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High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy
June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
They’re in a bad way. They have nothing. They got the poorest end of a reservation they were not even supposed to be on. In about 1876 they were rounded up and were to be taken to a reservation in Nebraska, near the Sioux. Winter was coming on, so instead of being taken to Nebraska they were dropped with the Shoshones in Wyoming. They asked the chief to take them for the winter, because their moccasins were broken, they were destitute, they had gone on the warpath and had the hell shot out of them. The chief allowed them to stay. The Shoshones had no love for the Arapahoes and the Arapahoes had no love for the Shoshones, but they were taken in, because after all they were Indians and winter was coming. So they were to stay there until spring when their reservation would be ready.
And they were forgotten?
They were forgotten. And the Shoshones had to fight like hell—it was only recently that the government finally paid the Shoshones and bought that corner of the reservation where the Arapahoes were. But they got the worst piece of land and were left there to starve to death, which is what they’re doing. And drinking themselves to death, because they have no future, nothing to look forward to.
How do you feel about the way the Indians have been portrayed in films?
I remember my advent into pictures and when I tried to tell a director you don’t do it that way … this is not the way the Indians fought, for example, the answer was, who will know the difference? And there’s your whole answer. That was their attitude.
I remember oh The Covered Wagon they wanted a bunch of teepees spread in a circle so this council could take place in the center. They wanted all the doorways facing into the center. And I said, “Just a minute, we can’t do that.” And they said, “Why?”
I said, “The doorways do not all face the center.” Sure they do, they said. Look here, see what that means. These Indians, we can have them coming out of all the teepees and they come right out of those doors right into this council. But, I said, “You don’t understand. Indians do not pitch their teepees that way. They always pitch their teepees with the door facing the east and you can’t get them to do otherwise, because when an Indian steps out of his teepee he has to greet his Father, the Sun, in the morning. You will not get them to do it.”
“Well, this is the way we want them,” they said.
I said, “I tell you what you do. I’ll bring that interpreter over here, you tell him. I’m not going to tell him. They know that I know better. But you tell him exactly how you want the teepees pitched and he’ll tell the Indians.”
So they spent some time with this interpreter, who listened and said, “Okay, I’ll tell them.”
They said, “You understand?”
“Yeah, I understand, I’ll tell them.”
We came out there to look. All those teepees were pitched with the doorways facing the east and these fellows went nuts. What was the idea? And I said, “Don’t you understand? You cannot go against an Indian custom. You say who will know the difference? The Indians will know the difference.”
How do you feel about the Indian Movement presently, the surge toward Indians Rights?
Oh, the Indians’ Rights. Now you really would get me into something if you got on that because this white man and his treatment of the Indian has been something that … well, I can’t even begin to express myself because I go completely overboard when I think about it. But you see, we’re always talking about our honor and our American way of doing things and we have never kept a single promise or a single treaty we ever made with the Indian. We make him a treaty and say, this land is yours now as long as the grass shall grow and the waters shall flow. Then a white man comes in and says, look, that whole country over there, in that Wallowa Valley, that’s too good to let those damn Indians have. Our whole treatment of the Indian has been one of the greatest scandals that’s ever been known. We established the first concentration camp when we put them on reservations.
Wasn‘t Roosevelt the last President who actually spoke with Indian leaders, Indian chiefs?
Theodore Roosevelt. You see, Roosevelt thought like a Western man because he’d been West when he was young. He was really a Westerner, you might say, and he was an understanding man and he tried, but even though he tried, the machine was too big for any one man. You couldn’t go against it. When they made up their minds that they were going to do certain things to the Indians they did them, and that was that and you couldn’t do anything about it. That’s my opinion of it. Politics, politics. If you could take Washington, D.C., and build a great big barbed-wire fence around it and never let one of those bastards get out of there, why, the country would be better off.
Your first introduction to Hollywood was as a technical adviser for The Covered Wagon. Andthenyou did a live prologue?