Dances with Wolves

This may possibly be in the wrong forum, if so will a mod please move it.

This film was shown (again) on UK TV and I watched it (again) because I think it’s the best of Costners efforts.

I cannot help but observe that the native American is portrayed as “The Noble Redman” and yet I fail to see why.

Admittedly there must have been some “Indians” who were quite eager to meet and trade with whitey but there must also have been many more who saw us as interlopers on their land and as such should be driven off.

At the end of the film it states that a mere 13 years is all it took for us whites to subdue the Indians, this again I find a tad difficult to grasp.

There were many Indian tribes, didn’t they all unite and fight us as one people or were there inter-tribal rivalries which prevented this.

Before answering bear in mind I’m English, my knowledge of such things is limited, for example I was led to believe that Custer was a great bloke, apparently he was a twat

In Dances they showed both a Noble Savage (Kevin’s adoptive tribe) and the Evil Savage (the Sioux) as I recall.

When we first arrived we settled in areas with minimal native populations thanks to the 90% death rate from diseases brought over by the Spaniards (fascinating graph at the Smithsonian Native American Museum on this - it is also covered in Guns, Germs & Steel by Diamond). The Puritans, for example, took over an empty Native settlement - empty due to disease.

Tribes on the coast worked with the Euros in hopes of gaining power over the inland tribes.

As for uniting - let me put in an appropriate analogy - they are worse than the Scots when it comes to working together against the English! :wink:

Inter-tribal rivalries made it possible at some times for the whites to play off one Indian nation against another, but what prevented them from uniting against the whites was not so much “rivalries” as a complete lack of any sense or tradition of inter-national Indian unity, before Columbus or after.

[quote=“Algher, post:2, topic:479962”]

In Dances they showed both a Noble Savage (Kevin’s adoptive tribe) and the Evil Savage (the Sioux) as I recall.


I think the Pawnee were the bad guys, the Lakota Sioux were Costners adoptive tribe

No I believe it just says that the Lakota Sioux lasted another 13 years before capitulating.

The number of Indian nations is in the hundreds, certainly, and some fought with others. There was probably more cultural and linguistic variation in North America in 1491 than there has been in Europe at any time since the fall of the Roman Empire. Some nations cooperated with the Europeans, or fought them, or did both at different times, depending on the political situation. Indian forces were a major part of the War of 1812, fighting on the side of the British, and the Seven Years War, where they fought on both the French and British sides.

The eventual downfall of the Indian nations was started not by open warfare, but diseases introduced by Europeans, which killed the better part of all North American natives and was especially devastating to the farming civilizations in what is now Mexico and the eastern USA. (The popular idea that all Indians were hunter/gatherers is nonsense.)

Of course, most Indian civilizations lacked written language, so unfortunately most of their history has been lost, but it’s fair to say that when you’re talking about hundreds of nations and tens of millions of people soread out over millions of square miles, you’re going to get a little bit of everything.

Apologies, it did say the Lakota and not all Indian nations

The final victory over the Indians came with the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 – a date that is often cited as “the end of the Frontier,” which really means the end of the Indian nations as independent military powers; henceforth the Indian nations would be only powerless wards of the federal government.

Yes, Wes Studi was the bad guy Pawnee who killed the Wagon guy at the beginning and who was killed by Costner and the Lakota in the Indian battle towards the end. I saw him again in Last of the Mohicans, which was on cable the other night.

But if you watch the longer version, there is one scene where the Lakota are shown as other than noble savages. During the Buffalo hunt, there is scene where they are dancing and showing the scalps taken in raiding parties, and Costner is a bit taken aback. I think that was mostly edited out of the shorter version that was originally shown in theaters.


Wasn’t this initiated by whitey?

Couple of things about Dances which I need explaining.

  1. When Dunbar (Costner) arrives at his new posting, the fort is deserted and not a soul to be seen. No explanation is given as to why they vanished or even began living in caves.

  2. Yet again the white man is portrayed as a thug/illiterate. When the troops arrive at the fort they are made out to be mindless idiots. Why?

No, contrary to revisionist myth.

What if it was? They still did it.

AFAIK, there is no explanation.

That’s part of the myth that the movie is trying to portray. It’s not entirely false, but in that movie, there is a charicature. Note that the officers are shown as being more restrained than the enlisted (illiterate) guys.

On the timeline issue, the movie is set after the Civil War, which ended in 1865, so the 1890 Wounded Knee battle generally fits. But bear in mind that the government had been fighting the Indians for decades before that point (remember, when the hero shows up at the fort with his orders, his new commander assumes he’s there to fight the Indians).

Looks like Cecil has addressed this misconception: Did native Americans learn scalping from Europeans? (Answer: No)

The four-hour extended version of the movie offers an explanation.

Think starvation. The fort wasn’t resupplied in time. Some soldiers deserted. Some turned on each other. Some starved.

I would imagine they would be just like all men. Some are filled with hate, some not so much. The fact is we came to conquer their land so I imagine that most men would see this as an act of war and respond to it as such. As this was a film I imagine that it would more truthful that DWW would be slaughtered like any conquerer would. A tribe of people would have little to fear from a single man and would deal with that threat appropriatley. As a man, a warrior, as many indians in fact were, I fear no man. These are the foibles of children and when one is a man these things must be put away, lest your fear lead to your demise.

I don’t doubt for a second that these men were as noble as any man that ever trod this earth. They are no less or no more than any man, but simply men. Striving to protect their families and thier way of life.

I would further add that this very thing is proven again and again, in places like Iraq and Afhganistan, where the conquerers think they posses the might and force to change the will of others.

The day when indians had to trade or kill or steal for the technology of the conquerer is over. In this world anyone with money can buy it and I think we can all see how it’s going now.

Such is war.

I enjoy westerns, but I thought Dances was too revisionist. But, that’s Hollywood.

As an aside: One of the best known “Indian” actors, and “Indian” representatives, was Iron Eyes Cody. The only problem I have with Iron Eyes is that his name was Espera de Corti and he was born in Kaplan, Louisiana, to Sicilian immigrants. Sadly, Ol’ Iron Eyes even began to believe he was an Indian.

Iron Eyes de Corti sounds like a good name for a Sicilian/Mafia button man, does it not?

The fort had been abandoned earlier. Dnbar was ordered there by the orders of the commander of the fort he had originally reported to, a man who other scenes showed was both crazy and drunk. That officer killed himself (without informing anyone or even writing down the transfer order) shortly after Dunbar, who didn’t know the fort was abandoned, had already left. So, since Dunbar had never reported in and nobody else even saw him, no one in the Army even knew he was there.

At least that’s what the book said. The movie might have had a different backstory.

That makes more sense, although I don’t remember the movie indicating that the officer was from the “Soldiers Fort”. My memory could be faulty on that, though. Still, it explains some missing pieces.

In the book there is also a small passage talking about the soldiers who abandoned the fort and what happened to them and why they left. The book goes into some detail about how screwed Dunbar really was with literally no one knowing what happened to him or where he was.


Semi-hijack, but in the several accounts of the 7th Cavalry that I have read, Col. Custer was one of those people who you either adored or despised, with very little middle ground in between the extremes. Certainly there were plenty of people who thought he was a twat, but there were plenty of people who revered him and invested a lot of time and effort into trying to deify Custer after he stupidly got himself killed at the Little Big Horn. (I’m in the “Custer was an asshole” camp :slight_smile: )

  1. As noted by ElvisL1ves, this is better explained in the book. The fort was apparently abandoned by it’s troops when supplies ran out, possibly due to the mismanagement of the crazy fort commander who sends Dunbar to that abandoned fort.

  2. I also generally agree with the responses above. My understanding is that literacy was still relatively rare amongst the enlisted men, who were there to do the heavy lifting, but the officers tended to be much better trained and educated. The overall slant that whitey = evil and Indian = noble is just Hollywood putting it’s mark on things, IMO.