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"Straight From the Horse’s Mouth: Hopkins, Hidalgo, and Hollywood".

By Elizabeth Roetman

This paper is a brief discussion involving my original research as it relates to both Frank T. Hopkins and his horse, Hidalgo.  As in all research there is always a cast of players that create the event that draws the attention of the researcher to ask the question.  This particular project started in such a fashion when several years ago a small idea for a story about a cowboy and his horse was formatted by the screenwriter, John Fusco. It grew into a multi-million dollar Disney production entitled, Hidalgo.  It became a series of hotly debated public media events over the belief of the authentic between two sets of individuals, John Fusco and his supporters, and the Long Riders Guild and their supporters. These two groups are referred to within this work as the “advocates’” and the “skeptics”.  Even after the media campaign blitz stopped, Hidalgo continues to ask the same questions to those who read the past articles - what is the real truth behind the stories of Frank T. Hopkins and his horsemanship? This is what drew me to review these media events. By using the lens of cultural anthropology, I examined the actual printed dialogues from the various media outlets for both sides of the debate. This paper does not bring the readers to the water so they can drink. It was written to allow the readers to form their own thoughts and opinions about Hopkins and Hidalgo. Let us begin our journey to the heart of this story and see where it began and why it became such a heated public debate.

             “Straight from the horse’s mouth.” We have all heard or used this statement to refer to something that we believe has come from the highest authority on a subject. We believe this authority is the decisive truth and all information is bona fide.  However, what does it mean to be authentic and why should we, as cultural actors, care if something is authentic or not? Authentic is important because it is what makes us the “expert” of our own discourses. It is what we use when we produce messages, transmit messages, and respond back with when our “authentic” story or discourse is questioned by others outside of “authentic” knowledge. It is what Bronislaw Malinowski (1923) distinguished between the “context of situation” and “context of culture”.  A “context of situation” is what the observer or receiver of the message needs to know about the immediate situation in order to understand a particular instance of language. “Context of culture” is what is needed by the observer to understand the broader culture to bring meaning to what is being said or written (Poynton and Lee 2000:4).  We need the context of both the situation and the culture to have an understanding as to what makes something authentic or not.

This paper is set up to present the data within three themes that became evident upon reading the text.  Items were selected based on the date the article appeared and the media type which includes newspaper articles, western genre magazines, and websites. All of these outlets were used by both the advocates and skeptics on the Hopkins story. The article dates are important because individuals read what was being produced for the public, and referred back to previous comments in later articles. The articles build upon each other until Fusco completes the discussion with a final comment on his website in 2006. 

Using a grounded theory approach, three different categories were discovered when articles were coded. These categories include: I) the imagery of American cowboys, II) how kinship and ethnicity was used to connect the Hopkins’ story together and III) the importance of written historical records to prove or disprove the Hopkins’ story. Each category relates to specific themes, contexts, and the frameworks individuals used to present their version of authentic. Even though it appears these categories are distinctly separate, they are not, and they interplay with each other.

Let’s Meet the All-American Cowboy

The first category, within each group’s authentic, was the theme and imagery surrounding the ideas of American cowboy lifestyle and hero worship. These particular categories were major building blocks for the advocates’ discourse. The skeptics do not see Hopkins as a hero but as a fraud and insult to those they see as real cowboys or legitimate equestrians.

The advocates chose specific words to produce their message about Hopkins and his connection to the American cowboy lifestyle. Fusco situated his cowboy hero with the legendary horse companion. It is the perfect American tale of the West. While coding the particular articles chosen for this study, it became apparent specific phrases and ideas were used repeatedly during interviews, newspaper or magazine articles. The advocates were placing a particular framework into place for how they would discuss the Hopkins’ story. The proper framework enables the speaker to control the discussion and build the desired image. The advocates used similar frameworks to discuss the cowboy lifestyle and Hopkins’ role within that lifestyle to counter the skeptics’ inauthentic claims.

Fusco is especially enthralled with the cowboy lifestyle and remarked in several articles that he regarded Hopkins as a hero figure for himself. The other advocates followed Fusco with their own versions of the importance of the cowboy and the imagery of the American West. All of the Hopkins’ advocates have a personal relationship to Fusco which include business/financial dealings or a Hollywood connection. He has employed them in past movie projects, he has helped to produce their own projects or was able to involve them with the Hidalgo film. Some are Fusco’s long-time friends from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. All have various relationships to the Lakota People, either as tribal members, being married to tribal members, or have been adopted into the community. All of them come to the discussion with their opinions and specific agendas to aid Fusco and the Hopkins’ story. 

In order to be authentic, Fusco had to create a hero that an American film audience was ready to accept. The search for the authentic began fifteen years earlier when Fusco, a dedicated student of the American West and two time recipient of the National Cowboy Museum Western Heritage Award for Western-genre research, discovered the Hopkins and Hidalgo story while doing conservation work with horses of original Native American bloodlines (Touchstone Pictures Hidalgo Production Information 2004). As Fusco stated in the Touchstone Pictures Hidalgo Production Information article:

I was doing some research into the classic Indian ponies that you see in Remington and Russell sculptures, and this name kept coming up – Hopkins – who rode a famed Indian pony, named Hidalgo. There was only so much that I could find on them, but it was enough to tell me that this was an incredible story. [p. 9]

In the March/April 2004 American Cowboy, Fusco tells writer Cathy Orr that Hidalgo will succeed because the American audience was ready to return to the movies Hollywood used to make. He believes the relationship between Hidalgo and Hopkins fuels a realism that strikes a familiar cord with those who understand the cowboy lifestyle. He supports his search for the American cowboy hero within this same article with:

I’m happy to say that the man and horse relationship in this movie is real. Cowboys don’t pamper their horses and they don’t adhere to New Age malarkey. We love our horses but they’ve got a job to do too. I think that the man and horse relationship is going to feel more authentic Cowboy than Hollywood. [p. 24]

Cathy Orr confirms this message to the readers by proclaiming that “cowboys are good guys, and what they represent can be found worldwide in men who love horses” (2004:22).

                It would seem from Fusco and Orr’s remarks that Americans desire to identify with a national hero that helps to reflect specific attitudes (Davis 1979:29). The cowboy myth combines both a way of life and a proper ideal for people. The actual drama and settings are secondary to the “grand cowboy hero figure and the love affairs, the exciting plots, and the climactic physical struggles that present opportunities to define the cowboy code and character” (Davis 1979:29). Through these actions, cowboy heroism is revealed and with each repetition of drama, helps to reaffirm the public’s faith in the cowboy ideal (Davis 1979:29). This is what Fusco was searching for when he wrote the Hidalgo screenplay.    

But it is not just John Fusco who was concerned with the authentic within the Hopkins story. Casey Silver, executive producer of Hidalgo, adds to the authentic by explaining Fusco’s screenplay in the following manner:

Getting a story worth telling is always the most important thing. He came in, telling this story that was so important to him – it came right from his gut. It’s an honor to be a part of telling the story he told me [Touchstone Pictures’ “Hidalgo” Production Information p.9] 

Viggo Mortensen, the actor who played Hopkins, was drawn to the story because, as he puts it:

The odds are stacked against Frank. Compared to the Arabian horses, the mustang, Hidalgo, looks like a little dog. But though the race is his redemption, it’s not winning the race that’s important – it’s that Frank is there at all.

                          [Touchstone Pictures’ “Hidalgo” Production Information p. 11]

Both the Silver and Mortensen’s remarks help validate the cowboy traits in both Fusco and Hopkins. This particular cowboy trait (besides honor, courage, and generosity) is the relaxed, calm attitude toward life. According to Silver and Mortensen, both Fusco and Hopkins live their lives intensely, but come with calm self-assurance, or the knowledge that they could handle anything (Davis 1979:29). Fusco’s self-assurance comes from telling a story so important to him it comes straight from his gut. One cannot lie if the story comes from the gut. Mortensen tells the listener it does not matter whether Hopkins wins or loses the race, it is more important that he just showed up at all. Both characteristics of telling the truth and showing up are cowboy personifications of a code of personal dignity, liberty, and honesty (Davis 1979:29).   

Even as the advocates were producing their cowboy messages with such words as real, worthy of trust, modest and legendry, the skeptics were also creating their own messages about Hopkins. This does not mean the skeptics, who were headed by CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly; did not believe in cowboy imagery and lifestyles. The O’Reillys are founding members of the Long Riders’ Guild, the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers. The Long Riders are known for their feats of horsemanship and the O’Reillys publish and research various claims by horsemen. They are interested in preserving equestrian history and promote the mutual love of horse and travel. They comprise a non-competitive and inclusive group whose only membership requirements are the verifiable 1,000-mile ride while not abusing the horses used for the event.

In February 2003, the Guild was contacted by a researcher at Bill Brummel Productions, which was in the process of producing a History Channel documentary about Frank Hopkins. At that time, the Guild was working on a historical piece of research entitled, Historical Long Riders. They knew about Frank Hopkins and were planning to verify his claims to have him inducted with other Long Riders into the Royal Geographical Society of England. Following three separate phones calls to Vermont Historical Society, Rutland Historical Society, and the Buffalo Bill Museum, O’Reilly discovered Hopkins’ stories could not be verified except in Hopkins own writings. This discovery prompted the following comments by O’Reilly:

Frank Hopkins has earned the distasteful double honor of being the biggest fraud in the history of both the Old West and equestrian travel. Hopkins claimed to have done more amazing things, and to have known more amazing people than anyone in human history. [O’Reilly 2004a]   

O’Reilly and Fusco differed in their ideas about Hopkins and what it means to hold to the cowboy code of honor and truth. Truth, according to an old adage, is stranger than fiction, but it is not nearly so powerful a factor in creating the type of hero people desire, and believe adequately reflects their culture (Fishwick 1952:84). Fiction writers are more important to the cowboy creation than the historians who recorded the facts of cowboy life (Fishwick 1952:84). There may be some “facts connected with the cowboy, but the stock cowboy is as much fiction in America as the self-made man, Pecos Bill, Uncle Sam, or John Q. Public” (Fishwick 1952:84).

We Are All Related to Cowboys

The saga of the cowboy which has gripped the imagination with old tales and deeds that never fade or die was not the only saga Fusco tapped into to help build his authentic tales. After the advocates began to create their hero, they added another dimension using Hopkins’ writings. According to Hopkins, his mother was a full-blooded daughter of a Lakota chief and his father was the only white survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He claims to have been raised alongside Black Elk and mentored by Crazy Horse, plus he wrote that he was a witness of the Wounded Knee Massacre. Hopkins has written himself into Lakota history; however, the advocates needed help to prove these claims.

Category Two words and phrases are specifically designed to link Hopkins and Hidalgo to the Lakota and their history. The advocates were quick to use and make public their own relations to the Lakota community in South Dakota and point out Hopkins’s claims to Lakota ancestry.  Moreover, Fusco was interested in presenting what he believes is the true Native historical viewpoint. Mortensen subscribes to the idea that Hidalgo will correct portions of Lakota history. Advocates connected their mixed-blood and adopted heritages together to strengthen their authority against the skeptics. The specific words individuals used in this category centered on Lakota ideals, history, and what is viewed as vital to being part of the Native community.

The ability to add to the myth of the mixed-blood cowboy hero was aided by the advocates’ kinship ties and their own ethnic identities with the Lakota. What the advocates have done by adding kinship and ethnicity to the discussion is build a specific framework (a boundary or parameter) as their focus. When they use Native American kinship systems and ethnic backgrounds to frame authentic, they give the story more authority because they state the story has come directly from Lakota oral history and traditions. Frameworks such as this aid the advocates to control how the Hopkins story will or will not be discussed within their discourse. People may not question these frameworks because the advocates tell the public these stories are from the Lakota. Why would we not think these stories are true? Excerpts of the articles presented below are examples of how the discussion was presented within a Native style of writing and reporting the information. 

For the advocates of the Hopkins story, the ability to connect themselves to the Lakota community was part of making the story more authentic. All the advocates placed themselves within the community, and it is Fusco that begins to add to the details of how he heard the original story about Hopkins. As was shown in Category One which illustrated the American cowboy imagery and lifestyle, Fusco first stated that he found the Hopkins story while doing research on the Remington and Russell Western sculptures (Touchstone Pictures’ “Hidalgo” Production Notes p. 9). Within Category Two, where the advocates add kinship/ethnicity to further prove the Hopkins’ story, Fusco also claimed that twelve years previous, while working in South Dakota on the Thunderheart film, Fools Crow, at age 103 related this story to him (Orange 2004).[1] The other advocates continued to help expand on kinship ties and ethnicity by claiming they had also heard this story as children from their parents and grandparents (i.e. Mortensen’s claims about a 94-year old elder who did not speak English tell him about meeting Hopkins as a little girl[2] or have Leo Pard, a Blackfoot elder repeat the Hidalgo story to Angelique Midthunder for a documentary[3]). The advocates in addition claimed to know of cases where the Hopkins’ story was passed down by several generations of different tribes and language groups throughout the Plains to the children.[4] David Midthunder was eventually credited with telling Viggo Mortensen his own mother’s story of there being relatives of Hopkins living in Montana and on the reservation in South Dakota (Morales 2004, accessed March 2007).     

                In May 2002, Natalie Noel, a Los Angeles-based Native American columnist, started working with Fusco on a two-part interview which appeared in the Glitter Report: News From Tribe Hollywood in November 2002. The following interview which include comments from Fusco, Viggo Mortensen, Sonny Richards, and Natalie Noel. These four helped to expand on Hopkins’ claims of Native relation and give examples of how the Native lifeways influenced both the advocates and the movie.

Natalie Noel:  He [Fusco] is, brothers and sisters a sweet soul. He speaks with the voice of a poet, wears an open, ready smile and blue jeans. He is gentle with elders and children, with women, men and horses. He is a talented story teller and the best friend we’ve ever had in Hollywood.

Fusco remarks about the traveling to Pine Ridge within this same article:

I felt such a connection for the first time. I felt like I had been praying this way for a long time. But now, it was like, “WOW!” I’ve found my spiritual home. I really feel connected with this truth I’ve always known. And I felt very privileged that this was being shared with me.

Natalie Noel: John, you are one of today’s most influential, respected and prolific screenplay writers, How did you do it, what is the magic recipe.

John Fusco: When the writing is coming from a true place and there is passion and conviction behind it, it’s going to get attention. It’s going to draw the right people to it and a wave starts to build and relationships start to build. You stay with them and it keeps moving forward. It’s all about staying with the true material. Like this one, like Hidalgo.

Viggo Mortensen: As a screenwriter, John Fusco has accomplished that rare thing: telling a truthful, insightful story and managing to see it get made into a big American studio movie. Although this is not the first [time] that he has managed to get a thought-provoking story onto the screen, Hidalgo, has the potential to do more, in terms of correcting historical misinformation – particularly with regards to Lakota people – more than anything filmed in recent memory. 

Sonny Richards, Lakota Ceremonial Advisor on Hidalgo, Dreamkeeper and Thunderheart. Throughout the years he would come see us and he always visited Grandpa Fools Crow, Steve Redbow, Old Man Horn Cloud, all these elderly gentlemen on the rez, and they always told him the legends. He took these legends to heart. This is where Dreamkeeper came from.  Dreamkeeper is interwoven with numerous legends from all over Indian Country, including Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lakota, Mohawk, and Multninomah tribe from the Pacific Northwest…. [Noel 2002]

This article concluded with the following words by Noel: “John Fusco is a modest man, a champion of Indian People, Indian Ponies and the well-told tale. He is also kind, unassuming and generous with his time.”

In March 2004, Staci Layne Wilson interviewed Fusco and Mortensen for an American Western Magazine article. This particular article focused on the Native connection for the advocates and helped to verify Hopkins Native ancestry claims. As the advocates continued to create the Hopkins myth, the correlation between Fusco’s desires to create a cowboy hero became more evident. However, Fusco must clarify his own Lakota community connections to the reader in order for him to be able to tell his story about Hopkins. 

Staci Layne Wilson:  Are you part Lakota?

John Fusco:  No. I was adopted into a Lakota family, and I speak the language.

Wilson specifically asks Fusco if he was part Lakota, which helped make the connection between Hopkins and Fusco and their relationships to the Lakota. The following is part of John Fusco’s response to Staci Layne Wilson’s question asking him to expand on his journey as a screenwriter for the Hidalgo film:

Doing the first act was just like breathing for me.  Details of Wounded Knee and everything; I mean, I’d done interviews with elders of…um whose parents were survivors.  I didn’t even need to go back and reference that. 

But I knew I had to do a lot of prep work for the Arabian aspect of it because even today, to many people it’s an exotic world there. 1890, it was incredibly exotic and dangerous in many ways. The effect I wanted to get was kind of a hero’s journey leaving this American West at the end of “The West,” which he was inadvertently tied to at the decimation of his mother’s people. [Wilson 2004a] 

The next is Fusco’s comment to Wilson’s question about this being the first time that Wounded Knee was reenacted for film:

Yes. And that was important to me. I’ve considered doing Wounded Knee as a film entirely. In my film, Thunderheart, we have flashbacks and images, but…I was really close to an elder name Grandpa Bill Horncloud and his father was a survivor who ran from the massacre and hid in the badlands. I got a straight pass-down oral history of Wounded Knee. One of the exciting things about this was, we, because of my relationship to Pine Ridge, we were able to seek out and bring in actual descendants of Wounded Knee survivors. They played ghost dancers, and in order to do the ghost dance you can’t reenact it, you have to perform it. We had a medicine man and he did a blessing. We had to really be careful with it, and it was unbelievable to talk to some of the elders. [Wilson 2004a]

In this same interview are comments made by Viggo Mortensen when Wilson asked him about the importance of historical accuracy in the Hopkins story:

For me, to have many families on the reservation to talk about Frank Hopkins specifically, and his horsemanship and his connection to their tribes with stories that have been handed down through generations. I mean, in my experience and the stories I’ve heard, these people – some of them don’t even speak English and certainly could give a shit about Hollywood movies – but it speaks for itself and I don’t need to make any excuses. But say, “Yeah, my mother told me that and this guy, and this and that, a painted horse…” and it speaks for itself.  When I went up to meet people and talk on the reservation, hearing this oral history, oral tradition of what happened.  That was amazing and affirming and great. [Wilson 2004c] 

These interviews were not the only ways the advocates attempted to influence the public about the Hopkins story. In February 2004, Angelique Midthunder wrote a letter to the editor of the LA Times newspaper in response to an anti-Hopkins story written by Bobbie Lieberman for the February 17, 2004 newspaper’s edition. Midthunder accused Lieberman of writing an article “based on very little research with an agenda [emphasis Midthunder’s]. Even though Midthunder is quick to accuse Lieberman of having an agenda, she does not identify herself as the wife of David Midthunder, the actor who played Black Coyote in Hidalgo or that Angelique held two separate casting calls for Hidalgo in South Dakota. Her most noteworthy connection to Fusco is that he was her executive producer on her short film projects that she directed following Hidalgo. It seems identifying their personal connections to the story were not always part of the advocates’ public discourses, but they were quick to attempt to find them for the skeptics. Midthunder began her comments with the following:

I belong to a Native American family (Nakoda [sic] Sioux).  Although the Hopkins name may not be famous, the story of the half Indian who took his pinto mustang across the ocean to race in the big desert has been told to children of the northern plains tribe for generations.

Not once did she [Lieberman] mention that the author of the film, Hidalgo, John Fusco, is a two-time winner of the Western Heritage Award for his research and authentic quality of the “based on a true story” films he is known for writing.  Neither did she mention that her main source of her information Chuchulaine [sic] O’Reilly, is a Muslim, with a record of drug trafficking in the Middle East [Horse of the America’s Online News May 11, 2004]. 

Midthunder concluded this letter by being appalled at the LA Times for allowing such an ignorant piece of “journalism” and that the “long trail of lies” (Lieberman’s article title) was written by Bobbie Lieberman.

The skeptics were not thwarted by the attempts of the advocates to add Lakota kinship ties and ethnicity to the discourse. In fact, this addition of kinship and ethnic backgrounds became part of their own arguments against the Hopkins story. The skeptics added the voice of noted Lakota scholar, Vine Deloria, Jr., to their group when they contacted him to comment on Hopkins’ claims to Native ancestry and knowledge. The following are excerpted from Deloria when asked to comment on Hopkins’ writings that indicated Hopkins had been asked by a Chief He Dog to speak for the Lakotas in a council meeting with the military:

Frank Hopkins…knew nothing about Indians except what he was able to pirate from existing literature and cultural trivia. What hogwash that is! It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to show it is absurd.  Hopkins should have been awarded the “World’s Greatest Liar” award. The problem is that these distortions of Indian history, the slandering of famous chiefs and leaders, and the presentation of these lies as history cannot be easily erased once they are promulgated as fact. [Deloria 2003: 188-190]

When it came to the advocates’ claims to have spoken to Native people who did not speak English, Deloria, who is Lakota and the nephew of Ella Deloria, the foremost scholar of the three dialects used by the Sioux People, had more to say. 

It’s utter nonsense that Viggo Mortensen talked with Lakotas who couldn’t speak English – how old would they have to be? If you had just talked with an 94-year old elder you would have to take into account that he or she was born in 1910, schools on the reservations began around 1880s and children who did not attend school were denied rations – so the chances are any 94 year old was in a government or church school between the ages of 6-18 and they were forbidden to speak their native language in schools.  So, how did they grow up only speaking Lakota? 

My Aunt, Ella Deloria, bemoaned the fact that she could not find anyone on any of the reservations who could speak fluently in any of the dialects because there had already been substantial erosion of the language. Now, suddenly a Hollywood star is able to go to a Sioux reservation and immediately find families who don’t speak English?  I don’t think so. [Deloria (2004) O’Reilly 2004c] 

The advocates were very anxious to reply to Deloria’s remarks because of his standing as an elder within the Lakota community. John Fusco was quoted as saying he had friends from Pine Ridge speak to Deloria about his sharp comments about Hopkins’ writings. When Fusco’s friends were unable to persuade Deloria to believe the Hopkins’ story, Fusco said that he was very disappointed that Deloria did not believe him.

                Viggo Mortensen was a bit more vocal with his discontent about Deloria’s comments about the non-English speaking Lakota. Mortensen in a March 2004, Washington Post article, declared the following when questioned about Deloria’s challenge to have Mortensen produce the names of the non-English speaking Lakota families that several educational programs that teach and analyze the Lakota language have overlooked:

There’s an oral history that supports Hopkins story.  It’s based on a real person and a real horse. I have read all of Deloria’s books, and admire his scholarship, but with all due respect he hasn’t seen the movie. [Wiltz 2004:C01]. 

Within the first two categories of cowboy imagery and kinship/ethnicity, the advocates created a mixed-heritage individual with a cowboy background. Fusco used Hopkins’ writings to help produce a screenplay he thought would be of interest to both Native and non-Native audiences. Hopkins could become a hero to both groups – a perfect combination of cowboy and Indian. What evolved instead was the creation of a myth and in the myth making process there became Foucault’s “ritual of truth” (2001:131).  Within Foucault’s work, the ritual does not have to be actually truthful or acting upon a true event, to become part of authentic discourse. However, within the workings of a  “ritual of truth,” in order for Fusco’s version of Hopkins’ story to become “truth”, it would have to be believed to become established and made legitimate in the world of cowboy lore (Storey 2006:102). 

Let The Record Show

How does one become legitimate when attempting to create an authentic Western hero? Fusco had been a two-time recipient of the prestigious Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum for his western genre research in film. He understood the importance of historical records and verifying secondary and primary sources. He claimed, in many of his interviews, that he never took “Native history at face value and always looked deeper into it” and that he “does not take research lightly.”   He is aware that his final claim to the authentic must have the historical evidence to “prove” what he has been presenting as the true life of Frank Hopkins. However, the skeptics are just aware of the need to add historical evidence to their claims against Fusco’s Hopkins. As part of their mission to educate the public about Long Riders, the O’Reillys produce historical research about equestrian riders.  The O’Reillys and Fusco both knew the importance of history and its role within this debate of authenticity.

                Category Three carries more importance for the discussion than the creations of the cowboy hero or the kinship ties in the first two categories. Written history is very authoritative and individuals socialized by the mainstream culture are more prone to believe written words over oral history. As the advocates quickly discovered, oral tradition and stories told to Indian children were not considered enough “proof” of the existence of Hopkins and Hidalgo for the skeptics. They needed to tap into the historical records to give credence to their cowboy hero. Within the coding of the articles, it was discovered there were exact words used when the advocates discussed the historical context. Discussions about historical context is centered upon the historical events Hopkins wrote about, and the records used by the advocates to strengthen their argument.

To support Fusco’s comments about his understanding of the importance of good historical research is his comment in a Creative Screenwriting Magazine article written by Karen Gordon when she asked him how important research was to him:

When you’re writing a screenplay based on history or historical accounts, research is imperative.  It’s also my favorite parts of the process. It’s a “drinking in” process, drinking in everything there is to know about Frank Hopkins, or Ethan Allen, or Babe Ruth and the times in which they lived. I read everything that was ever published on the subject and then I try to find unexplored branches.  To me, the pure gold is finding an old-timer who remembers his, or remembers his ancestor’s stories. You can find real nuggets and offbeat textures in that stuff. [Gordon 2004]

Fusco and his advocates used various forms of historical information to base their claims of authentic upon. Within a March 2004 article by B. Alan Orange, Fusco explained where he came upon the Hopkins story:

My interest in Frank Hopkins? Twelve years ago, when I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation for Thunderheart, I was doing research into Native American horses that had come into extinction. I was interviewing an elder, Chief Fools’ Crow, who was the ceremonial chief. He was 103 years old. I was getting his information of the history of Lakota horses. He told me the story of Hidalgo and Frank Hopkins.  I started looking into horse history books and came across lthe actual story of this half-breed endurance horseman and his painted mustang Hidalgo. There are 72 years of writing about him and about the race. But not a whole lot of information. [Orange 2004]

The massive research project undertaken by the O’Reilly’s was prompted by the Royal Geographical Society of England’s request to induct the Long Riders into the RGS as Fellows. O’Reilly was aware of Frank Hopkins and had planned to research his horsemanship claims before Bill Brummel, a producer for the History Channel, who was working on a Hopkins documentary, emailed him with the following concerns about Hopkins:

We had a hard time finding any dependable research.  Everything seemed to go back to Frank’s own writing. As documentarians, we look for multiple sources to back up factual material. We couldn’t find a thing. [ accessed April 25, 2007]

In response to this email, O’Reilly made three separate phone calls to the Vermont Historical Society, the Rutland Historical Society, and to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Wyoming. What he discovered is the articles located in Vermont were solely written by Hopkins, and Dr. Juti Winchester’s staff at the Buffalo Bill Museum could not locate any records of a Frank Hopkins working for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

                What the O’Reillys and a group of over seventy scholars, historians, and museum experts discovered was what would be called the “Hopkins Hoax.”  It began with Charles B. Roth, a friend of Hopkins, who made him a hero in magazine articles.  In the mid-1930s he wrote “Hopkins belongs at the head of the list of the world’s greatest distance riders.” Roth later admitted he did not verify any of Hopkins’ claims. But this did not stop Roth from introducing Hopkins to Albert Harris, a pioneering Arabian horse breeder, who unwittingly bestowed credibility upon Hopkins. Harris’ 1941 book, The Blood of the Arab included correspondence from Hopkins. In the 1950’s J. Frank Dobie wrote admiringly of Hopkins in his classic, The Mustangs, reprinting unverified excerpts from Harris’ book.

This pattern of unverifiable scholarship continued until it culminated with Fusco and the Hidalgo screenplay. Melissa Paul, curator of the W.K. Kellogg Library added her comments to this lack of scholarship:

All roads lead back to Hopkins. Nothing predates Hopkins’ claims – no magazine, newspaper accounts, nothing. After researching the Ocean of Fire race with a network of historians, she stated “what race, there has never been one.”  [Lieberman 2004:F4]

Fusco used the same book, The Blood of the Arab in one of his interviews as his proof to why O’Reilly was attempting to discredit his research:

It’s considered still today to be the Bible on Arabian horse breeding, written by the president of the Arabian Horse Registry. He dedicates two chapters to Frank Hopkins, the race, and Hidalgo in here. One of the problems for certain people is that he suggests that Hidalgo bred onto Arabian mares while he was there. And that’s what’s at the heart of this whole thing, and to this man’s credit I’ve never seen anyone so brilliant at manipulating historians, the press, and launching such a campaign. [Wilson 2004a]

Juti Winchester, curator at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming found no evidence of Hopkins in her database of 6,000 plus people from mule skinners to popcorn vendors who worked for Cody.  She states:

When Disney researchers called the museum, they asked how Buffalo Bill dressed, spoke, etc. They even wanted to know about what type of cigar he smoked. But no one from Hollywood ever asked a single question about Frank Hopkins and Hidalgo. [Lieberman 2004:F4]

Fusco countered Juti Winchester’s remarks about no Hopkins’ records at the museum by saying the museum had no records of Calamity Jane being a member of the Congress of Rough Riders.[5]

                When Fusco was asked about the lack of newspaper reports concerning the over 400 long-distance horse races that Hopkins wrote of winning he responded with:

I don’t know if that would be that huge of a deal.  At that time, endurance horse racing was very common. It was a craze at the time. [Dritschilo 2003:1]

Fusco claimed in a Hollywood Report article that he had been researching Hopkins life for more than twelve years and had compiled research from more than fifteen well-respected historians that verified this story. Fusco never publicly released the names of the fifteen-well known historians or the Native families who claim to have either seen Hopkins or were passing the Hopkins’ legend down through oral traditions. 

                O’Reilly began to line up his seventy scholars against the Hopkins advocates, and published a book entitled, Hidalgo And Other Stories (2003) by Frank Hopkins, with Basha and CuChullaine listed as the editors. O’Reilly publicly acknowledged the seventy plus scholars in the forward of this book and on his website. This publication is the first time that all of Frank and Gertrude Hopkins’s writings had been published in one place.

                However, Fusco was not completely done with the Long Riders’ Guild or his attempt to discredit their research and regain his credibility of his own research skills. In 2006, Fusco posted the Walt and Edith Pyle interview on the website. The Pyles were friends of Frank Hopkins and helped Fusco build his authentic cowboy hero into reality. Within this article, Fusco took exception to the O’Reilly’s claims of shoddy research and attempts to prove that Hopkins was everything Fusco believed he was and more. One of the comments to the O’Reilly’s research began:

How different the disposition of the media blitz might have been if Walt and Edith Pyle had been interviewed to tell the first-hand truth: that they knew Hopkins personally, knew about his long races, and watched him ride often – like on a Sunday in 1948…… [Fusco 2006]    

Another comment about O’Reilly’s lack of real horsemanship skills and knowledge began with:

He unknowingly lives less than an hour’s drive from Walt and Edith who could have challenged his statement if he ever left the microfilm for an afternoon and got his loafers muddy on a horse farm. [Fusco 2006] 

Fusco continued to support his research skills and abilities with the following:

All we had were 72 years of writings in horse history books, magazines, and newspapers, referencing Frank T. Hopkins as one of the greatest distance riders who ever saddled a horse. We had the recorded oral histories of western ranch families and Native Americans who grew up on tales of his rides, like the Blackfeet elder, Leo Pard, who recounts the Hidalgo story in his native tongue, the way his elders told him [emphasis Fusco]. But we didn’t, at that time, have people who actually knew the guy. [Fusco 2006]

Lastly, Fusco and the Pyles gave credit for the tall-tale articles to Gertrude Hopkins, Frank’s wife. The following is what Fusco had to say about the tall-tales that the O’Reilly’s have previously acknowledged as the writings of Gertrude.

We believe that these vast and rambling, handwritten manuscripts largely account for what has been described as Hopkins “tall tales” or hoax. They were composed by Gertrude who knew little about horses or the west, but knew that there was great interest in her late husband’s legendary reputation for extreme rides.  Robert Easterman wrote her and indicated a publishing deal if she could provide enough material. Gertrude amended accounts of his legendary rides, but she also penciled in some rollickers and monkeydoodle: like Buffalo Bill was 7 feet tall; like Geronimo was Sitting Bull’s brother, some material was hand-copied directly from books like Black Elk Speaks; other purple passages resemble a neophyte effort to write a Zane Grey western. These were the papers the debunkers presented to historians as “the smoking gun” while allegedly ignoring Hopkins’ actual erudite writings on horsemanship as well as discovered photos. When we learned that this mystery box had been found by people who were proving to be oddly over-zealous in denouncing Hopkins, we hired researchers to access the materials and copy it all otherwise these articles by Hopkins might never had seen the light of day. [Fusco 2006]

To fully appreciate Fusco’s desire to create the man who was Frank T. Hopkins into a hero was the following quote:

Frank Hopkins is a hero of mine, and the film is based on his horsemanship philosophy. Maybe there is legend, maybe it’s created, but there is no doubt in my mind that Frank Hopkins was a knowledgeable horseman and acknowledged distance rider, and more importantly, he was an early proponent of mustang preservation. Hopkins still lives as legend, as folklore in that world, and still inspires, no matter what the truth is. [Lieberman 2004:F4] 

Dr. Juti Winchester summed up the Hidalgo discussion in a manner appropriate to those who watch films, participate in the making of them, and remind us as viewers we cannot always take our cowboy heroes as the real thing:

No matter what Hollywood types say about it being “only a movie,” we all know about the power of moving pictures on the human psyche. I’ll be popping a lot of people’s bubbles. I only wish that somebody from that movie could be here to watch the fallout they started. [Lieberman 2004:F4]

From the very beginning both the advocates and skeptics were attempting to create their versions of what the Hopkins’ writings meant to them as horsemen and more importantly

as cowboys living by specific codes of honor. Fusco wanted to create his own personal hero using Hopkins as his template.  In opposition was O’Reilly who believed Hopkins was nothing more than a make-believe cowboy who stole the identity of true western heroes.  Most Americans feel that the “West is governed by a compelling and unwritten code, a “spirit” unlike that east of the Mississippi and that the cowboy constructed this code and epitomizes this spirit” (Fishwick 1952:78). Fusco believed Frank T. Hopkins and Hidalgo were part of this tradition and O’Reilly did not.

With All Due Respect, He hasn’t seen the movie

This paper was a brief discussion involving a small sampling of the Hidalgo public interviews and responses to each side of the debate about authentic research, re-creation, and historical events. A person’s discourse should illustrate some understanding of the events of which they are claiming to be knowledgeable. Institutions also attempt to claim the authority, to speak about and for others. Hollywood is a prime example of this authority speaking about others and using their publicity machines to create the message they want to project to their ticket-buying audiences. Should we as consumers be concerned with the discourse created by publicity or should it be ignored as just another attempt of the Hollywood film studio to get the viewing public interested enough in the discourse to spend their hard-earned money for movie tickets? The question is what has happened to those the authoritative voice has been speaking for and about. Do they get their own voices within the publicity making machine or do they just accept the discourse created for and about them?   


Within all of the public texts that specific individuals created for the Hidalgo discourse, the idea of motive was one of the major themes presented. Each advocate and skeptic had a particular text they presented as motives for the other side of the texts. Motives included the dislike of the Mustang horse breed, making money, religious beliefs, personal dislikes, and some of the texts deferred the motive to they just did not understand how anyone could attack the Hopkins work. Correcting Lakota history took a backseat as the two groups argued about the historical significance of long-distance horse racing and who actually wrote the Hopkins’ story, and why the O’Reillys were attacking the film. Motives became personal attacks on individuals and with each new set of motives revealed, the attacks became more personal. What is the motive behind any one when they enter into a discourse about such a highly emotional text? One of the issues the various motives illustrated in the discourses is that each person always looked outward for a motive and never looked at their own text to see how their motives affected the ongoing discourse. It seems the main motive theme for each individual was to be more “authentic” within their discourses.

It was within the accusations and listed motives by each group that we can see an example of how contemporary colonial discourse can be used to set up what appeared at the beginning of the Hidalgo discussion as being enlightened work about attempting to correct Lakota history. Early articles indicated one of the main motives for Fusco to write his screenplay was his interest in correcting Native history and to help bring the story of Frank T. Hopkins into the light. Indeed, any attempt to correct historical information about Native people is a worthwhile event and should be considered. Native voices have been silent far too long within their own historical events, and they need to be heard as we move forward into time. However, we need to remember that colonial discourse is not a singular ending event but a continuous string of projects, different representations, narratives and efforts by those speaking to make the event appear more enlightened and sympathetic to the colonized.

Hollywood perpetuates this colonial discourse with their various Native representations, projects, and films made to fit the current non-Native idea of what the Native person is or should become. In this case, we were dealing with the Lakota Nation [colonized] and the advocates and skeptics who were attempting to retell a story — that tangentially involved the Lakotas. Fusco stated throughout this event, that this story was from the oral traditions, and he had heard it from various families and people throughout the reservation of the Blackfeet. He had a Blackfoot elder, Leo Pard, tell the story to Angelique Midthunder, who then translated it back into English. Besides this one elder, none of the advocates would say which families they had spoken to or whose families had been passing the Hopkins story down to the children of the Northern Plains for several generations. Other than Leo Pard’s voice retelling what suspiciously reads like the movie script, Native voice (on the advocate’s side) is noticeably silent.  The advocates used specific well-known Native historical and political events (e.g., Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890) and cultural contexts (i.e., speaking to elders or referring to the oral traditions) to validate their version of Hopkins for the consumption of the mainstream. What appears to begin as an enlightened project intended for Native historical correction turns into a media circus of non-Natives arguing over whether the Hopkins story was real or just good story telling.

In the beginning, this study attempted to bring to the reader a better understanding of how authentic was and continues to be used within the discourse of the Hidalgo film publicity. It became obvious, as the data was coded, that this was not just about discovering the authentic, but the making of a cowboy myth and a better understanding of the American western hero would be needed to appreciate Fusco and O’Reilly’s authentic texts. Interestingly, both men were authentic within a code of cowboy etiquette.

However, what was obvious within the texts were the contradictions made over the course of four years. Within our language are the symbolic events that are based within our own cultural upbringings. The Hidalgo texts certainly illustrate those various cultural values people bring to their language. As stated previously, within Foucault’s Ritual of Truth, the event does not always have to be the truth when spoken about. It comes down to the speaker believing what they have said that makes the event truthful. Below are some of the Rituals of Truth that were present within the Hidalgo texts, and how those rituals were refuted by the historical records and skeptics’ discourse and sometimes even the advocates refuted their own discourses. 

Rituals of Truth:

Assertion: Hopkins’ released a herd of mustang ponies onto the Pine Ridge Reservation.[Wilson 2004a]  Hopkins bought a string of Indian Pones from General Crook to save them from a US government slaughter program. [Noel 2002]

Rejoinder:  Fusco tells Staci Layne Wilson that he did not specifically read that Hopkins actually took the prize money and bought those horses, but then he says that Hopkins released the horses onto the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. [Wilson 2004a]

Rejoinder: Fusco claims that Hopkins had his own stream of horses and he believes there are still descendants of that stream in Blackjack, Oklahoma [Orange 2004]  

Assertion: John Fusco’s relationship to Pine Ridge allowed them to get actual descendants from Wounded Knee to play the Native extras and Ghost Dancers. [Orange 2004; Wilson 2004a; Morales 2004]

Rejoinder: October 8, 2002 a casting call was put out by Angelique Midthunder and the South Dakota Office of Tourism for American Indians of all ages and young Caucasian men who look 18 to 40 to play 1890’s cavalry soldiers. Two different casting calls took place at the Alex Johnson Conference Center and at the Sue Ann Big Crow Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Both calls started at noon and the pay was $114.00 per day.  [Hull 2002]

Assertion:  Blood of the Arab book dedicates two chapters to Hopkins and Hidalgo and gives credit to him winning the Oceans of Fire race. [Thomas 2004:N9; Wilson 2004a; Topel 2004]

Rejoinder:  The two chapters dedicated to Hopkins in the Blood of the Arab are copies of Hopkins’ correspondence to the author, Albert Harris. [Harris 1941; Hopkins (1940) 2003:5]

Assertion:  Hidalgo was the first film to reenact the Wounded Knee Massacre [Wilson 2004a]

Rejoinder: Buffalo Bill Cody created the first Wounded Knee Massacre film on October 13, 1913. It was released to the public on February 14, 1914. Eventually, it would be reedited in 1917 with the original documentary being reportedly donated to the War and Interior Department Archives.  There is no record of the original ever received. [Peterson 2003: 51-56 & 80; Moses 1996:223-251] 

Assertion: The reason there were no newspaper articles about the 400-long distance horse races were because these races were illegal during this time in history. [Orange 2004; Hopkins (1930) 2003; Thomas 2004:N9]  Purse winnings were as large as $3000.00 per race. [Wingate (1940) Hopkins:2003]

Rejoinder: The National Humane Society did send an agent, W.W. Tatro, to observe the Chadron to Chicago endurance race of 1893. He wrote the following, “It started in foolishness and was foolish business all through, but it has been an educator of the people, showing them that the so-called cowboys are not a set of horned animals, all wild brutal men, and the Humane Society discovered it was wrong in supposing that the riders would treat their horses badly. We consider the race a big success in every way.” There was no official Humane Society opposition to the Wyoming to Denver race in 1908. [O’Reilly 2003:90-91]

Assertion: Fusco makes the above claim and then will also claim that endurance racing was very common and a craze during this timeframe and would not be in the newspapers [Dritschilo 2003:NEWS]

Rejoinder: There are no written newspaper accounts to support Hopkins claims of his 400 long-distance endurance race winnings. [Davidson 2003:127; Greene 2003:126; O’Reilly 2003:128; O’Reilly 2003:98; Al-Badi 2003:88]

Assertion: Fusco was told the Hopkins story twelve years ago when he was on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota for Thunderheart and while doing research on Native American horses by Chief Frank Fools Crow when he was 103 years of age.[Orange 2004; Thomas 2004:N9]

Rejoinder: Fools Crow was either born in 1889 or 1890 and passed away in 1989 before Fusco was given the go-ahead in November 1989 to begin the Thunderheart (1992) project. [Orange 2004; Noel 2002]

Assertion: Ocean of Fire is a 3000-mile, 1000-year-old endurance race in the Middle East. [Thomas 2003:N9; Orr 2004:22;Gillespie 2004:5F; Nason 2004; Wingate (1940) Hopkins 2003:124; Hopkins (1930) 2003:87-88]

Rejoinder: In Hopkins writings the Ocean of Fire is called the “Thanksgiving Day” race.  There is no historical evidence for the race ever existing. [Al-Quaiti 2003:87; O’Reilly 2003:87-88; Al-Badi 2003:88; Paul (2004) Lieberman 2004; Thomson 2004:C01; Harrigan 2004]

Assertion: Fusco claims O’Reilly is an Arabian horse proponent and he cannot have a Mustang Pony winning over Arabian horses. Fusco also claims Hopkins’ story is also an insult to the Five Horses of the Koran and that O’Reilly is a practicing Muslim and insulted by Fusco’s story. [Wilson 2004a; Wilson 2004b; Wilson 2004c; Felperin 2004:11; Thomas 2004:N9)

Rejoinder:  O’Reilly states this was about shoddy research and the damage this sort of research causes to history. He claims to never have owned an Arabian horse. He denies that he is anti-Mustang or anti any particular breed of horses and his religion has nothing to do with messy research. [O’Reilly 2004]

Assertion:  There are several families on various reservations that know about Frank Hopkins and his connection to their tribes with stories that have been handed down through generations. [Wilson 2004a;Wilson 2005b;Orange 2004; Morales 2004; Nason 2004; Midthunder 2004]  Hopkins claims to have intimate knowledge of Chief Gall of the Standing Rock Reservation, who Hopkins asserts gave him his horse when Chief Gall agreed to live on the reservation [Hopkins (1943) 2003:181]

Rejoinder: Chief Gall was a member of Vine Deloria’s Grandfather’s congregation at Wakpala and lived long after he came to the reservation; “his relatives are well represented at Standing Rock today and will be astounded that Hopkins knew more about their ancestor than they did”. [Deloria 2003:181]

Perhaps Fusco and Disney should have used this disclaimer, from the page of Dave Eggers’s best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: “All events described herein actually happened, though on occasion the author has taken certain, very small, liberties with chronology, because that is his right as an American” (Keller 2005:240). This is a small reminder that films and screenplays often clash with history as much as they clarify it and that “taking of liberties” is unavoidable even in “historically responsible films and within the Western it is a generically and culturally specific right of the filmmakers to take such liberties” (Keller 2005:240).

Certainly, Fusco with his creation of his heroic cowboy figure Frank Hopkins, took great liberties with his story. It should be noted that neither the authentic details of Native American dress nor the appearance of Buffalo Bill Cody in Hidalgo guarantees historically illuminating cinema and the “excessive detail in the traditional Western often amounts to the crudest of stereotypes and inaccuracies” (Keller 2005:240). It is these stereotypes of inaccuracies that caused the O’Reillys to publicly claim Fusco’s research as incorrect and he needed to remove the “based on the true story” by-line that was being used for the film’s advertisements.

Contribution to Knowledge

                When this study was first proposed as a thesis project, the main concern I faced was remaining neutral in my analysis of the discourse. I wanted the advocates and skeptics to be able to speak for themselves within the articles and interviews. I did not want my voice to interfere with what the two groups had to say about Frank T. Hopkins. I felt it would be more informative to lay the data out and allow the readers to draw their own conclusions. This is the primary reason I elected to use the grounded theory approach as a starting point. Grounded theory allowed me the ability to explore the articles (that became the data) further, while remembering that grounded theory is an exploratory event and the idea is to let the data find the theory and not the chosen theories dictate the data.

The Hidalgo discourse covers four full years and has been written about by various individuals within the media, as well as the advocates and skeptics in this discourse. The media event lasted longer than the movie theatrical release. I elected to use a lineal approach for choosing specific articles and included articles/interviews from different media outlets (e.g., magazines, interviews, newspapers, and websites). Articles came from the beginning, middle, and end of the event. A lineal approach enabled me to gather data at various points in time and examine whether comments were evolving over time. The selection of data was aided by grounded theory because it allowed me to capture the information needed to show the interactions between the advocates and skeptics. Ultimately, the interaction between these two groups is the most significant dimension of this study, and I felt by using a different theory, (e.g., Critical Theory or Marxist Theory) it would lend itself to a different reading than what grounded theory allows. I was not trying to prove or disprove the discourse, I wanted to explore the underlying messages that were being produced, transmitted and received by individuals. It also gave me the necessary method to identify categories and concepts I was finding within the texts.

Having said that, I also knew that I was dealing with media driven text and wanted to expand upon grounded theory a bit more. I elected to use qualitative media analysis because the data was “media produced” and this type of analysis allows specific themes, contexts, or frameworks to become more evident. I found this type of media analysis helped me to set up the protocol coding sheets I used when I reviewed individual articles. This study started with the question of authentic and by using qualitative media analysis I was able to break my coding down into the three categories that were discovered – the idea of cowboy imagery, how kinship/ethnic background can be used to prove or disprove a claim, and the importance of historical records.

Discourse analysis would seem to be a logical choice for this study; however, after reviewing this type of analysis, I believed it was better suited for a thesis involving syntax and language structure. Perhaps at this stage, discourse analysis would be a viable tool to look at the event within a language structure, but from where I started from I felt it would add too much critical approach to the study and would not fit my purpose.

The preceding case study illustrates the utility of employing qualitative media analysis and grounded theory to the analysis of disparate texts. In the present case, two groups with competing interests and motives marshaled evidence to support their competing claims of authenticity. Both groups are “privileged” and accustomed to speaking with and claiming authority.

                While this discourse was public and high profile, ethnographers can easily find themselves in a similar conundrum – attempting to deconstruct disparate texts to discover the “authentic.” As this case demonstrates, qualitative media analysis and the grounded theory approach are important methodological tools for cultural anthropologists — especially in the early stages of research. Anthropologists have been known to create their own “authentic” discourse about a culture. We have also been accused of doing shoddy research and/or for failing to verify the data gathered from our informants.  On occasion, we have forgotten human beings are more than ethnographic encyclopedias and come with their own agendas and needs within specific events.

This is what the Hidalgo discourse offers anthropology – learn a lesson from the advocates’ experience and do not to be overly-confident that seventy-two years of horse writing, oral history, or someone’s personal papers will always be the true story. Conversely, the actions of the skeptics also remind us that it is good to step back and ask some tough questions – who benefits from our good research and, despite our good intentions, are we perpetuating a colonial discourse that traps Native people in the stereotypes of the past? Vine Deloria, Jr. during his lifetime, asked that question every time he approached a non-Native researcher working with Native peoples and research topics. He added his voice to the skeptics’ Hidalgo discourse in the same manner he approached anthropologists – was this film doing more harm than good to Native [Lakota] history? It is not an insult to the researcher if someone asks this question; it opens an opportunity to do better research.

Moreover, we are reminded that if we are challenged as researchers, our past accomplishments do not grant us immunity from scholarly scrutiny. We must approach each project with a fresh perspective and not allow our egos to become overly involved in the work. If we get too close to our own work the research will suffer, and sometimes we will see only what we would like to see. Peer review of our own work is the best insurance we will continue to produce good, ethical research.

This is what Hidalgo brings to anthropology – another lesson on the importance of doing good research, not falling back on past accomplishments, and being able to accept criticism about the work being done. It is also a lesson about being able to make necessary corrections, additions, or even admit that the project was poorly done and apply a new approach to the work. This is what this project has shown me as a researcher.  While it is probably unrealistic to expect Hollywood screenwriters to adopt the ethical standards of the discipline of anthropology, we can certainly add our voices to the movement to impress the film industry with the necessity of approaching their representations of Native people (and other vulnerable populations) and history in a more truthful, reflexive manner—especially films promoted as “based on a true story.”

This thesis opened the door to further work to be considered about the history of horses among Native people and how non-Native people are working to save a particular breed of horse. Does this type of work promote Native lifeways or does it push them into another stereotype that only Native people are interested in Mustang horses because Fusco believes the Mustang is the “true Indian Pony.” What does that mean from a historical perspective? Can this type of preservation of a horse breed be brought into the Native community as part of economic development and cultural revitalization? Would anthropology be able to add some Native voice to the record of the horse in contemporary times?  

                 Hidalgo, the film, is something else that would lend itself to a project about non-Native appropriation of sacred Native events. Fusco talks about actually doing the Ghost Dance for the film, and Mortensen was allowed to sing an “authentic” medicine song at the end of the film. Fusco claims the family of the medicine man granted permission to use the song, even though permission was not needed to use the song it was felt this was the proper way to do things (Orange 2004). Should non-Native film audiences be watching a sacred dance or hearing a medicine song, without any knowledge of what they are seeing or hearing? Just because the screenwriter claims everything was done in a proper manner with the Native population does not make it correct for a non-Native audience to view. This type of a future project covers the process of identity and what is or is not appropriate for non-community members to be exposed to during a public event.

The Sun Slowly Sets on Frank and Hidalgo (for now)

Hidalgo offers more questions than it answers, and anyone who is interested in political identity, applied work with the film industry, or even cultural appropriation would find something to explore and expand upon. As long as Hollywood exists and continues to create Indians for the viewing public, there will be a need for good researchers to explore and expose those events that do not always seem to be what they are on the surface. 

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