Many classic films of the silent era, including some very popular ones, have been lost. But sometimes they come back. Such is the case with The Daughter of Dawn, a full-length silent picture from 1920 that was as good as gone — until a print turned up in 2005.
That’s when a private investigator in North Carolina phoned Brian Hearn, film curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The PI said he had received copy of a silver nitrate film as payment for a job; he hadn’t watched it but he believed it was The Daughter of Dawn. Hearn notified the Oklahoma Historical society which, with the help of other individuals and groups, restored the print over a period of several years. The film had its modern premiere at the deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City.
The Daughter of Dawn was shot in the Wichita Mountans of southwest Oklahoma in 1920, and its cast was made up of some 300 Comanche and Kiowa Indians. The male lead was played by White Parker, and another substantial role was played by Wanada Parker — both of them children of the celebrated Comanche chief Quanah Parker. As described on the Oklahoma Historical Society’s website, the film “includes a four-way love story, two buffalo hunt scenes, a battle scene, village scenes, dances, deceit, courage, hand to hand combat, love scenes, and a happy ending. The Indians, who had been on the reservation less than fifty years, brought with them their own tipis, horses, clothing, and material culture.”
The entire film is about Indians and includes two scenes of buffalo hunts; at no point do cowboys or the U.S. cavalry intrude. It was written and directed by Norbert Myles, who was hired by Richard Banks of the Texas Film Company, who was apparently an expert in Native culture. On the cover of the script (which survived through the years even though the film was thought lost) Myles wrote “This story has been made possible by R.E. Banks, whose knowledge of the Indian, and of his traditions, was gained during the twenty-five years that he lived with them.”
For the actors, the chance to recreate Indian culture as it had been within their recent past must have been bittersweet. It had been just 45 years since Quanah Parker had surrendered, in 1875, at Ft. Sill, ushering in the reservation era for the Comanche. “A lot of these people were pre-reservation Indians, who had been wandering free out on the Plains,” Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, told The Oklahoman. “Some of the people in that movie were in their 60s and 70s. They would have been young warriors out on the battle trail. … And here they are depicting warriors again in their own gear, with their own tepee. That affects me every time I talk about it.”
Below are the first ten minutes of The Daughter of Dawn: