by Jack Nilan            EMail :

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)

Jack   B

IMDB    5.7

Tribe(s) : Sioux

Language : English


   This movie had a lot of potential. The idea behind it was great. We have two icons of the Old West who really did work together and represented two totally different views of the American story. We had Buffalo Bill who is presenting "History by the Winners" in his Wild West Show and we had a dignified Sitting Bull who is refusing to go along with.

   Many of the events and people in the movie are real. Sitting Bull was allowed to leave the reservation and join Buffalo Bill's show, receiving $50 a week for riding once around the arena. He did shake hands with President Grover Cleveland. He left the show and returned to the reservation after four months.

   There were some good quotes in the movie. Sitting Bull's translator William Halsey said: "Sitting Bull says that history is nothing more than disrespect for the dead". He also said, "Sitting Bull no longer accepts promises from white men."

   Perhaps the most telling lines in the movie were by Annie Oakley and Bill. Annie said (about Sitting Bull) "He wanted to show the truth to the people. Why can't you accept that just once?" Bill answers, "I have a better sense of history than that".

   What Buffalo Bill said is really interesting. History is subjective and it is also usually written by the winners. People are not always interested in hearing the truth. If they were the movies made about Native Americans would have been much different. Movies and history are often created for the target audience.

   This movie had a great idea behind it but it doesn't quite work. The idea of the mythologizing of the Old West is explored more effectively in Fort Apache, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Unforgiven. This movie could have been as great as those, particularly in light of the fact that it was based on real events. However, the movie never quite reaches its potential.