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Silent film thought to be lost is restored by the Oklahoma Historical Society

“The Daughter of Dawn” was shot in the summer of 1920 in the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma using an American Indian cast.
by Bryan Painter Modified: July 15, 2012 at 4:51 am •  Published: July 16, 2012

Em-koy-e-tie, a young Kiowa woman, walked right at the camera in the silent film.

The lump built in Sammy “Tone-kei” White's throat, tears welled in his eyes and he felt a sudden chill in the room as he watched the scene five years ago.

This was his mother in 1920.

For historians “The Daughter of Dawn,” an 80-minute, six-reel silent film shot in July 1920 in the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma, is history put to motion.

But for White, 82, this was the part of his mother, one of about 300 Kiowas and Comanches in the all-Indian cast, he had only heard of throughout his life. When she died in 1946, so many people talked of her appearance in the film.

Although a “sneak preview” of “The Daughter of Dawn” was held in mid-October 1920 at the College Theater in Los Angeles, nothing was really heard of the film after that.

Until Brian Hearn, film curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, answered the phone one day about seven years ago. A private investigator in North Carolina said he had received a copy of a silver nitrate film as payment for an investigation, and thought the film was “The Daughter of Dawn.”

The investigator was interested in selling it. But since the museum hadn't started collecting films, Hearn decided to contact the Oklahoma Historical Society. Through the actions of many people and organizations, the movie has been restored and rereleased with the first screening held in June at the deadCenter Film Festival in Oklahoma City.

While White hasn't seen the entire film, museum staff showed him scenes in 2007.

“My mother was walking right at me, she was so beautiful,” White said. “I'm glad the room we were watching it in was dark, because it was emotional seeing her so young.

“To have someone say we have ‘The Daughter of Dawn' is something very sentimental to me.”

A look at a distant time

The lead actor is White Parker and one of the other key roles is played by Wanada Parker. They were the son and daughter of the great Comanche leader Quanah Parker, said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Also appearing in the movie is Esther LeBarre as Dawn, Hunting Horse as her father the chief, and Jack Sankadoty as Wolf.

Blackburn said it's likely in 1920 that many members of the movie's cast would have been those living on allotments and trying to adjust.

“A lot of these people were pre-reservation Indians, who had been wandering free out on the Plains,” Blackburn said. “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.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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