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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

The script for the movie was developed by Norbert Myles, an actor, writer and director brought into the project by Richard Banks, who started the Texas Film Company in 1916.

Myles wrote on the cover of his script that, “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.”

The film includes a four-way love story, buffalo hunt scenes, a battle scene, village scenes, dances, deceit, courage and hand to hand combat, Blackburn said.

In one scene a young buffalo bumps into one of the riders.

The Kiowa is knocked from his horse to the rocky terrain of the Wichita Mountains area.

“The rider just gets back up, and goes on,” said Matt Reed, a curator at the Oklahoma Museum of History. “You're like, ‘Wow, you're in a breechcloth and moccasins and riding at full speed you just fell from a horse and it didn't even faze you.' These are some tough, tough people.”

Plans for the film

Reed and Bill Moore were the staff members who showed some scenes of the movie to Sammy White in 2007.

As staff visited with Kiowa and Comanche friends who identified people in the movie and described some of the objects brought from their homes to the set, one object in particular stood out. It was a tepee with bold horizontal stripes positioned at a key spot in every scene. The Kiowas said it was an especially significant tepee that disappeared in 1928.

Just a few years ago, while one of their curators was going through collections at the Oklahoma History Center, he pulled a canvas tepee off the shelf, unrolled it, and recognized it as the tepee in the movie, Blackburn said.

“If he had never seen ‘Daughter of Dawn,' the tepee might still be undiscovered,” Blackburn said. “And next year, the tepee will be used in a new museum exhibit.”

Plans for the film include taking it to festivals in the U.S. and internationally, offering it for broadcast, selling it on DVD, and using it as a central component of exhibits at the Oklahoma History Center and at the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa. In the meantime, “It will be used for historical research and appreciated as a piece of motion picture art,” Blackburn said.

“I will never forget the day we received the restored film and the digital conversion that we could view,” Blackburn said. “Seeing Southern Plains material culture in a museum and reading about traditional Indian customs leaves much to the imagination. Seeing both captured in moving pictures is like traveling back in time.”

That's certainly what it did for Sammy White, as his mother walked right at the camera.