hopping over the hill, he he quickly dropped his tail into the cold water. The rabbit asked the fox, "what are you doing?" The fox replied, "I'm fishing."

The story goes on to some length as they banter back and forth until the fox pulled his tail out of the water to show the rabbit the fish that he had supposedly caught. The fox told the rabbit that he was going to take all the fish that he caught to the village and trade them for a set of combs. Then the fox left the rabbit alone at the cold frozen lake.

The rabbit then decided that he was going to try this fishing idea and grab some combs for himself. So he put his big long bushy tail through that hole into the cold water and stayed there all night, waiting to catch some fish. The next morning the fox came back and asked the rabbit what he was doing. With his teeth chattering from the cold, the rabbit said, "I'm ffffishing." The fox then asked him if he had caught any. When the rabbit tried to get up to see if he finally had caught any fish, he found that his tail was stuck in the ice. So he asked the fox to help him pull it out from the frozen lake.

So the fox, with a big grin on his face, got behind the rabbit, and with one big mighty shove, knocked the rabbit out of the ice and sent him sliding all the way across the frozen lake. But most of the rabbit's tail remained stuck in the ice, back on the other side of the lake.

And that's why to this day, tsi-s-du (rabbits) have such a very short tail.

The raven and Other Birds of a Feather

While the white people regard the raven with little esteem, many Native American legends lend credible importance to it. In some tribal cultures, the raven is regarded as a trickster, in the same way as the coyote is referred to. But other tribes tell of the raven's image as a hero. Among the south eastern Alaskan tribes, the raven is credited with finding water, and taking part in Earth's creation.

The Tlingit and Haida tribes in Alaska have provided many raven stories that depict him as talented and full of magic. And they give the raven equal status with the eagle, in many instances. Within these two tribes, their clan crests commonly come under one or the other of these two iconic birds.

The Pueblo tribes also have some birds in their legends, but identify animals such as the bear, coyote, antelope, and even mice as playing a part in great battles and other significant events.

Legends of America
The Kickapoo Indians recognized mythical figures such as Kehcimaneto, (a great spirit) and the Nenemehkia (thunder beings) who created violent storms with lightening and thunder, and were also called upon by the people to protect them from the Great Serpents. These serpents were common figures of their culture. One of which were the Manetoa, a breed of giant water serpents that could hypnotize people with their gaze, and then drown them.

The Nez Perce Indian folklore even includes battles between insects, as told in the story of a coyote punishing a yellow jacket and an ant for fighting. But their folklore also has many more traditional animals represented, such as the bear, raccoon, beaver, and in at least one story, a porcupine who punished a coyote for his greed.

Arapaho mythological figures
The Arapaho mythological figures included various spiders, powerful monsters, and spirits. But their symbol of the Thunderbird is one that many of us recognize today. To the Arapaho and most Plains Indian tribes, the Thunderbird was a huge bird of prey who also created thunder storms. The owl was another one of their predominant birds of lore, as it represented the winter season.

And it appears that it is the Blackfoot people who claim the honor of discovering the use of tobacco, their legend says that there were some medicine man brothers of whom the eldest had a vision and heard a voice telling him of a sacred herb to be found, and that he should pick it and burn it. So he followed the vision, found the herb and went home and tossed it into the fire, which then produced smoke with a pleasant smelling aroma. The second brother was told in a dream to chop up the herb and put it in a bag made of hide. He then also noticed how pleasant it smelled. Then a third brother was told in a vision to make some pipes out of bone. So he made four of them for himself and his brothers.

Then there was one more brother who's vision told him to put the herbs in the pipes, light them, inhale the smoke from them and let the exhaled smoke rise up into the clouds. The legend states that the brothers were also taught songs and prayers in their visions to go along with their smoking ritual. Then the brothers had more dreams telling them to spread the word about their new ritual to all their people.

Hmm... I wonder how long it took their big brother tribal council to levy a tax on their smokes?

Final Words

The more we delve into these Native American legends, the more intriguing they become. Their legends include accounts of creation and even the great flood which may seem to be pretty far out for most of us to accept or understand. But someone or something had to have put those thoughts and visions into the minds of these early inhabitants of our continent. Let's face it, even in this day and age, there are events and things that happen that we just can't quite explain.

Happy Trails,
Gary Miller

Additional Reading: Native American Indian Legends and Folklore

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