Saturday, October 31, 2009

Battles of Chief Pontiac 1952

The hows and the whys of "Battles of Chief Pontiac" being filmed in South Dakota's Black Hills are something I'd like to dig up.

This 1952 black and white tale of pre-Revolutionary War struggles between whites and Native Americans stars Lon Chaney and Lex Barker. I'm going to guess that a big part of filming outside of Rapid City had to do with the availability of Native extras, even though Chaney plays the title role of Chief Pontiac.

Based on actual historic events, the action is set in Michigan. The two main locations in the film are Fort Detroit (in a valley in the Black Hills) and Pontiac's Ottawa village, which looks to me to be the shores of Sheridan Lake west of Rapid City.

For a movie of this era, it's interesting to see the whites portrayed as evil conquerors and the Ottawas as victims.

Attention to period-authentic detail apparently wasn't a big deal, as tire tracks are clearly visible in grassy areas and the Ottawas wear Lakota-style warbonnets and live in teepees.

Barker, a former Tarzan, is likeable as the honest whiteman trying to appease tensions between the Hessian soldiers and the Ottawa tribe. Chaney, of course, was most famous for playing movie monsters. He starred in "The Wolf Man," "The Ghost of Frankenstein," "The Mummy's Tomb," and "Son of Dracula."

"Battles of Chief Pontiac" is available from


  1. Yes this TV. series was perfect my father has some movies of the time at home and I like so much because those ones were the first fight movies according to my father.

  2. Read "Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews with Classic SF and Horror Filmmakers" By Tom Weaver pages 9-15 on the making of "Battles of Chief Pontiac". The interview is with Herman Cohen, a producer on the film. Most of Cohen's information about the Sioux sounds downright apocryphal (such as the stereotypical 'peace pipe' and 'drunken Indian' stories'), but I'm sure there is at least some useful information to be culled from the interview.