While watching any movie or documentary based on history, several questions arise. They may be based on 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 has specialized in thoughtful, actor-driven filmmaking. The main theme of the movie lies in helping a Cheyenne chief reach his homeland by 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 from New Mexico. If you want an in-depth insight into the policies and events that unfolded during this period in American history, then read ahead for more.
Many stories and encounters that are remembered today from this period in American history have been brought to light and presented to people. Though some may have been tweaked and been 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 the process of how Native Americans were assimilated into mainstream society after a long and hard 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. The motive of which was to civilize the Native Americans into the American way of living. And it wasn’t long before the Native Americans rose and resisted tot 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 captures an Apache family that is trying to escape from an army prison.
Coming to Joe Blocker, the U.S Army Captian and the Cheyenne Chief, namely Yellow Hawk who is played by Wes Studi, the relationship starts as quite hostile and slowly builds up. Both the fictional characters are arch enemies at the Wounded Knee which was one of the massacres that took place 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
To understand the atmosphere of this time, several historical accounts and encounters have been unearthed. 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 that was stationed at the frontier. The perspectives and opinions of what the army has 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 encounter with different Native tribes along with their traditions and beliefs. Of which the Ghost Dance was a part of. He then goes on to explain how the Ghost Dance was in reality a religious ritual and 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 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 medium of communication on reservations and boarding schools were set up to Americanize the Native American children. From the way they dressed to the way 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 legislative records that are available. The Dawes Act for instance is an important 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 towards Native Americans. Thus placing the movie Hostiles in a more valuable context.
Wrapping It Up
To understand the nuances and peculiarities that historical accounts provide, it is important to view events from multiple perspectives. The aim of which is to become aware of reality and have an open approach towards what could have been factual. If you haven’t watched Hostiles, written and directed by Scott Cooper, you can watch it with your friends and family members today and experience a new perspective on the American-Indian Wars.