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The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

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The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

5/5 (8 évaluations)
597 pages
10 heures
Feb 19, 2013


New York Times Bestseller

Named one of the best books of the year by:
The Guardian
Library Journal

The true story behind the classic Western The Searchers by Pulitzer Prize-wining writer Glenn Frankel that the New York Times calls "A vivid, revelatory account of John Ford's 1956 masterpiece."

In 1836 in East Texas, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanches. She was raised by the tribe and eventually became the wife of a warrior. Twenty-four years after her capture, she was reclaimed by the U.S. cavalry and Texas Rangers and restored to her white family, to die in misery and obscurity. Cynthia Ann's story has been told and re-told over generations to become a foundational American tale. The myth gave rise to operas and one-act plays, and in the 1950s to a novel by Alan LeMay, which would be adapted into one of Hollywood's most legendary films, The Searchers, "The Biggest, Roughest, Toughest... and Most Beautiful Picture Ever Made!" directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

Glenn Frankel, beginning in Hollywood and then returning to the origins of the story, creates a rich and nuanced anatomy of a timeless film and a quintessentially American myth. The dominant story that has emerged departs dramatically from documented history: it is of the inevitable triumph of white civilization, underpinned by anxiety about the sullying of white women by "savages." What makes John Ford's film so powerful, and so important, Frankel argues, is that it both upholds that myth and undermines it, baring the ambiguities surrounding race, sexuality, and violence in the settling of the West and the making of America.
Feb 19, 2013

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  • Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross: Indian fighter, Confederate general, governor of Texas, and self-proclaimed rescuer of Cynthia Ann Parker at the Pease River massacre of December 1860.

Aperçu du livre

The Searchers - Glenn Frankel

For Betsyellen Yeager


Myths are neither true nor untrue, but the product and process of man’s yearning. As such, they’re the most primal thing bonding us to other people. Yet the phenomenon is much more than a snake feeding on its own tail. Myths gather momentum because they provide hope.



Introduction: Pappy (Hollywood, 1954)


Cynthia Ann

1. The Girl (Parker’s Fort, 1836)

2. The Captives (Comancheria, 1836)

3. The Uncle (Texas, 1837–52)

4. The Rescue (Pease River, 1860)

5. The Prisoner (Texas, 1861–71)



6. The Warrior (Comancheria, 1865–71)

7. The Surrender (Comancheria, 1874–75)

8. The Go-between (Fort Sill, 1875–86)

9. The Chief (Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1887–92)

10. Mother and Son (Cache, Oklahoma, 1892–1911)

11. The Legend (Oklahoma and Texas, 1911–52)


Alan Lemay

12. The Author (Hollywood, 1952)

13. The Novel (Pacific Palisades, California, 1953)


Pappy and the Duke

14. The Director (Hollywood, 1954)

15. The Actor (Hollywood, 1954)

16. The Production (Hollywood, 1955)

17. The Valley, Part One (Monument Valley, June 1955)

18. The Valley, Part Two (Monument Valley, June–July 1955)

19. The Studio (Hollywood, July–August 1955)

20. The Movie (Hollywood, 1956)

21. The Legacy (Hollywood, 1956–2010)

Epilogue (Quanah, Texas, June 2011)


Photograph Credits

Note on Sources



A Note on the Author

By the Same Author

Also Available from Glenn Frankel


Pappy (Hollywood, 1954)

The most disastrous moment of John Ford’s illustrious Hollywood career took place at the U.S. Navy base on Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean in September 1954. The legendary film director was starting work on Mister Roberts, the movie version of the fabulously successful Broadway play, starring his old friend Henry Fonda. It should have been a great project: directing a comedy about Ford’s beloved Navy with one of his favorite stars, surrounded by his informal stock company of familiar supporting actors and film crew members, with a script by his trusted screenwriter, Frank S. Nugent. What could go wrong?

Almost everything, as it turned out. The biggest problem, surprisingly, was Fonda. Ford had gone to bat for him against the studio executives at Warner Brothers. They had wanted a younger, sexier, and more potent box office attraction like Marlon Brando or William Holden for the title role of Doug Roberts, a young Navy officer consigned to a backwater cargo ship during World War Two and desperate to see combat before the war ends. But Ford had insisted that Fonda, despite being forty-nine, owned the part after playing it to great acclaim for four years on Broadway, and even Jack Warner felt compelled to agree. Fonda was grateful; in a Dear Pappy letter he expressed his appreciation that he was working again with the complicated genius who had directed him in Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, The Fugitive, and Fort Apache. "It’s so absolutely right that you are going to do the picture," Fonda gushed.

Nonetheless, from the moment they got to the location, the two men clashed. Fonda didn’t like Nugent’s script, felt it was neither as funny nor as nuanced as the original play, and didn’t care for the excessive physical comedy and coarse broad strokes of Ford’s direction. The Navy opened its gates to the film company: no one in uniform dared to say no to retired admiral John Ford, a decorated World War Two veteran. But on the first day of shooting at Midway, Fonda was disturbed by the way Ford rushed through the scenes and discomfited costar William Powell, who had trouble adjusting to Ford’s swift, one-take-and-let’s-move-on pace. Ford, who dominated his film sets the way Louis XIV presided over the court at Versailles, could not help but notice Fonda’s worried expression.

At the end of the day, producer Leland Hayward arranged for a clear-the-air meeting in Ford’s room in the bachelor officers’ quarters. Ford was sprawled on a chaise longue with a tall drink in his hand. The conversation was short.

I understand you’re not happy with the work, said Ford.

Fonda tried to be diplomatic. "Pappy, you know I love you, Fonda began, and then went on to explain that the play had special meaning for him and Hayward. It has a purity that we don’t like to see lost. And I’m confessing that I’m not happy with that first scene with Powell."

Ford had heard enough. Without warning, he sprang from the lounge chair, reared back, and punched Fonda in the face. The actor fell backwards, knocking over a pitcher of water, got up, and fled the room in stunned silence. Fifteen minutes later, Ford knocked on Fonda’s door and stumbled through a tearful, abject apology. Fonda says he accepted on the spot, but things after that were never the same. Ford was a lifelong alcoholic who prided himself on staying sober during a film shoot, but now he started grimly working his way through a case of chilled beer each day on the set. Sometimes, when Ford was too wasted to go on, either Fonda or Ward Bond, another old Ford crony who had a minor role in the picture, finished up the day’s filming.

A few weeks later, soon after the film company returned to Hollywood, Ford was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital for emergency gall bladder surgery. Mervyn LeRoy took over and finished the picture. Mister Roberts was a box office hit, and won three Academy Awards, including Jack Lemmon’s first, for best supporting actor. But Ford and Fonda were both bitterly disappointed with the film and with each other. They never worked together again.

John Ford emerged from the Roberts debacle weakened physically and emotionally. He was sixty, a smoker and a drinker, and in poor health. He had had cataract surgery on both eyes a year before, feared he was going blind, and now wore a black patch over his blurred left eye. His beloved older brother Francis was dying of cancer, and the modest but comfortable house on Odin Street where Ford and his wife, Mary, had lived for thirty years and raised their two children was about to be demolished under a city order to help create a parking lot for the new Hollywood Bowl. Even before Mister Roberts, his most recent films had proven to be unsatisfying ventures for him. Even Mogambo (1953), a box-office hit starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly, left him worn-out and frustrated with the studio, the actors, and his own flagging health. Ford’s world—which he had carefully organized to serve his immense personal needs and protect him from those outside forces he could not control—seemed to be caving in. It was clear, wrote Maureen O’Hara, another of the recurring cast of actors who both worshipped and feared him, that John Ford was going through changes and that they were terrible ones.

Still, Ford wasn’t finished. As he tried to put back together the pieces of his damaged career following the humiliation of Mister Roberts, he turned to what he knew and loved best.

The Western had been John Ford’s favorite movie genre ever since he first arrived in Hollywood forty years earlier in the formative days of moving pictures, and he had made nearly fifty Westerns during the course of his career. There was something about a man riding a horse through the rugged landscape, Ford liked to say, that made it the most natural subject for a movie camera. He loved telling stories of cowboys and Indians and cavalrymen, and he loved taking his company of actors, cameramen, wranglers, and stuntmen on location to Monument Valley along the Utah-Arizona border, famous for its scenic beauty and its utter remoteness, far from the reach of the studio money men and their regiments of sycophantic retainers. There he would harangue and abuse his loyal crew, bend them to his will, and inspire them to do their finest work. And he loved working with John Wayne, his favorite actor and occasional whipping boy. Under Ford’s demanding and meticulous direction, Wayne had become America’s most iconic Western star: the solitary, taciturn man on horseback, true to his own code and adept with his fists and his guns. They were like father and son, wise old mentor and humble pupil, with Wayne in the subordinate role even after he became the country’s top box-office attraction.

John Ford at Monument Valley, June 1955, during The Searchers film shoot.

No surprise, then, that Ford once introduced himself to a roomful of fellow directors by declaring, "My name is John Ford and I make Westerns." The genre was at the core of his identity.

And now, at the moment of Ford’s greatest need, his longtime friend and business partner, Merian C. Cooper, came up with the idea for a Western he thought John Ford would find irresistible.

THE SEARCHERS, a new novel by the author and screenwriter Alan LeMay, was a captivity narrative set in Texas during pioneer days, and it was rich with strong characters, dramatic scenes, and an undercurrent of sexual obsession. It was based in part on a true story: the abduction of a nine-year-old girl in eastern Texas in 1836 by Comanche raiders who slaughtered her father, grandfather, and uncle, and kidnapped her and four other young people. Cynthia Ann Parker had been raised by her captors and became the wife of a Comanche warrior and mother of three. James Parker, her uncle, a backwoodsman and devout Baptist who possessed a dubious set of morals and an abiding hatred for Indians, searched eight years for her and her fellow captives—one of them his own daughter Rachel—and helped recover four of the missing.

But not Cynthia Ann. She lived with the Comanches for twenty-four years, until she was recaptured in 1860 by the U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers in another murderous raid and restored to her white relatives. Kept apart from her Comanche family, she died in misery and obscurity. But her surviving son, Quanah, became one of the last great warriors and later on an apostle of reconciliation, helping preserve the remnants of the Comanche nation and invoking the spirit of his dead mother to preach peace and understanding between whites and Native Americans. The two sides of the Parker family—one of them Texan, the other Comanche—still honored the legacy of their distant ancestors at family reunions and had even begun sending emissaries to each other’s events.

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker had been told and retold, altered and reimagined, by each generation to fit its own needs and sensibility, until fact and fiction had blended together to form a foundational American myth about the winning of the West. Cynthia Ann, in the version published and passed down by Texas historians, became a romantic and tragic figure, rescued from savages but doomed to unhappiness because the barbarians had corrupted her soul by subjecting her to a fate worse than death: sexual relations with Indians. Her half-white son was the Noble Savage who led his childlike people down the path to civilization. There were other accounts, compiled mostly by female relatives, that paint a sadder and more complex portrait of mother and son. But those accounts were never published and remain scattered and un-annotated in the American History archives at the University of Texas at Austin.

The legend gave rise to a prairie opera, one-act plays, fanciful narratives, and fables—and in 1954 to Alan LeMay’s powerful novel, one of the best Westerns of its era. LeMay moved the original story forward some thirty years to the late 1860s, when Comanche power was waning, added elements from other captivity narratives he had compiled, and turned the focus from the female captive to two relatives—her uncle and her adopted brother—who spend seven years searching for her.

Ford, a voracious reader who was steeped in the history of the American West, had once commissioned a screenplay about Quanah for a film that never got made. Now he read LeMay’s novel and saw its cinematic possibilities. Ford had Cooper quickly arrange for Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, a scion of two massive family fortunes who was looking to get into the movie business, to acquire the screen rights on his behalf. Leveraging Whitney’s money, Cooper made a deal with Warner Brothers for additional financing and distribution rights, and Ford and his crew set out for Monument Valley.

The movie Ford sought to make had all the elements of the classic Western—a harsh and stunningly beautiful setting, hardy settlers, stoic pioneer women, brutal and rapacious Indians, and a hard, relentless protagonist who stalks the frontier like an angry lion on a mission of vengeance. It was, as the publicity posters proclaimed, THE BIGGEST, ROUGHEST, TOUGHEST … AND MOST BEAUTIFUL PICTURE EVER MADE! But Ford also celebrated the frontier community and its rituals—its weddings, family meals, square dances, and funerals—the coming together of hardworking people to share their triumphs and humor and mourn their losses. The Searchers was not just an adventure story but a parable about the conquest of the American frontier.

But while The Searchers pays homage to the familiar themes of the classic Western, it also undermines them. Its central character possesses all of the manly virtues and dark charisma of the Western hero yet is tainted by racism and crazed by revenge, his quest fueled by hatred. His goal is not to restore his lost niece to the remnants of their broken family but to kill her, because she has grown into a young woman and has become a Comanche bride and, willingly or not, has had sex with Indians. He is bent on enforcing sexual and racial purity by performing an honor killing as twisted and remorseless as any carried out in the medieval recesses of the Middle East.

Ford was a storyteller who loved to create and manipulate myths, and as he grew older and more complex, he loved to challenge them as well, reaffirming the audience’s deepest conventional wisdom and then gently shattering it. Despite all of his personal setbacks, he rose to the height of his creative powers in The Searchers. He is responsible for the film’s visual poetry—its skill in moving from the intimacy of domestic interiors and family life to the terrible beauty of the gothic sandstone cathedrals and vast, obliterating plains of Monument Valley—as well as its deep and passionate emotions.

At the heart of The Searchers is John Wayne’s towering performance as Ethan Edwards. Despite his reputation for knowing how to play only the righteous hero, Wayne had portrayed morally ambiguous men before, most notably the autocratic trail boss in Red River (1948) and the brutish Marine sergeant in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). But in The Searchers he is darker, angrier, and more troubled than ever. This dark knight is determined to exterminate the damsel and anyone who stands in his way. He shoots the eyes out of a Comanche Indian corpse, scalps another dead Indian, disrupts a funeral service, fires at warriors collecting their dead and wounded from the battlefield, and slaughters a buffalo herd to deprive Comanche families of food for the winter. Still, because he is played by John Wayne, we identify with Ethan’s quest even as we recoil from his purpose. His charisma draws us in, making us complicit in his terrible vendetta.

"Wayne is plainly Ahab, writes the cultural critic Greil Marcus. He is the good American hero driving himself past all known limits and into madness, his commitment to honor and decency burned down to a core of vengeance."

Largely overlooked in its time—it was not nominated for a single Academy Award—The Searchers has become recognized as one of the greatest of Hollywood movies. It was extraordinarily influential on a generation of modern American filmmakers—from Steven Spielberg to George Lucas to Martin Scorsese—imprinting itself on their psyches and their ambitions during their formative years. "It was a sacred feeling, recalled Scorsese, who first saw the film at age thirteen, seeing that movie on that big screen." The film was also the forerunner of the postmodern wave of introspective Westerns—from Ford’s own The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992)—that dissect the values and assumptions of the genre even while honoring them. Just as Ernest Hemingway noted that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn, film critic Stuart Byron once declared, in the same broad sense it can be said that all recent American cinema derives from John Ford’s The Searchers."

Like Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese, I, too, was entranced by The Searchers as a boy coming of age in the 1960s. Everything about it thrilled and frightened me. Wayne’s command of the screen, his terrifying anger, and his unpredictable blend of affection and derision toward his young nephew and fellow Searcher, played by Jeffrey Hunter, at times reminded me of my own father. There was dust and grit in every scene, and even the gunshot sounds seemed sharper and more real than in other Westerns. And the climactic moment when the uncle chases down his niece and must decide whether to wreak his terrible revenge made me weep with fear and pleasure.

But what entranced me most were the Comanches. They make only a few appearances in the film, yet they are the psychological terror in the night that haunts the white settlers, and they haunted me as well. Ford’s portrait of them is mostly one-dimensional: Indians in The Searchers are for the most part murderers and rapists, and some critics have accused the film of practicing the same racism it purports to condemn. Yet Ford also grants Indians their humanity: the evil war chief Scar justifies his campaign of murder and abduction as revenge for the killing of his own two sons by whites. The aftermaths of two massacres are depicted in the film, with the burning farmhouse where a pioneer family has been slaughtered in the first act of the story balanced later by a burning Indian village strewn with the corpses of men, women, and children mowed down by soldiers. And even as a boy I could see that when Ethan Edwards finally confronts Scar, the two warriors share a mutual hatred that binds them in a fatal embrace.

I grew up to become a journalist, and my travels as foreign correspondent for the Washington Post took me to the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like the Plains Indian wars, this, too, was an intimate war of populations in which women and children were both victims and participants. Each side saw the struggle, in Kipling’s imperial phrase, as a Savage War of Peace in which only one could triumph and the loser must be exterminated physically or culturally or both.

When I came home in 2006, I came back to The Searchers. It was the fiftieth anniversary of the film’s release and a time of critical acclaim and retrospection. Yet while critics celebrated Ford’s cinematic mastery, what struck me as an even greater achievement was his ability to weave myth and truth into a seamless fabric.

As the movie ends, Ford pivots back to the young woman at the heart of the legend, played by the luminous sixteen-year-old Natalie Wood. We first see her as a silent servant in the teepee of the war chief who abducted her and butchered her family. Then she appears as a dark speck at the top of a golden sand dune, slowly moving toward us and her would-be rescuers as she plunges down the hill. At first she insists she wants to stay with the Comanches who have raised her and who she says are now her people. Later, however, she passively accepts her rescue and the embrace first of her adopted brother and then of white civilization, even while her expression remains wary and uncertain.

In The Searchers she is the idealized passive damsel, dressed like a Hollywood Pocahontas in buckskins, beads and feathers. But the real Cynthia Ann Parker, abducted by Indians as a child on a sunny spring morning and recaptured by soldiers on a cold December morning twenty-four years later, was a frightened and bewildered victim of war who watched in horror as friends and relatives were slaughtered by both sides. The making of an American legend begins with her, on a small, fortified farm in East Texas, where her pioneer family and an Indian raiding party meet in a primitive clash of civilizations.


Cynthia Ann


The Girl (Parker’s Fort, 1836)

For three months they had trekked south from Illinois—some two hundred men, women, and children and twenty-five ox-drawn wagons, crossing the vast, alarming Mississippi near what is now the town of Chester, Missouri, tethered to long rafts like papooses strapped tightly to their mothers’ backs, then navigating the tenuous Southwest Trail through Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, a virgin landscape of rolling hills, deep valleys, and thick marshes. Because the wagons had no suspension to quell the jarring of deep furrows in the rough-cut dirt pathway, few of the pilgrims rode inside; instead they plodded on foot alongside the wagons with a steady, determined pace. The teamsters walked alongside as well, cajoling the oxen teams with a rhythmic monologue punctuated by the periodic crack of the whip, the entire wagon train a noisy, hesitant organism pulling itself toward an unseen destination, a colony with a name both blunt and mysterious: Texas.

The trek had a dual purpose: a fresh start on fertile soil for yeomen who relied upon the earth for sustenance and survival; but also a way and means to reconsecrate their covenant with God. Each Saturday evening as the autumn sun retreated, the pilgrims stopped to pitch tents and prepare for a Sabbath of worship and rest under the vigilant instruction of the Reverend Daniel Parker, farmer, politician, Indian fighter, and raw-boned Baptist preacher. "Thus was the wilderness—the home of the Savage and the wild beasts of the forest—made vocal with hymns of praise to the most high God, by this pilgrim brand of christians," wrote James W. Parker, Daniel’s devoted younger brother.

In mid-November they reached the brown, placid Sabine River, bordered by pine trees as tall and erect as sentinels, and crossed over into Texas. They camped that first evening, November 12, 1833, near San Augustine, twenty miles deep inside their new promised land, just in time for one of the most awesome celestial events in human history.

On the Night the Stars Fell, the heavens blazed with shooting stars as large as moons trailing clouds of bluish light like divine afterthoughts. Although well past midnight, the bright burning sky illuminated the wide, awestruck faces of the pilgrims as if it were high noon. For some of them, already predisposed to millennial visions, it was impossible not to detect the hand of God. The old women seemed to think the Day of Judgment had come like a thief in the night, recalled Garrison Greenwood, Daniel Parker’s first cousin.

Daniel was equally stunned. Was God blessing their journey, or was He warning of dangers ahead? Daniel, within whom zealotry and common sense waged a ceaseless struggle, could not say for sure. But after the celestial light show he and his followers could not sleep. "The remainder of the night was spent in prayer," Greenwood recalled.

It was a fitting moment in the long spiritual and geographical journey of the preacher, his family, and his flock. The Parkers, after all, believed in omens, sought miracles, and created narratives out of the sky, the wind, and the weather.

As they traveled deeper and deeper into the American wilderness, they fashioned their own myth to fit their religious beliefs and their patriotic fervor, a myth in which the Lord and the Land were seamlessly interwoven. Although they seldom wrote it down, they were storytellers whose most compelling characters were themselves. According to the broad brushstrokes of their self-portrait, they were God’s righteous pilgrims, preaching His gospel and living their lives according to His commandments. They were children of the Second Great Awakening, a burst of passionate, postmillennial fervor that inflamed the hearts, minds, and imaginations of Americans who believed they had a special mission and that their own good deeds and the rise of a great new nation would somehow hasten the day when Christ would return to rule the earth. And they were pioneers—rough-hewn, self-sufficient, beholden to no one but God—spreading their brand of civilization to a richly abundant but untamed territory. They were the living reality of George Caleb Bingham’s painting of Daniel Boone, like a frontier Moses, escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap to the promised land.

The Parkers had come to the American colonies a century earlier, refugees from the hierarchical but unstable world of seventeenth-century England. They were a restless, unschooled, and unruly clan, one of many that drove inland from the Atlantic seaboard in the years after the Revolutionary War shattered British colonial rule and kicked open the gates to western settlement.

The patriarch, Elder John Parker, was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1758, moved to Culpeper County in the Virginia piedmont in the 1770s, and served two militia hitches with his younger brother in the War of Independence. Elder John moved to Georgia in 1785 in search of richer farmland and more pious brethren. There he unsuccessfully sought to start a cotton farm, then headed west, first to Tennessee in 1803 and then to Illinois in 1824—the Bible in one hand and the reins of the future in the other, as a family history proclaims. Along the way he acquired a wife, eight sons, four daughters, and a primitive brand of Calvinism. He also acquired the nickname Squealing Johnny for his emphatic sermonizing. But his reputation for piety was mixed. The minutes of Turnbull Church in Dickson County, Tennessee, record that on April 7, 1809, John Parker came before the elders to acknowledge the sin of drunkenness. The Church agreed to wait with him awhile, they noted. Another entry suggests that he was excommunicated after accusations of betting on a horse race.

By the time he got to Coles County in southeastern Illinois, John Parker called himself a Two-Seed Baptist Traveling Preacher. He held the first church service in the history of the county in his own log cabin with eleven people in attendance—the entire adult white population. He once closed a sermon with the announcement that he would be back again "to preach at that place, that day in four weeks if it was not a good day for bee hunting."

The Parkers were the thin edge of a rough-hewn frontier movement—not so much the paragons of civilization but, as Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach put it, civilization’s heroic and necessary vanguard. A less forgiving observer might say they failed their way west. In each place they settled, they eventually wore out their soil and their welcome, then moved on to what looked like a better opportunity. They had little formal schooling. Daniel, the eldest child, born in Virginia in 1781 but raised in Georgia, said he grew up without an education, except to read in the New Testament, but very imperfect. He added, To this day I have never examined the English Grammar five minutes, neither do I understand even one rule in the Arithmetic. In his youth, he later wrote, he ranged the woods as a hunter, nearly as much in company with Indians as with the whites. James Parker, the ninth child and sixth son, born in Georgia in 1797, said he was raised a back woodsman … the advantages for obtaining an education being very limited, I was not enabled to do more than learn to read. His own great pleasures, he reported, lay elsewhere: hunting, fishing, and trapping.

Daniel and James emerged as the natural leaders of the new generation of Parkers. They left no photographs and few physical descriptions, but the impression they made on others was often enduring. Ordained in Tennessee in 1806, Daniel preached the gospel even though it was largely unpaid work. He farmed at night so that he would be free to sermonize during the day, and he rode a suffering, unshod horse for two years because he could not afford horseshoes. "Farming was my only way to make a support, he wrote. I avoided everything like trade or traffic, lest I should bring reproach on the tender cause of God."

Some found him enchanting. James Ross, a church elder, was unmoved by Daniel’s physical appearance—"a small, dry-looking man, of the gipsy [sic] type, with black eyes and hair and dark complexion—nor by the ritual he performed before sermonizing: pulling off his coat and vest and laying them carefully on the pulpit, and unbuttoning his short collar as if preparing for fisticuffs. After this preparation it is almost incredible with what ease and fluency he spoke, Ross wrote. He seemed full of his subject, and went through it in a way that was truly wonderful."

Others were appalled. John Mason Peck, a rival Baptist minister in Illinois, depicted Daniel as "without education, uncouth in manners, slovenly in dress, diminutive in person, unprepossessing in appearance, with shriveled features and a small piercing eye … with a zeal and enthusiasm bordering on insanity."

Daniel was devout, passionate, and demanding—an evangelical preacher in constant search of a new pulpit; James entrepreneurial, opportunistic, and impetuous—a land speculator, horse trader, and perhaps much worse. And as James idolized Daniel, so did Silas Parker, born in Tennessee in 1804, seem to worship his older brother James, following him faithfully down dangerous paths.

They were tribesmen and warriors, just one tenuous step removed from barbarism. Not so different, in truth, from the native peoples they fought along the way. In the story the Parkers and their fellow frontiersmen were creating about the conquest of the West, Indians were the Other—inhuman, barbaric, and easily manipulated. Even in the Declaration of Independence, among some of history’s most ringing celebrations of the human spirit, Thomas Jefferson evoked the evil specter of Indians, accusing George III of having endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

John Parker, one of the brothers, was killed by Delaware Indians near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1811. James wrote that his brother’s death "awakened in me feelings of the most bitter hostility towards the Indians, and I firmly resolved upon and impatiently awaited for an opportunity to avenge his death."

Daniel and his younger brother Isaac served in the Tennessee volunteer militia of General Andrew Jackson under a young commander named Sam Houston, vanquishing Creek Indians allied with the British during the War of 1812. Indians and settlers traded massacres and retribution in an escalating spiral of bloody deeds. The Creeks carried out a brutal massacre at Fort Mims in Alabama in August 1813, slaughtering more than 250 volunteers and their families, mutilating women, and smashing small children’s heads against the stockade walls. At Tallushatchee and Talladega, Jackson and his men took their revenge. "We now shot them down like dogs," boasted one of the volunteers, the soon-to-be legendary David Crockett. The myth of Indian fighters Jackson, Houston, and Crockett was born.

Daniel, the most impassioned preacher among the Parkers, was the most successful politician as well. He served as a state assemblyman for two terms in Illinois. Church and state were separate in practice as well as principle in the early days of the American republic, and Daniel’s published appeal for votes made no mention of his religious beliefs. His neighbors described him as a man of truth and as a man of talents and of liberal and Republican principles. In 1823 he and fourteen other Illinois lawmakers banded together to block an attempt to legalize slavery in the state.

Still, his Calvinism was anything but liberal, embracing a fierce, unyielding vision of mankind as pathetic and weak, devoid of free will, and incapable of virtue. It was a hard faith that mistrusted human nature as sinful and easily corrupted. "We believe that God created man good and upright, his church constitution proclaimed, but that man by his sins and transgressions has become dead in trespasses and sins and is utterly unable to change his own heart, or to deliver himself from the fallen depraved state which he has fallen into under the influence of the Power of Darkness."

* * *

TEXAS SEEMED VAST ENOUGH to hold the Parker clan and their visions. American settlers had been trickling in since the early 1800s, but in 1824 the Mexican government officially opened the province to foreign immigration. Every able-bodied white man could claim 4,428 acres for just thirty dollars in one of the privately owned colonies that the Mexican authorities had sanctioned in hopes of creating a buffer between their small communities and hostile Indian tribes to the north. Stephen F. Austin, a young Virginia-born lawyer living in New Orleans who became an authorized empresario for the first colony, sang the praises of the gently rolling land between the burgeoning new town of Nacogdoches and the Sabine River: "The grass is more abundant and of a ranker and more luxuriant growth than I have ever seen before in any country and is indicative of a strong rich soil."

Like the Parkers, many of the newcomers were farmers who hauled their families and livestock to the new frontier seeking a fresh start on free land. The new American peasantry was hardworking, self-sufficient, and resolutely egalitarian: they shook hands rather than bowed. Many were refugees from the Panic of 1819, when the fledgling American banking system had collapsed and thousands of smallholders lost their farms. Gone to Texas became a familiar sign hung on the doors of log cabins across the South. Alongside the pioneers were men of greater ambitions and lesser repute, gamblers and adventurers like James Bowie, a Kentucky-born slave trader, Indian fighter, smuggler, and land speculator; William Barret Travis, an Alabama lawyer fleeing serious debts and an unfaithful wife; and Crockett himself, seeking new fortune and redemption after losing his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. And some were far worse. "A great number of the foreigners who have entered the frontier are vicious and wild men with evil ways, reported Mexican general Manuel de Mier y Terán, who led a fact-finding mission to the colony in 1827. Some of them are fugitive criminals from the neighboring republic; within our borders they create disturbances and even criminal acts."

James W. Parker was restless in Illinois—that country being very sickly, he reported after three of his nine children died of fever—and always looking for new pastures. He was the first Parker to visit Texas; in 1831 he explored the forested eastern half, riding through areas teeming with wild game and fertile soil, and lived for a season along the Colorado River, which began in the High Plains of what is now the Texas Panhandle and flowed southeast to Matagorda Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Hostile Indians, as always, were a problem: James noted that several of his neighbors were killed during his stay; one of them, a Mr. Wilbarger, "was literally shot to pieces, scalped and left as dead." Still, James traveled back to Illinois with a positive report for his brothers. He returned to Texas two years later with his wife and six children and three of his brothers: Daniel, Benjamin, and Joseph. Younger brother Silas came separately.

Doctrinal battles with Methodists and his fellow Baptists in Illinois had taken their toll on Daniel, and he was ready for a new spiritual home. The laws of Catholic-dominated Mexico forbade the organization of a new Protestant church within its borders, but they did not prohibit Protestants from bringing in a preexisting church from outside. He founded the Pilgrim Predestinarian Regular Baptist Church on August 11, 1833, in his house in Crawford County, with himself as moderator and six other members, then set out the next day for Texas with all six and their families, along with his father and brothers. Before he left for Texas, Elder John applied for and received a government pension of $80 per month for his Revolutionary War service.

Thirteen of Daniel’s constituents in Illinois signed a character certificate that he carried with him to the new colony; Daniel Parker, they averred, was "an honest man and a good citizen who had discharged his duty faithfully to the satisfaction of a majority of his constituents. Others were less sorry to see him go. Mr. Parker, you are an Enemy to truth and your doctrine came from hell and will go back there again," wrote one anonymous letter writer.

Many of the new colonists chose land close to the small towns and villages rising up in southeast Texas for their own safety and sense of community. But James and Silas Parker were more daring. They picked out a promising patch of farmland near the banks of the Navasota River, a narrow branch of the Brazos. With crude handmade tools and farming implements, no fertilizer or irrigation, and little cash, the Parkers needed to choose their new property wisely. The Navasota coursed along a seam of dark, rich bottomland where the woodlands of the southeast slowly gave way to the high plains of the north.

James liked what he saw. This was, he believed, his promised land. "The country on the Navasott is the most fertile, most healthy, and subject to fewer objections than any other part of Texas, he wrote. There are springs in this section that afford water enough to run a mill. The timber is very large, and of an excellent quality. The rock found along these creeks … is well adapted for building purposes. The range for stock is not surpassed in any country."

But the garden was not empty. Several thousand Indians—mostly Caddos, Wichitas, and Kichais—lived in villages along the river banks. They were farmers, hunters, and gatherers, and many of their settlements dated back hundreds of years. Farther to the north and west were thousands more native peoples—Comanches, Lipan Apaches, and Kiowas—who lived a more nomadic and aggressive existence on horseback in the high, arid limestone plains where white men seldom ventured.

Between these two dramatically distinct regions was a thick belt of forest land known as the Cross Timbers that stretched from southeastern Kansas through the heart of the Indian territories—what is now Oklahoma—and into northern Texas. Washington Irving, who traveled the area in 1832, described a rough terrain of open rolling hills and deep ravines. The land was pleasant during the spring rains when the vegetation grew green and damp, but by the time Irving and his party arrived in the fall, the herbage was parched; the foliage of the scrubby forests was withered; the whole woodland prospect, as far as the eye could reach, had a brown and arid hue. Frequent fires scorched and calcified the vegetation, "leaving them black and hard, so as to tear the flesh of man and horse that had to scramble through them … It was like struggling through forests of cast iron."

To James Parker, the Cross Timbers seemed like a natural boundary line between the northernmost reaches of white settlement and the southern fringe of Indian territory. But the Comanches, masters of horsemanship and mobility, treated the Timbers like an open door. For decades they swooped down every spring to hunt game and raid other tribes for horses and food. James didn’t seem to grasp—or chose to ignore—that he was putting himself and his extended family in jeopardy. His younger brother Silas went along.

Daniel Parker chose not to. When he and his caravan arrived in Texas in December 1833, he broke away from James and Silas and settled farther to the south and east, in what is now the town of Elkhart. Daniel feared the new colony that James had in mind was too close to the hostile native peoples and too isolated from the rest of the settler community. He also did not care to preach to an empty choir. He quickly became a prominent member of the fledgling community and served, as in Illinois, as a legislator. Meanwhile, James, Silas, and their older brother Benjamin, a recent widower at age forty-eight, continued along with Elder John and their families to the banks of the Navasota, where they set up camp and began to farm.

The Parkers were a distinctly American breed—both settlers and warriors. They always traveled with their families, and their homes formed their front line, exposing their wives and children to whatever dangers existed. James Parker and his wife, Martha, brought six children with them to the new settlement. Their red-haired, eighteen-year-old daughter Rachel, married to a prosperous young farmer named Luther Plummer, was the first to give birth in the new colony in January 1835. Rachel and Luther named their son James Pratt, after her father. Sarah, another of James’s and Martha’s daughters, married Lorenzo Nixon on March 26, 1836, with Elder John, her grandfather, presiding. Silas and his wife, Lucy, who was Martha’s sister, had four children. The oldest, Cynthia Ann, born in Illinois in 1827, was a blonde, blue-eyed princess who prowled the new farmland as if it were her private preserve and licked fresh warm milk from the cows.

The local Indians felt hemmed in and besieged by the interlopers. Hostilities began with the theft of horses and cattle, each side raiding the other. James Parker helped establish treaties with a dozen local chiefs, but not all Indians, nor all whites, honored these arrangements. In July 1835, a band of white settlers seeking stolen horses attacked a Kichai village that had signed a peace accord. The Indian villagers greatly outnumbered the white attackers, who were forced to flee to the Parker settlement. On another occasion, a party of white settlers led by a Colonel Burleson discovered stolen American horses in the possession of two Caddo chiefs, whom they seized and tied to a tree. The chiefs claimed they had recovered the horses on behalf of the colonists but the men refused to believe them. They shot the two chiefs in cold blood. The wife of one of the Indians reported to her fellow tribesmen what had happened.

James Parker styled himself as a Man Who Knows Indians—their customs, their way of thinking, and their purported talent for treachery. But when it came to Comanches, the most warlike of the native peoples, James knew little. To him these Indians were just another potential obstacle on the road to prosperity and redemption, to be outmaneuvered or eliminated depending upon their level of resistance. "If this region was not infested by hostile Indians, it would be very soon settled, James would write, as if the natives were a particularly noxious species of disease, and when once settled and cultivated by civilized man, it will approximate to an earthly paradise."

At first the colonists and Comanches circled each other warily, trading horses, food, and firearms. Comanches expected gifts and tribute. It took time for them to discover that the Texans were more aggressive and less pliable than their Mexican neighbors, just as it took time for Texans to realize the Comanches were impossible to intimidate and harder to kill than most Indians. Still, the gap was wide and bloodstained. Each group told stories about the other, and they were inevitably tales of bloodshed and destruction.

JAMES W. PARKER had extravagantly promised Stephen Austin that he could attract dozens of Americans to his new settlement, but very few actually came. Still, he was a man to seize opportunities. Early on, there were allegations that James was engaged in dealings with local Indians, paying them in counterfeit money for stolen horses. These claims were never proven but they were a calumny that long haunted James’s good name—after all, in Texas the only thing worse than a horse thief was a man who colluded with savages. James solemnly denied the allegations, saying his accusers were seeking "to destroy my reputation, degrade my family, and make my life a burden to me."

His new settlement, being far removed from the rest of the pioneer community, was increasingly vulnerable as hostilities between native peoples and newcomers intensified. To protect their families and their livestock, the Parkers in 1835 built a stockade of a half dozen cabins and two blockhouses enclosed by a twelve-foot-tall fence of split cedar timbers. It was home to about forty men, women and children—Parkers, Faulkenberrys, Anglins, and Frosts, all of them related by blood or marriage—and was crammed with farm tools, implements, and supplies, barefoot youngsters with dirty necks,

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Ce que les gens pensent de The Searchers

8 évaluations / 6 Avis
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  • (5/5)
    Brilliant and utterly unputdownable. Both a history of an actual event, a people, a book, a film, a director and an actor, if you have any interest in the West, westerns, the Comanche indian, the film The Searchers, John Wayne or John Ford, this book will be a welcome and engrossing read.
  • (5/5)
    My favorite movie of all, John Wayne ❤ ? ♥
  • (5/5)
    I was thrilled when I saw this book come out in February of this year; I grew up watching John Ford's stunning adaptation of Alan LeMay's novel about an uncle that is obsessed with finding his niece who has been taken captive by the Comanches during a raid that left the rest of her family dead. All of her family except for her adopted older brother and her uncle who were away at the time. John Wayne plays the lead, and he is bitter and vengeful and as complicated a character as I have ever seen him play in a movie, and I have seen them all. My Dad and I used to watch Action Adventure Theater every Sunday together, and this was one of his favorites. "But he's so hard," I would always say. "That's the point," my Dad would argue, "hatred makes a poor weapon because it controls you. It narrows your focus until it's all you can see and you lose sight of even yourself. It drives the goodness right out of you and makes redemption almost impossible." So when I saw this book come out, a book about the making of that iconic movie, I snagged myself a copy hot off the presses. Please, I thought, please don't let me down. And it didn't. It delivered on a larger scale than I could have imagined. First off, the book is organized so perfectly: a brief snippet of a glimpse into John Ford's character, and then parts one and two of the book take us straight into the backstory - the real backstory, the one that set the stage for Alan LeMay's novel. Frankel starts with the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, that famous captive whose tragic story gave us the last Comanche chief Quanah Parker. Frankel takes his time here, patiently introducing us not just to Cynthia Ann but to her uncle James, who is the original inspiration for John Wayne's character Ethan (Amos in the novel). He doesn't stop there, though, he takes us through Quanah's own history and legacy, and we follow the Comanche people as they are exiled forever from choice and freedom. Part three of the book explains the evolution of the Western and introduces us to Alan LeMay, the author of The Searchers and to the novel itself that John Ford's movie of the same name is based on. Fascinating stuff here and insightful observations:"The Western consistently outsold all other genres, including its closest competitor, the detective story....Men wrote and published most of the books, of course, both nonfiction and novels, and they presented a vision of the American West as an exclusively male domain where women served either as victims or as objects of purity rather than desire. It would take many years for a different and more ambiguous version of the settlement of the West to emerge: a female counternarrative that emphasized family and community over the lone heroic gunman. The characters created by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather had to fight for their place alongside Wild Bill Hickok and Billy the Kid. Even Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, the great sharpshooter and gunslinger, were women of manly virtues."The Searchers was Alan LeMay's thirteenth novel, and it was the result of fusing fact and fiction into a story that focused not on the captive but on the search for vengeance. Debbie (the character loosely based on Cynthia Ann Parker) becomes less of a character and more of a device. LeMay explores the driving force of unchecked hate not through insight into Amo's psyche but through the observations and thoughts of Martin Pauley, Debbie's adopted older brother, who is the narrator of the story. Martin feels that he can never give up because Amos never will, and Martin understands that they have a common journey but that they are pursuing two very different things."The tension is established that drives forward the rest of the narrative. Amos Edwards is an angry, implacable man bent upon revenge. Even though Debbie is the daughter of Martha, the only woman he has ever loved, Amos doesn't care if she lives or dies. His goal is to avenge Martha's rape and murder, and to destroy the world of those who have destroyed his, His sole motivation is hate. When it comes to Comanches, Martin is no less hateful....But Martin's hatred has its limits...Martin values kinship above all else. Because Debbie is his sister, his obligation to her is clear, unbreakable, and nonnegotiable. While the world around him seems crazed with bloodlust and vengeance, his own moral compass remains firm."Part four of the book covers the director JohnFord, the actor John Wayne, the movie production, the setting and filming of the movie, the movie itself and its legacy. Now we have arrived at the meat and potatoes of the book, and we are not to be disappointed here either. The writing shines, and we are treated to so much more than just the narrative that the book's title promised us. Thoughtful and exploratory, each section provides additional insights into how the film became the legend that it is today. The opening scene had to be changed because a film starring John Wayne needed to deliver him up front, and while LeMay's opening worked for the novel, it would not deliver the visual or emotional impact that Ford's film required. Dialogue and other scenes also had to be changed because the novel is narrated by Martin, and the movie would need to show us things that in the book we learn only through Martin's thoughts and reflections. "Some of the biggest changes in the script involve enhancing and darkening Ethan - and in the process molding him into a character strong enough yet complex enough for John Wayne. The moral center of gravity in the novel is Martin Pauley....But in the film, Martin is eclipsed by his deeply troubled yet charismatic uncle. The narrative centers around Ethan's divided personality and his motives in conducting his obsessive seven-year search for his niece..."I don't want to spoil the book's surprises, so I'll stop there. I'll simply say that I have seen the film more than twenty times, and after I finished reading this book, I wanted to watch it all over again looking for the things that I had learned. I also purchased a copy of the original novel. It's good - well worth the time, and the ending is very different from the movie. I have only two complaints. The first is that I wish the photos included in the book were larger and that there were more of them. The second is that I wish I could share this book with my Dad. We discussed the movie many times over the years and he would have loved this in depth exploration of one of his favorite films. I guess that bittersweet stab of pain was offset by the remembered bits of conversation we had on the subject - it gave him back to me for just a brief window of time. So thanks for that, Mr. Frankel.
  • (5/5)
    Very rarely I purchase books the same year they are published, mainly because I wonder if they will stand the test of time, and have inherent long-lasting value. The subject matter of this book, however, merited breaking this unwritten rule of mine. The book is about a John Ford movie of the same name; it's very likely many of you have seen it. I have seen it, of course; many times in fact as it is one of my favorite movies. I couldn't resist the idea of buying the book from the day I saw it had been published. And it's been worth.The book covers several aspects related to the movie. One is the original story, extremely terrible and sad, of the invasion by whites on Indian lands with the resulting massacres, retribution and vengeance. A central point in this part of the story is the taking of young American women by Indians during their raids, after killing all other whites, and taking them to live as Indians. The Searchers is the story of one of those women, Cynthia Ann Parker, who was taken when she was only 9 and lived with Comanches, eventually marrying one man named Peta Nocona. She has several children by him. The author traces very well the story of Cynthia Ann and her son Quanah, who later became known as Chief of the Comanches. Frankel dedicates a whole section of the book to Quanah. Then the book deals with a novel written by a well-known, at the time, author of Westerns; Alan Lemay is his name. He wrote the story The Searchers upon which the movie's plot is based on. The novel, naturally as a novel, fictionalizes many of the events surrounding Cynthia Ann, and invents others to make it more interesting. The final part of the book deals with John Ford and the making of the movie itself. Although John Ford may have been a great movie director, especially for this movie, he was not a nice man. In fact, he was truly a horrible man- a drunkard, abusive, rude, etc. But he was much admired by the actors who worked with him, such as John Wayne of course, but also Henry Fonda and others of such caliber. Apparently they put up with his abusive and demeaning behavior towards them so they could work in his films. Definitely, John Ford appears a person that I want to see his movies but would not want to meet or be around him.I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and absorbing from cover to cover. It appears to be well researched and is balanced in the way he treats the subject- does not make excuses for bad behavior. It gave me an even greater appreciation for the movie too. I recommend it.
  • (5/5)
    An absolutely fantastic book that is impossible to put down. This is the back story of the film The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne. However, the back story is of 9 year old Cynthia Ann Parker who witnessed her family killed my Comanche Indians and then was taken and lived with them for almost 25 years, bearing three children. Then she was recaptured by whites and reunited with family members but continued to long for her Comanche family. The book explores the history of the Comanche in Texas, their abduction of women and children, and what eventually happened to the tribe. Cynthia Ann Parker's son, Quanah Parker, was considered the last Comanche chief who lived and worked with the Whites, both in Texas and DC. The story moves into Alan LeMay's writing of the book The Searchers and then the making of the film by John Ford and starring John Wayne in what was probably his best role. The tepid reaction to the film is also covered and the history of how the film has grown in stature over the years to be considered the best Western ever made. My only criticism is that I wish some of the photographs in the book had been larger as in many it was hard to make out people's faces. A great read for both film fans and historians. This is History and Hollywood at its best!
  • (5/5)
    Glenn Frankel's book is an inventive new view combining familiar and unfamiliar strands of history. Frankel has come up with an entirely original take on John Ford's movie "The Searchers." Frankel goes back to one of the earliest genres of American literature, the captivity narrative, and, with many fascinating events along the way, moves forward to Alan Le May's novel and then the movie.Among the many captivity stories of White women who lived with Native Americans, whether willingly or unwillingly, Frankel focuses on the most important story underlying "The Searchers," both novel and movie, which is the story of Cynthia Ann Parker's abduction by the Comanches in Texas in 1836. He relates her subsequent story and the stories of her families, both White and Comanche, and tries to separate facts from lies and myths.One of the most intriguing and important aspects discussed by Frankel is how the traditional captivity story that focused on the girls and women, Cynthia Ann Parker in particular, changed focus when made into the novel and movie -- the focus became the search by the crazed, racist uncle, played by John Wayne in the movie. The captive shifted into the background as a maguffin.The book has unfortunate signs of poor editing and proofreading, such as missing words, particularly prepositions. The obvious errors include that on pages 94-95 Weckeah is Quanah Parker's first wife, but on page 143 she is his second wife. On page 112 Frankel says a man was born in West Virginia in 1850 -- western Virginia existed then, but the state of West Virginia did not exist until the Civil War. He also refers to the Monument Valley being located "where southeast Utah rubs shoulders with northwest (sic) Arizona," page 267. Frankel's language also shows the occasional sign of a tin ear, such as at page 261, where he says that "Ford could have cared less" that Robert Wagner was one of Hollywood's young princes -- of course, Frankel meant the opposite.