A Lost Silent Film Is Found

Daughter of the Dawn starred Quanah Parker's kids

This Sunday, the Austin Film Society, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, and Humanities Texas will co-host a special screening of Daughter of the Dawn, a silent film previously thought to be lost. Starring the children of legendary Comanche chief Quanah Parker, it may be the only film of the silent era with an all Native American cast.

image courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society

The film was written and produced by Richard Banks, owner of the Texas Film Company, and directed by Norbert Myles. According to one account, Banks had lived among Indians for 25 years and was anxious to make an adventure film. He had once met Myles on a California set and was impressed enough hire him as director. They made the film in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma with a cast of more than 300 members of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes.

The plot focuses on two men who vie for the affection of the same woman. White Eagle (played by White Parker) and Black Wolf (Jack Sankadota) are in love with Daughter of the Dawn (Esther LeBarre), daughter of the Kiowa Chief. Complicating matters is Red Wing (Wanada Parker), who also loves Black Wolf.

Daughter of the Dawn was released in 1920 and may have been screened in Los Angeles, Kansas City, Tulsa, and a few other places. Then, a fire at the Texas Film Company destroyed all known prints and related materials. The film was thought to be lost until 2005, when a nitrate print was discovered in a private collection.The Oklahoma Historical Society eventually acquired the print and had it digitally restored by Dennis Doros of Milestone Films, who added a score by Comanche composer David Yeagley. The film was then re-released and screened in June 2012 at the Dead Center Film Festival in Oklahoma City.

Following the screening on Sunday, Dr. Caroline Frick, founder and director of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, and Dr. Janna Jones, a professor of Electronic Media and Film at Northern Arizona University, will give presentations.

“The film probably looks better than it did when it was originally shown. It has been meticulously restored thanks to funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation and picked up for distribution,” Frick told the Chronicle.

“One of the frustrating aspects of the film is there isn’t a lot of information. Over the years, a few people had been searching for it, but nobody really knew anything about this film,” Frick explained. “Ninety percent of films from the silent era no longer exist – and that’s just talking about Hollywood films. When you start looking at something like this, which was produced by an independent Texas film company, the rate of loss is more like 99 percent. So the fact that this film exists at all is extraordinary. And what makes it even more extraordinary is it has an all Native American cast. And the fact that it stars two of Quanah Parker’s children is extra special for Texans. It gives this wonderful insight and opportunity to see this kind of filmmaking and this moment captured in time.”

Frick says the Texas Archive of the Moving Image is trying to reconstruct this lost part of Texas film history. “There were independent and short-lived film companies. It’s probably not that different than today – 100 years from now, if you were to try to track down and document companies that produced one or two films around now, it’s going to be very hard to find a paper trail about them.”

Not much is known about Banks, but after Daughter of the Dawn, Myles went on to do more directing and acting, as well as makeup for Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and then for The Jack Benny Show (1954-1962). Frick says Banks and Myles worked very early on in Hollywood. “They wanted to make a very different kind of Native American film. They wanted to film it in the actual Native American territory in the Oklahoma and Texas plains. They based the company in Dallas, which had been the sight of other film companies. My own theory, which I can’t corroborate, is they were able to get financing because of the Parker kids. There was a notion of celebrity around them and I think that helped them find the money.” She adds that the film may not have been screened more than once because, just as it is today, it was very hard for an independent film to be distributed.

The local premiere of Daughter of the Dawn takes place Sunday, Jan. 25, 4pm, at the AFS at the Marchesa Theatre, 6226 Middle Fiskville Rd. Tickets are $8 general admission, $5 for AFS MAKE & WATCH members plus students (with valid ID), and free to AFS LOVE & Premiere members. For more information and online advance tickets, visit https://www.austinfilm.org/co-sponsored-events/film-the-daughter-of-dawn.

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Daughter of the Dawn, White Parker, Wanada Parker, Esther LeBarre, Jack Sankadota, Richard Banks, Norbert Myles, Caroline Frick, Texas Archive of the Moving Image, Austin Film Society, Janna Jones, Milestone Films, Dennis Doros, David Yeagley

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