A gracefully presented narrative of the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers, which was based on a 1954 novel that was based on an actual Comanche kidnapping of a white girl in 1836.
Pulitzer Prize–winning former Washington Post reporter Frankel (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; Rivonia’s Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa, 1999, etc.) focuses on the American Southwest and the relationships between American Indians and whites. The author begins in 1954 with a shocking moment—director Ford, well into his cups, punching Henry Fonda in the nose. And away we go on a remarkable journey from Hollywood to Monument Valley and into the past as Frankel digs into American cultural history, unearthing some gold. He spends many pages telling the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, the kidnapped girl. The Parkers searched hard for her afterward, but it was not until 1860 that she was re-captured in the bloody Battle of Pease River. By then, she was in every way but genetically a Comanche. Her transition back to white society was painful, and after some moments of celebrity, she fell into obscurity. One of her Comanche children, though, who came to call himself Quanah Parker, emerged as one of the principal spokesmen for American Indian causes. Frankel pursues Cynthia Ann’s and Quanah’s stories with gusto then, nearly 200 pages later, shifts his attention to Alan LeMay, author of The Searchers and nearly a score of other novels. Then it’s on to John Ford and the making of the film with John Wayne. An epilogue deals with the amicable reunions of the Parker descendants and relatives, white and Comanche.
A thoroughly researched, clearly written account of an obsessive search through the tangled borderland of fact and fiction, legend and myth.