While watching any movie or documentary based on history, several questions arise. They may be found in our limited knowledge, preferences, or inclinations. This has also been the case for the movie Hostiles, directed by Scott Cooper, which was released in 2018. This movie was based in the late 19th century when the American-Indian wars were in motion.
Scott Cooper of Miami has specialized in thoughtful, actor-driven filmmaking. The central theme of the movie lies in helping a Cheyenne chief reach his homeland, a U.S Army Captain named Joe Blocker, who is played by Christian Bale. Done so on the orders given by President Benjamin Harrison, this story is quite a thought-provoking and fascinating journey that starts in New Mexico. If you want an in-depth insight into the policies and events that unfolded during this period in American history, read ahead for more.
Many stories and encounters remembered today from this period in American history have been brought to light and presented to people. Though some may have been tweaked and given a fictional cover, they do, however, seek to capture the true essence of what is being disseminated. And that is the troubled and complicated history that has been lived. This is what this movie also captures, along with how Native Americans were assimilated into mainstream society after a long and arduous struggle.
Let’s first gauge some light on the tile of the movie. Hostiles – the word itself depicts the devastation and unfortunate events that unfolded in the late 19th century. It reflects the struggle and fights put up by the native Americans to preserve their way of life. Their culture, traditions, language, and religion, all of which were outlawed and put a clamp on by the U.S federal and state via laws and enactments. This was to civilize the Native Americans to the American way of living. And it wasn’t long before the Native Americans rose and resisted his change.
The movie begins with a brutal attack on a settler native American family by Comanches. This latter group was a dominant tribe that resided in the Great Plains. The story then progresses to the U.S cavalry capturing an Apache family that is trying to escape from an army prison.
Coming to Joe Blocker, the U.S Army Captain and the Cheyenne Chief, namely Yellow Hawk, who is played by Wes Studi, the relationship starts as quite hostile and slowly builds up. Both fictional characters are arch-enemies at the Wounded Knee, one of the massacres in 1890. The spark that lit this fire was the violation of several treaties by the Lakota Sioux. In addition, their practice of the Ghost Dance was also continued despite it being forbidden. The Ghost Dance was perceived as a threat to the U.S Army due to its aggressive nature. As a result, troops were deployed by the U.S Army to take control. And so, the Wounded Knee massacre occurred, where it is estimated that over 300 Native Americans were killed, most of which were women and children.
Indian Wars in the West 1862-1898
Several historical accounts and encounters have been unearthed to understand the atmosphere of this time. One of them being the Indian Wars of the West and Frontier Army Life, 1862-1898: Official Histories and Personal Narratives. Here an overview is provided of the way of life of the army stationed at the frontier. The perspectives and opinions of what the military had regarding the Native Americans back then were also described here.
James P. Boyd, in his book written in1895 entitled, Red Men on the Warpath. A Thrilling Story of Sunset Lands and Its Tragedies writes about how massacres were justified as a means of “pioneering policy.” He also describes his encounters with Native tribes and their traditions and beliefs. Of which the Ghost Dance was a part. He then goes on to explain how the Ghost Dance was a religious ritual, not a means of preparing for war or showcasing aggression as perceived by the U.S Army.
U.S Policies to Assimilate the Native Americans
The Ghost Dance was forbidden under the civilization’s regulations. This is what the U.S Department of the Interior had put in place for their safety. In addition, several other laws were implemented and executed to eradicate the Native American way of life. For instance, their medicinal practices were banned as well. Enligh was made the official communication medium on reservations, and boarding schools were set up to Americanize the Native American children. From how they dressed to how they walked, ate, and conversed, all were aimed at being transformed and made more “civil.” These were some of the ways the Native Americans were assimilated into the American culture.
You can learn more about these policies by searching them up and accessing the available legislative records. The Dawes Act, for instance, is an essential piece of legislation that you can read up on as well. Primary sources such as these are what have helped researchers and analysts investigate and observe the policies and attitudes toward Native Americans. Thus placing the movie Hostiles in a more valuable context.
Wrapping It Up
It is essential to view events from multiple perspectives to understand the nuances and peculiarities that historical accounts provide. This aim is to become aware of reality and have an open approach toward what could have been factual. Suppose you haven’t watched Hostiles, written and directed by Scott Cooper. You can watch it with your friends and family today and experience a new perspective on the American-Indian Wars.