Sunday, December 29, 2019

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Legacy, part 2

If you recall from Part 1, many aspects of Pocahontas’s life continue to be debated and are relegated to innocuous data but her historical importance can’t be overstated. Many modern Powhatans felt her story had never been properly told and thought, in time, they would see the myths and misconceptions surrounding the life of Pocahontas dispelled and resolutely corrected. Instead they got Disney’s 1995 animated Pocahontas feature that represented an idealized version of what had become an already widely accepted myth.

To its credit, it was the latest in the studio’s ‘renaissance’ series of films and showcased impressive animation with at least some considerable attention to historic detail. But it was, concurrently, the first in their new assembly line of self-consciously ‘PC’ musical adventure-dramas presenting safe storybook portrayals of multicultural heroines(After complaints that the Arabian characters in their 1992 movie Aladdin were too light, the callow producers were literally adding extra shades to subsequent characters’ skin tones out of fears of denunciations or protests).

Most glaring was the obvious age difference of Pocahontas as she meets John Smith and experiences the events in her life. The writers stated that they “chose they socially responsible side” of depicting her as an adult romancing Smith and excluding John Rolfe, the man she actually loved, altogether.

The feature’s release was inevitably met with disappointment from many Powhatans. A notable objection was voiced by Chief Roy Crazy Horse, executive administrative director of the Powhatan Indians of Delaware Valley, New Jersey. Crazy Horse, an author, speaker, veteran and tribal leader felt the film’s historical inaccuracies were too numerous and that a disservice had been done to the Powhatan Nation. He claimed the tribe reached out to the studio to assist in their research and was ignored.

No doubt, Disney’s Pocahontas is a far cry from that of history and ultimately dwells on themes aimed at elite contemporary American fixations such as ethnocentrism, environmental concerns and schmaltzy songs with pet raccoons; and that’s not to mention tree spirits! Chief Crazy Horse was understandably concerned about the misrepresentation of his culture, but did he really expect the entertainment conglomerate to create an animated children’s musical out of the famed figure’s complex and turbulent life story?

In the early 1990s I interviewed Chief Crazy Horse as part of a paper I was writing for a college course. My instructor had asked me to interview an Indian, an aggravating task as I had no idea how to find someone of considerable American Indian descent. I also had reservations about doing so, as I didn’t think it would be appropriate to bother people with questions regarding their heritage for the purpose of some stranger’s term paper.

As luck would have it, though, I came across a news article on Chief Roy Crazy Horse, the tribal chief among chiefs at the Rankokus reservation, who had recently undergone heart surgery. I contacted the Chief and he was generous enough to agree to an interview where I asked some basic questions about his everyday life experiences, his religion and his attitudes on the current state of Indian affairs.

For some reason he responded bitterly and instead of entertaining any questions, complained about negative past experiences and petty grudges he held against a few people who had stereotyped him. I can’t say I really blame him for his feelings, knowing how immersed he was in his peoples’ often tumultuous and upsetting history.

“I have a car phone just like other people!” he remarked at one point. I don’t think I had ever seen a car phone at the time, let alone know anyone who had one. At one point, I casually used the term ‘Native American’, which he emphatically rejected.

“I’m an Indian!” he reminded me. That was something I found interesting. It’s yet another instance that obviates the ineptitude of political correctness. Too often we cling to these academia-manufactured terms, all the while forgetting that those in question should have the final say on what they are called. Indigenous people in the U.S. prefer the technical misnomer “Indian” to one forced upon us all which stresses our fears of not being inclusive and gives no connotation of their status as a proudly unique and independent people.

The Rankokus reservation, situated on 350 acres of land in Westampton, New Jersey was rented to the Powhatan Renape by the state in 1982. Leased to the tribe for free by the Department of Environmental Protection, the contract was met on a monthly basis, providing they could keep up with maintenance and insurance, building and fire code and environmental issues. Eventually inspectors found Chief Crazy Horse in violation of the lease’s terms after building, paving and cutting down trees without state consent.

After Crazy Horse’s years with Rankokus, the reservation fell into neglect and inactivity and the lease was not renewed. Today it remains a state park but tribal members continue to fight for state recognition for tribal rights to healthcare, education grants, scholarships and other member programs. For a time there was ongoing litigation from similar Indian nations and this led to the Powhatan Renape’s legal matters being ignored.

The Nanitoke Leni Lenape, a neighboring tribe, received benefits for 30 years until the state claimed on a federal survey that there were no official tribes in the state. It had been alleged that concerns over potential gaming and casino competition had hindered that progress. Now the state has settled to recognize both groups as official American Indian tribes. But weren’t they always?

Despite systematic attempts to destroy our confederation and our culture, the Powhatans have endured, proving our peoples’ strong will to preserve our heritage. Tribal affinities remain strong, distinctive religious beliefs and economic traditions continue to be practiced, and in spite of efforts to force our people to speak only English, the Powhatan language is still alive! -Chief Roy Crazy Horse

Chief Crazy Horse believed the Powhatan people survived and will always survive. In light of all the misfortune they have persevered through, that is a fair assessment. I learned of the Chief’s passing about a decade later in 2004 and I may have missed an opportunity to meet with him and talk again when I stopped by the reservation sometime in the mid-nineties. I would have liked to have heard his thoughts on the Disney issue. What is resolutely important is the opportunity to celebrate what remains, namely, a culture, a history and generations who will write the next chapter.

In Conclusion, the Chief’s unwavering loyalty to his heritage and his proud willingness to share his stories and culture through his teachings and writings is inspirational in itself. All tribes, nations and communities need those values reinforced even more than they need official recognition from governments or accurate depictions from the movie industry. In a hectic, political and technology-driven world, they can be the easiest values to forget.

Happy Holidays!
Christopher Robinson

> To read part 1: Click Here!

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Legacy, part 1

In South Jersey, a state park boasts numerous trails winding through woodlands, creeks and marshes, providing an ideal setting for hikers, joggers, animal lovers and bird-watchers. For 25 years it was home to the Powhatan Renape nation, a well-documented tribe from present-day Virginia, some of whose descendants settled in New Jersey in the late 19th Century. Although they no longer reside there, it remains a part of their history, just as their ancestors’ land was.

History and culture go hand- in-hand for indigenous people, and in some ways remembering one’s history is critical to understanding the present. Although the contemporary Powhatan Renape have had their share of crises and the loss of an influential leader, it is a continued source of hope and consolation that no culture is confined to any section of the earth while history itself is irrevocable regardless of how often it might be told or remembered improperly.

The Powhatans were a prosperous people in the New World who spoke the now-largely endangered Algonquin language. They migrated from Canada and settled in the Virginia territory in the 1300s, forming part of what was known as the Powhatan Confederacy. This chiefdom was named for the revered Chief Powhatan, the highest chief in the confederacy, who ruled over 14,000 Powhatans comprised of his own tribe and those Algonquin-speaking tribes he conquered.

The confederacy soon splintered into several migrating Indian nations on the East Coast and Powhatan’s tribe was henceforth known as the Powhatans. After their introduction to European Americans who established a settlement named Jamestown, it was only a matter of time before war, disease and intermarriage reduced their population and silenced their language and dialects.

A notable leader among the Jamestown settlers from London was explorer and soldier Captain John Smith, who wrote extensively of Chief Powhatan’s young daughter whose tribal name was Matoaka. Matoaka was born in the late 16th Century and was nicknamed Pocahontas, meaning ‘playful one.’ She befriended Smith during her regular visits to the settlement as a young child.

Pocahontas may or may not have spared Smith’s life by protesting his execution after he was kidnapped by the Powhatans. Smith certainly claimed this, yet it has been contested by many historians. What is unequivocal is that she contributed to a considerable period of tranquility between the Jamestown settlers and her people, among who she had influence as tribal royalty.

Soon afterward, however, Smith returned to England and his fellow settlers saw Jamestown ravaged by fire. Devastatingly, they succumbed to starvation as Indian attacks prohibited their hunting outside the settlement. Pocahontas then may have married a Patawomeck named Kocoum, though Kocoum could very well be a historical nonentity. The settlers by now had all but given up and just as they set sail to depart, Sir Thomas De La Warr, a baron appointed captain-general of the Virginia colonies, arrived and ordered the rebuilding of Jamestown.

After falling ill, his deputy, Sir Samuel Argall was given control of the colony. Upon learning of Pocahontas’s influence among the Powhatans, Argall kidnapped her and kept her aboard his ship until it sailed for England. Afterward, Pocahontas was baptized as a Christian and given the name Rebecca. In 1614, she married John Rolfe, one of the Virginia settlers who had taught her English, and they had a son, Thomas. The marriage was met by Chief Powhatan with approval and taken as a gesture of renewed peace between the colonists and his tribe.

In England, Pocahontas became a celebrated national figure, representing the good will desired between the colonists and the Indians before she sadly passed away in 1617. John Rolfe then returned to Jamestown and two years later Chief Powhatan had also died. Powhatan’s fiercer, more formidable brother, Opchanacanough, took over the chiefdom and resumed attacks on the settlements, ending the peaceful period. After he was kidnapped and killed (supposedly at 100 years of age), the English began forcing Powhatans onto reservations.

Many aspects of Pocahontas’s life continue to be debated and are relegated to innocuous data but her historical importance can’t be overstated. Many modern Powhatans felt her story had never been properly told and thought, in time, they would see the myths and misconceptions surrounding the life of Pocahontas dispelled and resolutely corrected. Instead they got this:

In part two, you will read about the real life Powhatan tribe as well as Christopher Robinson's interview with modern day Chief Roy Crazy Horse, late chieftain of the Powhatan tribe based in New Jersey. Be sure to tune in next week, Dec. 29th, at 8 a.m.

Happy Holidays
Christopher Robinson

> To read part 2: Click Here!

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

John Wayne on Lucy

The Collision of Two Worlds!

The ever popular western movie star, John Wayne--commonly called Duke--enjoyed playing comedy and was always game for some laughs with his friend, Lucille Ball. On two occasions, John Wayne memorably guested on Lucy’s popular TV shows, which you may or may not have seen (we featured one of them on WMD a few months ago). In any case, if you’re a fan of either of these entertainment legends, a look back will undoubtedly provide a few laughs and some enjoyable reminiscences.

I Love Lucy

While Lucy and hubby Ricky (Desi Arnaz) are living in Hollywood, Lucy perpetually screws up matters with high-profile showbiz types, many of whom Ricky must maintain suitable business relations with. Lucy’s rendezvous with Wayne was actually set up in the previous episode, thereby priming its audience for Wayne’s inevitable appearance.

This time around, the hi-jinks revolve around a slab of concrete outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with Wayne’s famed hand and boot imprints (Forty years later, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan use the same slab as a meeting place in Rush Hour).

First, Lucy and gal pal Ethel (Vivian Vance), noticing that the portentous chunk of concrete is loose, break it after lifting it out of its proper setting. The episode that actually features Wayne begins with the missing slab and the buzz it starts to create around town. The ladies continue to botch up the block as Ricky attempts to smooth things out with Wayne at the studio.

The whole debacle coincides with the premiere of Wayne’s new picture, Blood Alley, in reality, a movie Wayne initially tried to produce with his friend, Robert Mitchum as the lead, costarring with Lauren Bacall. (Side note: problems erupted between Wayne and Mitchum, leading to Mitchum’s dismissal and making Blood Alley another starring vehicle for Wayne).

The episode’s memorable scene occurs when Lucy wanders into Wayne’s dressing room to sneak out his boots in an attempt to forge a new cement block. There she finds him with his head under a towel, waiting for a massage as he takes her for the masseur. She plays the part as he starts in on a dirty joke with Lucy pretending to be a jaded male acquaintance going along with it all. Despite the obvious peculiarities (her voice and unfamiliarity with giving massages), he inexplicably fails to peek through the towel to check if anything unusual has happened. That might cut the knee-slapping hilarity short, after all, and we can’t have that!

Once the tangled web of deceit has commenced weaving, the broken block matter is resolved with Wayne accepting their apologies and going on his way. But… this legendary match-up wasn’t quite over yet.

The Lucy Show

Eleven years later, Lucy was starring in another successful prime-time sitcom, this one simply titled The Lucy Show. Again there was a fifth season and again it featured an episode titled Lucy and John Wayne where Lucy meets the Duke during the production of one of his pictures. This one amasses slightly more value for western fans. Not only is Wayne’s current project, The War Wagon, but the majority of the story concerns the shooting of a scene from that western. An evolving story line is notably scrapped this time around in favor of a basic framework for comedy gags.

After Lucy’s boss instructs her to drop off some papers at John Wayne’s office, she uses the material as a bargaining chip of sorts to snag a meeting with the actor. Her chance arrives when she stops in the studio commissary with her friend, Mary Jane (Mary Jane Croft). While they are there, Milton Berle literally does a walk-on for a brief burst of applause.

As a side note, I would have assumed he stuck around for a second block of shooting so they could do “Lucy and Milton Berle” with the same hackneyed plot. In actuality, she had already gone through the perfunctory bumbling star-struck fan routine with Uncle Miltie in a previous episode, Lucy Saves Milton Berle. Why did the comedian not remember her, and don’t you miss the days when a television personality of no biological relation, who you had never met, could qualify as a member of your family?.

After Wayne makes his grand entrance, Lucy invites herself to his table for some small talk and soon ruins his outfit and movie script with a condiment on the table. Wayne exits politely but unceremoniously as Lucy stays, retaining his script. She soon lucks out with a chance to return it when Mary Jane arranges for Lucy to stop by the movie set. There she meets Wayne’s director who has to remind her to stay out of their way which proves to be a project in itself.

Wayne and some other actors run through a typical saloon brawl scene but Lucy interrupts when a heavy played by Morgan Woodward throws a fake punch at Wayne. As the director loses all control of the scene, Wayne assures Lucy that he and the other actors are only pretending to fight and they have actually known each other for too many years to mention, having started out in the business together.

Note: Although some of the other performers shooting the scene worked with Wayne on several films, including the real War Wagon, Woodward did not. His true claim to fame was having appeared in more than 250 TV shows and movies with the record for guest appearances on Gunsmoke and Wagon Train! The six foot three, deep-voiced Woodward would certainly make for an ideal physical opponent. For authenticity purposes, however, Bob Steele would have been the proper choice as Wayne and Steele made many pictures together and went back as far as the silent days. Bob’s father, Robert North Bradbury, directed many of Wayne’s ‘Lone Star’ Monogram Pictures.

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Of particular curiosity is the director and crew referring to Wayne as “John,” a name every John Wayne fan knows he didn’t go by. Additionally, though The War Wagon is notable for pairing Wayne with Kirk Douglas, he is conspicuously absent, with The War Wagon’s production depicted solely as a ‘John Wayne’ picture.

Artistic liberties can certainly be forgiven as it’s all in the name of humor. Most of the jokes, in fact, involve Lucy talking after the crew begins shooting a rehearsed fight scene or squirting ketchup on Wayne’s costume. Okay, so these weren’t her most brilliant comedic moments. One will have to seek out Lucy and Ethel’s adventures in a chocolate factory and Lucy’s mishaps with a bread oven for real laughs. For sheer, once-in-a-lifetime, star-mingling and golden-age-TV posterity, however, these two television items won’t disappoint. Check them out and see for yourself. You’ll remember why we loved Lucy… as well as JW, her famous friend.

Happy Holidays
Christopher Robinson

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Custer's Last Battle

By Allan B. Colombo, WMD AuthorEditor’s Note: The study of George Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn is not an easy one by any means. No amount of work done by WMD writers could ever equal the thousands and thousands of pages written concerning Custer’s last battle at the Little Bighorn. We can, however, provide some interesting facts, some of which I had never heard before. --Al ColomboThe American Indian once lived a simple life. The "White Man" began to push westward, encroaching on their lands. The buffalo, perhaps the most cherished and necessary requirement for life by the "Red Man," became a highly monetized and sought after commodity among Whites as well. This caused the various Indian tribes to fight for what they believed to be their people’s most prized possession, aside from their religious beliefs and customs. Between a dwindling buffalo population, Whites trampling on their sacred burial grounds, and the loss of land, the table was set for violence between Red and White men of that era.

What investigators have found is that the official story of Custer's Last Stand and that which actually took place are not the same.

The consequence of this was a clash between the White Man and Indian--between two culturally diverse societies, if you will. The Indian sought retribution by attacking civilian settlers. As we know from history, the United States government sought to solve this problem by establishing Indian Reservations on which the various tribes were expected to live. When Native Americans resisted, the United States Cavalry was sent to intervene by forcing them onto assigned reservations.

In June of 1876, less than a month from the centennial celebration of the United States as a nation, Brevet Major-General George Armstrong Custer was ordered to locate the villages of the Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux who had fought General Crook at Rosebud Creek, Montana. It was in the bluffs near the Little Bighorn River that Custer fought his last and final battle.

Custer’s Early Childhood and Education

George Armstrong Custer, born on December 5, 1839, was raised in New Rumley, Ohio. Here he had two younger brothers, two sisters, and three older half-siblings. His father, Emanuel Custer (1806 - 1892), a middle class farmer and blacksmith, taught Custer and the rest of his brood about the reality of politics when he and his siblings were fairly young.

In the words of one historical writer, “Emanuel Custer was an outspoken Democrat who taught his children politics and toughness at an early age” (George Armstrong Custer” (

Thanks to the fact that one of George’s half sisters married a wealthy man, he lived with her in Monroe, Michigan, which is where he attended McNeely Normal School, which later became Hopedale Normal College. To help pay for his room and board, George carried coal for people. His first job after his graduation in 1856, was that of a teaching job in Cadiz, Ohio.

On July 1, 1857, George became a cadet in the class of 1862 at West Point. After four out of five years, he graduated on June 24, 1861. The 5-year program he participated in was cut short because of the Civil War. Although he was considered to have traits natural to commanding officers, his performance at West Point was anything but stellar. In fact, in a graduating class of 34 (there were 79 when they began), George finished dead last. According to historical accounts, 23 of his fellow students dropped out for academic reasons where 22 joined the Confederate Army.

Interesting enough, despite the fact that he had amassed 726 demerits over the course of his four years at West Point, he was accepted as an officer and cavalry commander. Some of his commanding officers recognized his leadership qualities, and so he was brevetted brigadier general at the age of 23.

Custer’s Meeting With Fate at the Little Bighorn

It was because the Sioux and Cheyenne’s altercation with General George Crook near the headwaters of Rosebud Creek that Custer was ordered by General Terry to locate the enemy’s encampments. The famous Chief Crazy Horse led the Sioux and Chiefs Two Moon, Spotted Wolf, and Young Two Moon led the Cheyenne.

General Terry had actually offered four additional companies to accompany him and his 655 men. But Custer declined, stating that he and his men “could whip any Indian village on the Plains.” By some accounts Custer had 750 men of which 261 men perished under his direct command.

Custer drove his men more than 70 miles to an overlook that was approximately 15 miles distant from the Indian encampment. Despite the fact that his men's horses were tired after a speedy 70-mile ride, and despite the fact that his regiment left behind a battery of Gatling guns and boxes of his officer's sabres, he made the order to engage the enemy.

Custer divided the 655 men under his command into three groups, sending them in three different directions with the intent of attacking the Indians from multiple directions, which could have worked if all had gone according to plan. The first group, containing 175 soldiers, was placed under the command of Major Reno; the second was placed under the care of Captain Benteen.

Reno's contingency was prepared to attack the southern end of the Indian encampment but came to realize that number of Indian warrior was far in excess of what was originally expected. What's more, these Indians did not turn tail and run when they caught sight of Reno's group. According to accounts, General Reno then sent a message to Custer. When he did not receive a reply, he decided to launch his attack in a northerly direction.

Movie: Custer's Last Stand, 1991

Reno quickly came to the conclusion that his decision might lead them into a trap, so he decided to fire on the Indian village. However, after nearly 20 minutes, there was only one causality, and yet the reinforcements that Custer had promised had yet to show up. Because Reno and Benteen were unable to join Custer at the assigned time, and perhaps because General Terry was late to arrive, Custer ultimately found himself face to face with more than 4,000 angry Indian warriors.

The End But Not the Conclusion

It was there that Brevet Major-General George Armstrong Custer lost his life, along with his two brothers, a brother-in-law, and a nephew.

Here's where the story gets sketchy and difficult to understand. Evidently Custer was later found among the dead shot in the chest and a bullet hole in the temple of his head. Where most if not all of the other men were mutilated and many left unrecognizable, Custer's body was left intact. Some say that Custer actually took his own life.

Accounts collected later from the Indian warriors who fought on the battlefield said that there were more than one Custer present. According to Steve Busch, author of History Revisited -- Digging for the truth, "Beard told my grandfather that there were many “Custers” on the battlefield that day. Beard claimed that several Calvary officers were wearing buckskins and big hats, and some had even donned blonde wigs" (

According to historic accounts, Major Reno and Captain Benteen were saved by General Terry. President Grant issued a statement regarding the loss, "I regard Custer's Massacre as a sacrifice of troops, brought on by Custer himself, that was wholly unnecessary."

After Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn, General Terry allowed himself to receive unmerited criticism of the tragic event. He chose this course of action in order to maintain Custer’s reputation. In the end, he ordered the court-martial of Major Reno. As a result, Terry did not engage in battle ever again.

" In 1886, he was promoted to major general and was given command of the Division of the Missouri, headquartered in Chicago.Terry became seriously ill in 1888, retired from the army, and died two years later in 1890 in New Haven, Connecticut, where he is buried in Grove Street Cemetery" (Alfred Terry – Fighting the South and the Indians, Legends of America, Legends of America).

Custer's Last Stand | The Wild West | BBC Documentary

In conclusion, because the Battle of Little Bighorn is one of the most studied and written about military campaign of its time, WMD has assembled a variety of information resources for your own personal use. Many are in depth while others not so. We'll visit the issue of General George Custer again in the future, but for now, you have plenty of reading materials to keep you busy.

Additionally, read: Grant’s Indian Wars & the Little Bighorn.
Editor's Note: As always, we welcome you to visit our Weblog on a routine basis ( as well as share your thoughts, comments, and recommendations on how to make WMD even better. You can use the comment box at the end of each story or I welcome you to send us an email: I look forward to hearing from you! --Al ColomboAdditional Reading:

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