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Television westerns, termination, and public relations: an analysis of the ABC series Broken Arrow, 1956-1958.

In hindsight we can easily say that the native people of North America were oppressed by three major forces: These were the government, religion and Hollywood.... (1)

Chief Leonard George

Depictions of Native Americans in American literature, film, and television often veer from denigration to veneration, rarely landing between these two extremes (Scotch 1960: 58-62; Berkhofer 1978: 71; Stedman 1982: 248-50; Wilson 1998: 41). As Peter Farb once explained, "Two images of the Indian--as Noble Red Man and as Blood Thirsty Savage--have prevailed in the minds of whites in the past 500 years, and feelings have tended to shift back and forth between the two" (1968: 245). (2) It has been a simple--and serviceable--formula. The Native American was either an innocent child of nature or a murderous enemy of society.

In the mid-1950s, however, although still trading at times on the Noble Savage trope (as did the 1950 movie on which it was based), ABC-TV's Broken Arrow (1956-1958) tried to break this mold, presenting Native American characters--the Chiracahua Apaches--in a realistic and reasonable manner. Apache characters appeared, it seemed, as individuals rather than as an undifferentiated mass. Their attitudes, ranging from pragmatic to rebellious, were not monolithic; they behaved as might any group of men (there were few women here) when threatened by encroachment. Many of them were undecided. They were not implacably hostile, nor were they submissive. They were willing and able to engage in rational discourse and to negotiate honorably. Sometimes they were confused. Cochise, their leader, was rarely hot-headed or emotional. He would take time to mull over his decisions and operate according to the Apaches' unwritten laws and what he saw as their best interests. (3)


In September 1956, when Broken Arrow debuted, The Lone Ranger was entering its seventh and final season, also on ABC. Comparisons between these two series illustrate how the western genre had changed in only a few years. Broken Arrow was more ambivalent than The Lone Ranger, a melodrama that tamed the Native American for its younger viewership. (4) Moreover, while The Lone Ranger purported to be only loosely based on history, Broken Arrow insisted that it was an accurate depiction of actual events, thus raising the political stakes of its depictions. This paper investigates that claim as it examines Broken Arrow's influence on the still-developing myth of the American West during the mid-1950s and the series' influence on the nation's domestic politics. Although conceptualized as a radical text, Broken Arrow eventually served as a public-relations vehicle for the U.S. government; it provided Euro-Americans with an honorific simulacrum of history; and it obscured the actual treatment of Native Americans during the Cold War years.

The Myth of Multicultural America

The western genre had long served as a flattering self-portrait of the Euro-American march across the continent. Although Hollywood had undergone intermittent cycles of "pro-Indian" films (Aleiss 2005: 15-38), Native Americans usually were depicted as homicidal maniacs with white settlers as their innocent victims, a classic example being John Ford's Stagecoach (Ford 1939). During World War II, however, this approach was suddenly moderated (Aleiss 2005: 70; Buscombe 2006: x). Fascism, with its racist overtones, had made depictions of the killing and displacement of minorities unpalatable, especially to many Jews in the film industry. The Roosevelt administration thus enlisted Hollywood executives and film producers in a program of creating "a mythic multicultural America in order to persuade a somewhat reluctant populace to unite in the war against the Axis" (Hoffman 1997: 45). The federal government was interested in promoting national unity as well as in recruiting minorities for military service. In tune with the shocks of the Depression, "[s]cheming businessmen and crooked bankers began to replace Indians as the frontier's villains" (Aleiss 2005: 70).

After the war, stock depictions of "Injuns" as homicidal maniacs became an outright embarrassment for the U.S. Department of State. Impeaching a nation that advertised its respect for human rights, such images complicated negotiations with emerging post-colonial nations (Borstelmann 2001; Dudziak 2000). And the growing Cold War only deepened the crisis. The CIA stationed personnel in Hollywood to monitor and moderate such images (Eldridge 2000). There were still occasional throwbacks, such as Arrowhead (Warren 1953); however, by that time "relatively few westerns [took] an overtly hostile attitude toward the Indians as Arrowhead [did]" (French in Bataille and Silet 1980: 100). Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi sent a memo to his CIA liaison (most likely Carleton Alsop):

Arrowhead presented a serious problem, which the Commies could use to their advantage ... the complete indictment of Apaches and our treatment of them. The indictment consisted of our white characters claiming Apaches are just bad, and that is that. You're born an Indian, so you're no good ... it has been necessary to redub several lines of dialogue.

(Luraschi 1953, quoted in Eldridge 2000)

Traditional westerns on film or in literature certainly did not disappear, but, for Cold War purposes, they did become obsolete. Television westerns, on the other hand, had always been intrinsically revisionist, mainly because network television did not emerge nationally until 1948. There were very few "canonical" westerns on network TV in which Indians were portrayed as murderous villains. Wagon Train (NBC, 1957-1965; loosely based on Ford's 1950 film Wagon Master) might be seen as a traditional western in that it involves covered wagons threatened by Indian attacks, but such themes were rare. (5)

Adult Westerns and Cold War

Since the emergence of the dime novel in the 1860s, westerns were generally considered an adolescent form of entertainment. They lacked complexity, ambiguity, and nuance and dealt in sensationalistic, melodramatic themes. But, in the hands of more sophisticated writers, westerns could embody the emergence of American order, of civilization itself. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that he was a fan of westerns: "I was raised in a little town ... called Abilene, Kansas. We had as our marshal for a long time a man named Wild Bill Hickok. If you don't know anything about him, read your westerns more" (Eisenhower 1953; Eisenhower National Historic Site, n.d.).

In 1952, the year of Eisenhower's election, the series Gunsmoke aired on radio; in 1955, it moved to television, lasting 20 years. Gunsmoke's protagonist was a federal official, a U.S. marshal with both intellectual and military stature, and the series was set in Kansas, Eisenhower's home state. CBS chairman William Paley, a close friend and golfing partner of Eisenhower's (Paley 1979: 311), wanted a western-style imitation of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, a popular 1940s detective series (Shreve, n.d.). Gunsmoke represented a new, adult-western form that allowed high-concept writers to tackle current and historical issues, but in a veiled, metaphorical manner that would not confuse its children viewers. (6)

During Eisenhower's two terms in office, the quantity of TV westerns shot from 11 (in 1953) to 50 (in 1959). By 1958, there were at least two westerns appearing every night of the week (Brooks and Marsh 2003: 1365). The use of filmed television series made in Hollywood contributed to the boom in TV westerns. Westerns were economical to produce, since most studios had sets left over from the B-movie era, and their production was standardized and efficient. The Lone Ranger had demonstrated how simple it was to convert the B-movie concept into a TV series. ABC, undercapitalized and in need of quick access to content, began using many filmed series. Broken Arrow was a prime example of how cheaply a Hollywood studio (in this case, 20th Century-Fox) could expand and adapt an existing film property into a TV series and reap fast revenues from the networks.

Westerns suited the political mindset of the era. They reassured a public beset by Cold War anxieties and gave American history a firm cultural authority. According to J. Fred MacDonald,

The [adult] western succeeded in part because it was a political morality play for the frightened, confused, and dispirited [audience ... TV westerns] affirmed the desirability and superiority of innocent, American-style civilization ... They justified nationalism in terms of a moral code that may have sounded secular but had at its base a Judeo-Christian religious heritage. (7) (MacDonald 1985: 139-140)

But American viewers--as well as the international viewers whom the U.S. was hoping to woo from communist influence--also needed to believe in the national myth of equality and inclusiveness. Something even more complex than Gunsmoke was called for.

Background of the Series

Set in the early 1870s, Daves' 1950 movie version of Broken Arrow starred James Stewart as Tom Jeffords, a former U.S. Army scout who is "plumb sick and tired of killin'." Jeffords now prefers diplomacy to military force. He has left the army and is on his way to become superintendent of a mail line in Tucson, Arizona. His job is to get the mail through Apache territory.

Broken Arrow resisted glorifying the western myth. As an adult western, it assuaged Cold War anxieties, addressed international hostilities, and confronted domestic racial prejudice, but the film dealt with these issues subtly in order not to alarm advertisers. It emerged from a liberal, reformist perspective and offered as much of a critique of the myth of the Old West as could probably have been tolerated during the early Cold War. Some of its statements--critical of unenlightened, "redneck" settlers, benighted federal officials, and genocidal policies--are in fact startling. In both movie and TV versions, Broken Arrow quietly implicated Euro-Americans in war-mongering, dirty tactics, and suspect motives. A commanding John Wayne was exchanged for a contemplative Jimmy Stewart--Wayne himself returning in 1956 as the morally anguished Indian hunter Ethan Edwards in John Ford's The Searchers. Westerns were operating culturally at multiple levels now. There had been pro-Indian movies since the silent era, but few harsh challenges to the ethos of "winning" the West had been seen in either film or television (although these would become acceptable in the 1970s).

Both the film and the CBS pilot were based on the 1947 "historical novel" Blood Brother, by Elliott Arnold. Delmer Daves' film was considered a breakthrough in terms of "progressive" depictions of Native Americans. Edward Buscombe writes,

The liberal position of the film depends on viewing at least some of the Apaches as reasonable human beings, but this extends only to those who accept the process of assimilation, which was the policy of the U.S. government at the time in which the film was set and for much of the twentieth century. (Buscombe 2006: 17)

A one-hour, condensed version of the film aired in May 1956 on CBS as Episode 15 of The 20th Century Fox Hour, an anthology of stories owned by the studio ("Broken Arrow," 1956), and this episode then served as a pilot for the TV series. Scenes from the movie were even edited into the pilot, including part of the opening sequence, which begins with an extreme long shot of the open land. Although such shots had become a generic convention identifying the western genre, this gaze at the land was more than just an appreciation for its natural beauty:

[T]he [western] genre's predilection for grandiose views of scenic panoramas and expansive vistas--the wide-open spaces associated with the cowboy protagonist ... suggest the more hierarchical, dominating dimension of American imperialist aspirations." (Wexman in Bernardi 1996: 142)

A huge, empty sky composes about three-quarters of the screen; like the sky, the land is notably empty, unused, uncultivated, and therefore available for the taking. The concept of terra nullius ("vacant land") originated in Roman law and was later refined by English philosopher John Locke: the land, if not "improved" by cultivation, is effectively unclaimed (Ivison in Anstey 2003: 89-90). The "winning" of the West, then, becomes the story of claiming and controlling these scenic expanses of land, as the film opening line, in Jeffords's narration, attests: "This is a story of a land."

A lone figure in the distance rides slowly toward the camera, from right to left, just as most covered wagons in westerns are shown moving westward, toward dominion over terra nullius. The sky at first dwarfs this figure, but his approach is inexorable; his presence soon dominates the visual field. Such figures against the landscape "are intrinsic to the appeal of the western" (Dyer 1997: 34). In this film, the figure even emerges from behind a tall cactus that resembles a crucifix. And he is clad all in white. A jump cut shifts to a full shot of the character taken from a low angle, the rider's head framed against the sky with clouds as his halo. Framed against the sky, he is rather starkly associated with the heavens (Dyer 1997: 152).

And yet he is moving toward a part of history and a part of himself that is not white--something in the land and in his character that is as mixed as his spotted horse. The rider stumbles across a young Apache boy (Coshise's son Tozay) who has been shot. In a sequence reminiscent of The Lone Ranger, Jeffords nurses the boy back to health, cleaning his wounds and earning his respect. Apache scouts, including Geronimo, find them. (8) But because the boy vouches for the white man's good intentions, they let him go: "You did not kill. We will not kill--this time." Back in Tucson, with newfound respect for the Apaches' honor, Jeffords decides to learn their language and culture, which he does in short order, illustrating his extraordinary intelligence and motivation. He then returns to the Apaches' stronghold, finds leader Cochise (Ricardo Montalban), wins his respect, and soon turns native. Jeffords becomes an adopted member of the tribe by marrying the beautiful, young Sonseeahray (Rita Moreno). (9)

The TV pilot contains an expository scene--an almost word-for-word transcription from the film--in which Jeffords, pouring himself coffee at a breakfast gathering, has a confrontation with Col. Bernal, who has come to re-recruit Jeffords as an army scout, and Ben Slade, a local rancher. Bernal openly advocates genocide: "Wiping out the Apache is the important thing right now" ("Broken Arrow," 20th Century-Fox Hour, 1956). Jeffords takes issue with this remark. Slade, however, agrees: "The Apaches burned my ranch last month. My wife was in the house." A heated exchange ensues:

Slade: Why won't you scout for the colonel?

Jeffords: That's private business.

Slade: War ain't private--not when women and children are being murdered.

Jeffords: At Big Creek, we murdered women and children.

Slade: Why not! Cochise started it, and it's up to every man to--Jeffords: Get your facts straight, Slade! Cochise didn't start this war. It was started by a lieutenant fresh out of the East. Flew a flag of truce, which Cochise honored. Under it hung Cochise's brother and five more.

("Broken Arrow," 20th Century Fox Presents, 1956)

In Jeffords' eyes, the real "savages" were "greenhorn" Easterners, who were unenlightened and unsympathetic to Indian ways and preferred to get on with the killing in the most efficient if dishonorable manner. In this way the series challenges what most post-WWII American viewers would have thought to be an entirely settled conception of who is "savage" and who is "civilized." But Jeffords interjects a revised history, which, in the political calculations of the film, separates white settlers like Slade, who are often shown as greedy, land-grubbing rubes, from federal officials like Jeffords and his army cohorts, who are shown as enlightened and altruistic. Jeffords is effectively reclaiming American moral history from the western narratives that have produced the nation's sense of destiny: bigoted individuals, not democratic principles, have shaped these tragedies.

The Series

This artistic and cultural project was picked up by ABC and adapted as a regular weekly series, and novelist Arnold was retained as story editor ("Full Cast and Crew for Broken Arrow," n.d.; "Notes for Broken Arrow" n.d.). ABC aired 72 episodes, from September 26, 1956, to Sept. 23, 1958. (10) As in the pilot, John Lupton stars as Jeffords. Ricardo Montalban, who plays Cochise, is replaced by Michael Ansara (later to become Sam Buckhart in Law of the Plainsman). Slade's name is changed to Ben Cartwright. (11) Cartwright and the now-enlightened Jeffords engage in a condensed version of the heated disagreement, with Cartwright demanding outright extermination of the Apaches:

Cartwright: Wipe 'em out--slaughter 'em like the animals they are!

Jeffords [there appears to be some dialog excised here]: At Big Creek, we murdered women and children.

Cartwright takes the traditional racist view of Indians. Jeffords again explains the U.S. Army's treachery against Cochise and his band of Chirachuas. His assistant Milt corroborates: "It [the lieutenant's trap] was a cold-blooded Judas trick." This is strong stuff for network TV, given the McCarthy mentality of the day. The mere suggestion that the U.S. military had used dirty tactics and committed atrocities could have been construed as unpatriotic. But setting these problems 86 years in the past gave the writers--and the audience--enough distance to answer a deeper need in the nation for a mature view of itself in the wake of a global war and, for the moment, a losing battle against communist expansion. The story of America had to be more than a dime-store western. So the television version of Broken Arrow took the next step.

Unlike the film, which focuses on Jeffords from the start, the opening sequence of the series presents the Indian (Cochise) and the white man (Jeffords) as equals. (12) Such cinemagraphic equality would not persist into the series, but this opening approach was in itself groundbreaking compared to most westerns, particularly The Lone Ranger, in which Tonto was more or less the ranger's servant. The series' opening sequence also emphasizes the sky in iconic fashion, but it intercuts shots of both characters approaching the other on horseback from opposite directions. Jeffords approaches from the left (dominating the frame in terms of stage convention), and Cochise approaches from the right (dominating the frame in terms of mythic convention). They then meet in the "middle ground" and shake hands "Indian-style." Both are framed against the western sky; in the series, there are other Apaches framed against the sky in godlike poses, but this device is generally reserved for Jeffords or Cochise. Both are often photographed from low angles, making them appear taller than ordinary mortals. (13)

Masculinity and the Body

With these cultural advances, Broken Arrow nonetheless succumbed to the leveling force of convention. A significant aspect of both the pilot and the series is that the Cochise character spends much screen time displaying his physique. Most shots of Cochise display his bodybuilder's physique, with Ansara being the bulkier of the two actors in the role. According to Hal Erickson, the Syrian-born Ansara was rather hairy and had to shave his torso before every shoot (Erickson, n.d.). Native Americans usually have less body hair than do Middle-Easterners, so Montalban's and Ansara's shaven appearances could be an attempt at verisimilitude. But no white men are shown with their shirts off. Clothing is a very effective form of concealment, which usually benefits the one whose power might be questioned:

[Nakedness] may undo the remorseless insistence on difference [between white and nonwhite] and concomitant power carried by clothes and grooming. The exposed, white-male body is liable to pose the legitimacy of white-male power: why should people who look [so ordinary] have so much power?" (Dyer 1997: 146)

That such displays were reserved for non-whites--with the exception of Tarzan, who, spiritually at least, was not entirely "white"--suggests that darker-skinned characters are more physical, dirty, brutish, and menacing, while Europeans, whose bodies are concealed by clean apparel, are more cerebral, relying on reason instead of brawn. Visually, then, Broken Arrow undermines its own message that the white man and the Indian are equals, and the result is a confusion of sensibilities. The on-screen exposure of the human body next to a clothed body usually indicates a gender dynamic. If westerns have been a vehicle not only of white conquest but also of masculinity (Dyer 1997: 35; Buscombe 2006: x), then the discourse of exposed bodies implies that white men have evolved beyond the primitive vigor of their Native American rivals, beyond, in fact, the body as feminine object. Such naked power subtly justifies the use of ruthless tactics and/or superior technology. (14)

More Indian than Indians Themselves

Jeffords is an "Indianized" white man, a special, hybrid being who represents the best of both worlds. By Episode 2, he has been appointed "Indian agent" in charge of the reservation, which means he is now the Chiricahua's official authority figure. Cochise becomes more of a spiritual leader. By Episode 7 ("Hermano," Nov. 11, 1956), Jeffords is a veritable superhero: he can do anything he sets his mind to, certainly things no ordinary white man--nor Indian, for that matter--could hope to accomplish. Already having been a lawyer, army scout, Indian fighter, prospector, mail manager, Cochise's "blood brother," honorary Apache, husband to the most beautiful Chiricahua maiden, and federal Indian agent, Jeffords, in the manner of T.E. Lawrence, organizes and leads a group of Apache scouts who volunteer as U.S. Army regulars to help find and defeat Geronimo and his "renegade" Apaches.

Like Lawrence of Arabia (Lean 1962), Broken Arrow focuses on the narrative of the enlightened white man who organizes and protects intellectually inferior Others from unenlightened whites and from competing natives. (15) A more modern but starkly similar example is Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves (Costner 1990), which Ward Churchill has sardonically dubbed "Lawrence of South Dakota" (Churchill 1998: 239). Both Jeffords and Lt. John Dunbar (Costner) are former army men who, by living among the natives, transcend racism. Both characters hearken back to a literary archetype Richard Slotkin dubs "the Man Who Knows Indians," the model for which was Kentucky frontiersman Daniel Boone (Slotkin 1998: 96). Such a hybridized man studies Indian culture and becomes, spiritually, part savage. If, by this immersion, he risks "going native," (16) then he does so in order to transcend the limitations of the natives themselves. Hence the Indianized white man's extraordinary powers (Churchill in O'Brien 2003). Jeffords, for example, can outfight or outwit whites and natives alike (with the possible exception of Cochise). He has his pick of the prettiest "Indian maiden." He becomes a hero in both cultures, dissolving white blindness as he absorbs native power.

Cochise as Enforcer of Anglo-American Law and Order

Ultimately, Broken Arrow falls back on, or rather updates, the simplistic good-Indian/bad-Indian dichotomy. Cochise, like Tonto, is a good Indian because he helps the white man in his quest to control the land and its inhabitants. Like Marshall Petain or Vidkun Quisling, Cochise becomes an enforcer of the invaders' norms. He has witnessed the white man's awesome technology--cannons--in action: if there were to be a full-blown war, his people would lose. Cochise decides not to gamble what is left of their lives. He agrees that they will remain on the reservation. He signs the treaty with Gen. Howard and gives his oath to uphold the bargain. What is more, Cochise personally executes bad Indians who violate the peace by attacking whites. It is all very rational, pragmatic, and white.

Geronimo, the leader of a splinter group, is, in these terms, a bad Indian. He refuses to negotiate with the whites, preferring to try to drive them out. He and his followers refuse to stay on the reservation and continue to raid homesteads. They neither recognize nor obey the white man's laws or Cochise's peace. They do not respect private property. They invade settlers' homesteads, steal their livestock, rape their women--all very obvious crimes that would elicit predictable reactions from television viewers. Cochise decides to help the army capture and punish Geronimo. When Jeffords organizes his Apache scouts for the U.S. Army, Cochise lends his blessing, invoking their sacred duty to preserve his honor. Like Jeffords, Cochise becomes a hybridized man, but, while Jeffords rises above his white culture, Cochise is subordinated to it.

In Episode 13 ("Apache Massacre"), one of Geronimo's men commits the ultimate crime, attacking a white woman. A white settler is standing on his porch in front of a ramshackle cabin on land that once belonged to the Apaches. An arrow lands in his back; he falls to the ground. An Apache warrior, seen only from behind, steps over the dying man, surveys the area, then cautiously enters the house. A woman shrieks, experiencing the "fate worse than death" (Telotte 1998: 127). Miscegenation, especially through rape, combines so many taboos that viewers can hardly think about the crime in rational terms. Such irrational energy forms the premise of John Ford's classic The Searchers, released earlier that same year (Ford 1956; Dyer 1997: 25-27; Eckstein and Lehman 2004: 311). It was an easy pretext, which would degrade into laughable thinking 18 years later with Blazing Saddles (Brooks 1974): innocent white women require protection against rapacious Indians, as well as other supposedly "animalistic" and "insatiable" nonwhites. (17) The sanctity of the white woman's body was "both the symbol of white virtuousness and the last word in the claim that what made whites special as a race was their non-physical, spiritual, indeed ethereal qualities" (Dyer 1997: 127).

In revenge, a group of angry townsfolk burn down the closest Apache village, shooting and killing native women and children while the men are away hunting. This village, however, consists of "good" Indians who have nothing to do with Geronimo, and the television series must be credited with exposing such white blindness. But as Jeffords barely manages to avert a resumption of all-out war with the Apaches, he swears to an enraged and skeptical Cochise that justice will be served by the white man's jurisprudence: "This was a small group of men--of criminals. This had nothing to do with the feelings of white men [as a whole]." Cochise, as usual, accedes to Jeffords' judgment. After several tense mishaps, the perpetrators are captured, tried, and hanged. Jeffords and his U.S. Army associates are there to protect the Apaches.

The episode participates in the larger cultural impulse to insulate the federal government from mounting racial tension during the late 1950s. As a series, Broken Arrow systematically distances the federal government and its enlightened officials from the racist violence and ignorance of the settlers, just as President Eisenhower, despite his own racism, (18) would distance himself from the blatant racism of Arkansas governor Orval Faubus in October 1957, when Eisenhower sent National Guard troops to protect African American students who were enrolling in Central High School in Little Rock.

Broken Arrow appeared about two years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling (1954), which ordered public-school desegregation. Bus rider Rosa Parks had made her historic stand in Montgomery, AL, about nine months before the series' debut, and Eisenhower's historic showdown with Arkansas' Orval Faubus was a little more than a year in coming. Broken Arrow often contained commentary on racial prejudice using Native Americans as surrogates for African Americans (Episode 13, "Apache Massacre," Jan. 1, 1957). Controversy had rendered African Americans nearly invisible on network TV (Ely 1991: 238). Advertisers did not want their brand names associated with discomfiting issues like civil rights. As an editorial in Variety explained, "Racial prejudice is too strong a subject for television ..." (Kaufman in Arciga 1957). To address the issue of prejudice, television writers created parables, casting other minorities instead of blacks as its victims. For example, Rod Serling, writing for CBS's The U.S. Steel Hour, was ordered to change a character based on Emmett Till, the 14-year-old victim of a brutal Mississippi lynching, into an elderly, Jewish pawnbroker (Kaufman in Arciga 1957).

Broken Arrow as Public Relations

Despite offering occasionally startling accusations and admissions, Broken Arrow defuses and absorbs them by demonstrating that, even in the face of daunting challenges, the system works as promised--and always has. African Americans and white-liberal advocates of integration did not need to worry, nor did critics abroad. The United States was in control. In 1956, a year before Sputnik, that message was essential. Network executives, always eager to mollify both Congress and the executive branch, had developed a tradition of valorizing government officials. This practice began on radio in the 1930s with the aggrandizement of military officers, federal marshals, and FBI agents and then continued on TV during the Cold War years. Jeffords was, after all, a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agent.


The film version of Broken Arrow "echoed government attitudes" (Aleiss 1987: 75), and this was even truer of the TV series, which went out of its way to make the federal government appear as if it were protecting Indians--while in reality it doing just the opposite. In the late 1940s, conservatives in Congress began clamoring for ways to balance the budget. One of the proposed cutbacks was to terminate subsidies to Native American nations by dissolving them. Soon after Eisenhower, the first Republican president since 1933, took office, Congress empowered itself to terminate, at its own discretion, treaties it had long ago ratified with Native American nations. (19) This policy was also supported by "reformers" as a way to force Native Americans to assimilate (LaFarge 1950, quoted in Hasse 1974: 114). More crucially, though, it served as a pretext for a land-and-resources grab that benefited mining and timber interests. The Cold War, with its proliferation of nuclear weapons, had created a huge demand for uranium, much of it found on Native American lands. From 1954 to 1964, the BIA selectively revoked the sovereign status of more than 100 nations. Some filed suit, but the Supreme Court upheld the government's rulings. Thus, while the federal government was in the process of closing down reservations and selling off Native American resources, Broken Arrow was depicting it as having protected Native Americans, assuring viewers that they could trust their government.

This inversion of reality is not new. Rudyard Kipling's White Man's Burden explains that Anglo-Saxons, with their "gift for governing," must organize and civilize lesser (i.e., darker-skinned) peoples (Horsman 1981: 247). (20) Usurpations of minority rights typically require a narrative that locates the actual history (e.g., of genocide) in a deviant culture (e.g., the greedy white settlers) and locates an alternative, benevolent history in the mainstream culture, by which natives or blacks become childlike, in need of protection by their white "fathers." Such texts depict natives as "helpless objects" in need of management (Hage 1998: 93). And the spectator is invited, by all the devices of the narrative, to adopt this perspective.

Broken Arrow and Issues of Historicity

One of Broken Arrow's most salient features is its ostensible historicity. Since the beginnings of the film industry, claims to historical authenticity have been a major part of the western genre's appeal (Aleiss 2005: 10-11). Both Daves's film and The 20th Century-Fox Hour TV version of Broken Arrow explicitly purport to be based on actual fact. In the opening narration, Jeffords announces,

I was involved in the story, and what I have to tell happened exactly the way you see it. The only change will be that when the Apaches speak, they will speak in our language. What took place is part of the history of Arizona. (Daves 1950; Broken Arrow 1956)

Arnold, too, insisted that "the main events in [his novel Blood Brother] are entirely true" (Arnold 1947, x). These claims are disingenuous: the parts of the story based on real events are distorted, manipulated, and re-temporalized in order to promote mainstream culture. There was a Thomas Jefferson Jeffords who came to the Western frontier around 1861 as a U.S. Army scout and later became a driver for the Butterfield Stage. Jeffords did meet Chokonen leader Cheis (Cochise) in either 1869 or 1870 and became the group's BIA agent in 1872. Other than those basic facts, however, most of the film is fiction, and the TV series verges on comic-book fantasy. Jeffords was not a mail runner when he met Cochise; a contemporaneous account in a local newspaper mentions that he had left that job by 1869 and had been scratching out a living as a gold prospector (Sweeney 1995: 292). The story of his rescuing Cochise's son Tozay is outlandish. Asa Daklugie, Geronimo's nephew, suggested that Jeffords, searching for gold, had been trespassing on Chokonen territory when he was caught by Chokonen scouts and brought to Cochise. (21) Moreover, it is unlikely that Jeffords lived among the Chokonen, and the "blood brother" ceremony, from which the novel takes its title, is almost certainly bunk. Arnold admits in his preface to his novel that Jeffords' marriage to the fictional Sonseeahray, which also entails the use of the blood-brother ceremony, is a dramatic invention (Arnold 1947: vi). (22) Jeffords most likely did arrange a historical meeting between Cochise and President Grant's personal emissary, Gen. Oliver O. Howard. Howard's orders were to relocate the Chokonen Apaches to New Mexico, but Cochise held out for land in his "stronghold," Arizona's Dragoon Mountains, to which Howard, against orders, agreed (Howard named the reservation Camp Cochise). As addressed in the movie and the series, Cochise indeed saw the potential benefits of an alliance with the U.S. government, and he did work to protect the government's interests, just as he insisted on having Jeffords appointed the Chokonen's BIA agent (Sweeney 2002: 20). However, in 1870, Jeffords was 36 years old, while Cochise, very much unlike the Montalban and Ansara portrayals, was 65, in bad health, and dying, most likely from stomach cancer. There was nothing physically primitive or symbolically feminine left to conquer--except history itself.

Broken Arrow's story omits other crucial facts. Cochise died two years after signing the 1872 treaty; after his death, the government breached the agreement when the BIA decided to consolidate the Chokonen with other Chiricahua groups in New Mexico. (23) This is exactly the situation Cochise had resisted. The government framed the Chokonen's displacement in terms of teaching them agriculture, but the fact is that lodes of copper ore had been discovered on Chokonen land (Capstone Press Geography Dept. 2002: 25-27, 33). What happened in 1874, then, was the same as what happened in the 1950s, a situation that Broken Arrow served to obscure: the government, far from protecting Native American interests, worked to further the interests of corporate mining operations. A new "termination" in the 1950s simply updated those interests: from copper and gold to uranium. While claiming to be historically authentic, Broken Arrow was instead an upside-down, Orwellian version of history, pretending to depict brotherhood but serving the anxieties of an empire struggling with the means to its own creation.

In John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), the editor of the Shinbone Star prefers to "print the legend" rather than the truth. But legend can ruin a nation as easily as it can build it. Refusing "to face what happened to Indian people" has produced, says Russell Means, an America caught in repetition, blind to its future because it continually forsakes its past (in O'Brien and Witmer 2003).



Arciga, Pepe. Los Angeles Mirror. Aug. 26, 1957. thedailymirror/2007/08/pepe-arciga-1.html#more.

Aleiss, Angela. "Hollywood Addresses Postwar Assimilation: Indian-White Attitudes in Broken Arrow." American Indian Culture and Research Journal 2(1). October 1987: 67-79.

Brantlinger, Patrick. "Kipling's 'The White Man's Burden' and Its Afterlives." English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 50(2). 2007: 172-191.

Eldridge, David N. "Dear Owen: The CIA, Luigi Luraschi, and Hollywood, 1953." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 20(2). 2000: 151-196.

Hoffman, Donald. "Whose Home on the Range? Finding Room for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino Americans in the Revisionist Western." MELUS 22(2), Summer 1997: 45-60. Database: Biography Resource Center.

Scotch, Norman A. "The Vanishing Villains of Television." Phylon 21(1). Fall/Winter 1960: 58-62.

Telotte, J.P. "A Fate Worse Than Death." Journal of Popular Film and Television 26(3). 1998: 120-127.

Books and book chapters

Aleiss, Angela. Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and

Hollywood Movies. New York: Praeger Publishers, 2005.

Arnold, Elliott. Blood Brother. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1947.

Ball, Eve; Nora Henn; and Lynda Sanchez. Indeh: An Apache Odyssey. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Bataille, Gretchen, and Charles L.P. Silet. The Pretend Indians: Images of Native Americans in the Movies. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1980. Berkhofer, Robert Jr. The White Man's Indian. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978

Bernardi, Daniel (ed.). The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Black, Conrad. Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. New York: Public Affairs, 2008. Brooks, Tim and Earl Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. New York: Random House, 2003.

Burt, Ramsay. The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle and Sexuality. London: Routledge, 1995.

Buscombe, Edward. 100 Westerns: BFI Screen Guides. London: British Film Institute, 2006.

Capstone Press Geography Department. Arizona: One Nation. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2002.

Churchill, Ward. Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema, and the Colonization of the American Indians. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1998.

Custen, George F. Twentieth Century's Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Dyer, Richard. White. London: Routledge, 1997.

Eckstein, Arthur M. and Peter Lehman. The Searchers: Essays and Reflections on John Ford's Classic Western. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

Ely, Melvin P. The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Farb, Peter. Man's Rise to Civilization. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1968.

French, Philip. "The Indian in the Western Movie." From Art in America 60. July/August 1972: 32-39. Reprinted in Gretchen Bataille and Charles L.P. Silet (eds.). The Pretend Indians: Images of Native Americans in the Movies. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1980.

Hage, Ghassan. White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society. West Wickham, Kent (UK): Pluto Press, 1998.

Hasse, Larry J. "Termination and Assimilation: Federal Indian Policy, 1943-1961," PhD dissertation, Washington State University, 1974.

Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1981.

Ivison, Duncan. "Locke, Liberalism, and Empire." In Peter R. Anstey (ed.). The Philosophy of John Locke: New Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2003: 86-105.

Jensen, Doreen, and Cheryl Brooks (eds.). In Celebration of Our Survival: The First Nations of British Columbia. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press, 1991.

MacDonald, J. Fred. Television and the Red Menace: The Video Road to Vietnam. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1985.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television: The Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present, 4th Edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Reed, Roy. Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press, 1997.

Slotkin, Richard. The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.

--. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1973.

Stedman, Raymond William. Shadows of the Indian. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.

Sweeney, Edwin R. "In 1872, Brig. Gen. O.O. Howard, with the Aid of Scout Tom Jeffords, Made a Lasting Peace with Cochise." Wild West 15(2). August 2002: 20-23.

Sweeney, Edwin R. Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Torres, Sasha (ed.). Living Color: Race and Television in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.

Tuveson, Ernest. Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Wexman, Virginia Wright. "The Family on the Land: Race and Nationhood in Silent Westerns." In Daniel Bernardi (ed.). The Birth of Whiteness: Race and the Emergence of U.S. Cinema. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Wilson, Pamela. "Confronting the 'Indian Problem': Media Discourses of Race, Ethnicity, Nation and Empire in 1950s America." In Sasha Torres (ed.). Living Color: Race and Television in the United States. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998


Daves, Delmer (dir.). Broken Arrow. 20th Century Fox Pictures, 1950.

Cameron, James (dir.). Avatar. 20th Century Fox Films, 2009.

Costner, Kevin. Dances with Wolves. Tig Productions/Majestic Films International/Orion Pictures, 1990.

Ford, John (dir.). The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Paramount Pictures, 1962.

--. The Searchers. C.V. Whitney Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures, 1956.

--. Stagecoach. Walter Wanger Productions/Warner Bros. Pictures, 1939.

Lean, David. Lawrence of Arabia. Horizon Pictures/Columbia Pictures, 1962.

O'Brien, Chris, and Jason Witmer (co-dirs.). Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American. Starz Encore Entertainment, 2003.

Warren, Charles Marquis (dir.). Arrowhead. Paramount Pictures, 1953.

Television series

"Broken Arrow." 20th Century-Fox Hour. 20th Century-Fox Pictures/CBS TV. Episode 15. May 2, 1956.

Broken Arrow (TV series). 20th Century Fox Pictures/ABC-TV. 1956-1958.

Gunsmoke. Arness Production Co./CBS-TV. 1955-1975.

Law of the Plainsman. Cardiff Productions-Four Star Productions/ABC- TV, 1959.

The Lone Ranger. Apex Films/ABC TV. 1949-1957.

Wagon Train. Revue Studios/NBC-TV. 1957-1965.

Internet sources

Eisenhower, Dwight D. "Remarks Upon Receiving the America's Democratic Legacy Award at a B'nai B'rith Dinner in Honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League." November 23, 1953. The American Presidency Project. University of California at Santa Barbara. ws/index.php?pid=9770. Retrieved March 17, 2009.

Eisenhower National Historic Site. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 17, 2009.

Erickson, Hal. "Michael Ansara: Biography." All Movie Guide. Retrieved Feb. 28, 2009.

"Full Cast and Crew for Broken Arrow." Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 2, 2009.

"Notes for Broken Arrow (1950)." Turner Classic Movies Database/American Film Institute. tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=69758&category=Notes. Retrieved April 25, 2009.

Shreve, Ivan G. "Premier Collections: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Volume One" (liner notes). Radio Archives.Org. Retrieved April 5, 2009.

Private collections

"Jackson Committee: March Meeting Notes." Washburn Abbott Papers. Box 7. April 10, 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas.

"May 1958 Staff Notes (2); Abbott Washburn on Spyros Skouras." DDE Diary Series. Box 32. Papers as President (Ann Whitman Files). Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas.

Zanuck, Darryl F. Telegram to unknown recipient (re: Department of State correspondence). June 20, 1956. Pre-Presidential Papers of Richard M. Nixon. General Correspondence, Series 320. Richard M. Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Michael Ray Fitzgerald

University of Reading

(1) Quoted in Jensen and Brooks 1991: 165.

(2) The terms "Blood Thirsty Savage" and "Noble Savage" are generally attributed to Jean Jacques Rousseau but appear to have originated in John Dryden's 1672 play The Conquest of Granada.

(3) The source novel, Blood Brother, by Elliott Arnold, similarly emphasizes the depth of its characters (Arnold 1947: vi-vii).

(4) The Lone Ranger's early time slot, 7:30 p.m. (Thursdays), indicates it was meant for family viewing, while Broken Arrow's 9 p.m. slot (Tuesdays) indicates that it was aimed at adults. For its adult audience, though, The Lone Ranger, one of the earliest TV westerns (1949-1957), was still revisionist; in fact, it had been "Indian-friendly" since its radio debut in the 1930s.

(5) However, a viewer could see literally hundreds of traditional westerns in the form of reruns of old B movies, which frequently appeared in syndication.

(6) Sam Peckinpah wrote ten episodes of Gunsmoke as well as three episodes of Broken Arrow.

(7) The heritage MacDonald refers to is the Puritan myth of America as a "Redeemer Nation," a shining "City on a Hill" whose divine purpose is to exemplify its godly values for the whole world (Tuveson 1980).

(8) In the 1950 film version of Broken Arrow, Geronimo is played by Jay Silverheels, whose powerful performance went uncredited because he was under exclusive contract to the producers of The Lone Ranger television series. Silverheels reprised his role as Geronimo in the 1956 western Walk the Proud Land.

(9) Native American characters are often played by Latinos and Latinas. Montalban, who plays Cochise, is from Mexico; Moreno is from Puerto Rico. This should not be surprising as many Mexicans and other Latinos have mestizo (i.e., mixed Spanish-Indian) heritage.

(10) Most of the "pro-Indian" TV series of the Cold War era were aired on ABC.

(11) Ben Cartwright was also the name of the father figure played by Lorne Green on Bonanza in 1959.

(12) A few other details were changed as well. For some reason--perhaps at the urging of Apache observers and advisors--the ceremony of the White Painted Lady was renamed the "Dance of the Sunrise ceremony with the young girl" (Broken Arrow 1956).

(13) Backlighting and halo effect, however, are then almost exclusively reserved for Jeffords. In some shots, it looks as if the light of heaven has found his head. Moreover, as the series progresses, Cochise's role diminishes, and there are episodes in which Ansara does not appear at all. Ansara may have been unhappy with the role of Cochise. He told a TV Guide interviewer in 1960 that "the acting range was rather limited. Cochise could do one of two things: stand with his arms folded looking noble or stand with his arms at his sides looking noble" (McNeil 1996: 121; Erickson, n.d.)

(14) Jeffords himself is brave enough to eschew treachery, but there are visual tropes that reflect deep-seated anxieties for the presumably white-male viewer: "[N]on-white masculinities appear from a dominant, white point of view to be in touch with 'essential,' 'natural' masculinity. These are of a kind with which modern whites of European origin believe themselves to be out of touch. Representations of non-white masculinity therefore pose a threat to white masculine identity insofar as they highlight the inadequacies of the latter" (Burt 1995: 117).

(15) Lawrence's memoirs, however, had been in publication since the 1920s.

(16) This is also the theme of James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster Avatar, in which a US military officer rescues a group of natives called the Na'vi, who are under siege by colonizing forces (Cameron 2009). Avatar's story line is remarkably similar to Dances with Wolves and shares a great deal in common with Broken Arrow.

(17) According to Slotkin, several groups of western Indians, unlike their eastern counterparts, did practice ritualized rape and torture on their victims (Slotkin 1973: 357).

(18) Ironically, Faubus was probably more of a moderate on racial issues than Eisenhower (Reed 1997: 355).

(19) Twentieth Century-Fox's vice-president in charge of production, Darryl F. Zanuck, had been in regular contact with the Eisenhower administration. Even before the 1952 election, Zanuck and members of the so-called "Hollywood consortium" supported the Eisenhower-Nixon campaign with financial contributions (Black 2008: 212; McDougal, 1998: 18). Three months after Eisenhower took office, Zanuck met with members of the White House staff to volunteer to insert propaganda messages into his films (Jackson Committee, 1953; Zanuck telegram, n.d.). (19) Zanuck had been in charge of the 1950 movie version of Broken Arrow, but by the time the TV series appeared in 1956, he had resigned to become an independent producer under contract to TCF. Zanuck nonetheless remained TCF's largest shareholder (Custen 1997: 357), and the studio's CEO, Spyros Skouras, a Republican-party fundraiser, remained in touch with the White House ("May 1958 Staff Notes").

(20) Kipling, born in British India in 1869, was living in the U.S. at the time he wrote this poem, which urged President William McKinley and other U.S. leaders to move quickly and decisively in their mission to "civilize and Christianize" the Philippines (Brantlinger 2007: 172).

(21) Cochise did let Jeffords go, and the two did become friends (Daklugie in Ball et al. 1988: 27-29)

(22) Arizona historian Thomas Farish conducted personal interviews with Jeffords in 1913. Jeffords' account is most likely a product of "faulty memory" if not sheer fantasy (Sweeney 1995: 294). Jeffords was 82 years old at the time and a less than year from his own death. This scenario sounds very much like the opening scene in Arthur Penn's Little Big Man.

(23) Unwilling to share limited territory with competing Apache groups, Geronimo's group renewed its rebellion, escaping to Mexico between raids. Jeffords was again recruited by the U.S. Army in 1886 to help find and capture Geronimo. This event was addressed in Episode 7, when Jeffords leads a cadre of "Indian scouts" in the hunt for Geronimo. However, the series' chronology is off by about 12 years.
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Author:Fitzgerald, Michael Ray
Publication:Film & History
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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