Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another Dances With Wolves veteran tells his story in "Dakota Epic"

Bill Markley of Pierre, South Dakota really didn't know what he was getting into when he accepted a friend's invitation to be part of a reenactment group playing soldiers in Kevin Costner's western classic "Dances With Wolves." Not only did it lead to parts in several other movies, but also to a part-time career in writing.

Markley kept a journal during the filming and compiled his thoughts in the book "Dakota Epic: Experiences of a Reenactor During the Filming of Dances With Wolves."

He played a Confederate soldier in the Civil War scenes that open the movie. Here he is in costume on the set southeast of Pierre and pointing out where set pieces were at the same location over 20 years later.

"The makeup people... put brown makeup on our faces and hands to make sure we looked sun-tanned. They smudged black powder on our faces and hands to look like powder burns. They rubbed glycerin in our hair to make it look greasy. They hit our clothes with dust bags to make them look dirty." Markley wrote of the first few days on the set.

Markley also worked on the Fort Hays set as a Union soldier when Costner's character arrives on the frontier to receive a new assignment. Fellow reenactor Tim Larson snapped his picture at a water trough at Fort Hays.

In "Dakota Epic," Markley told about this scene - "The film crew set up the camera alongside the water trough. I was the second person from the camera. (Assistant Director) Linda Brachman told me, 'After you pour the water out of the bucket, dip your hand in the trough and splash water on your face.' Kevin directed this close-up scene. I was nervous."

Markley was willing and had the time, so he was additionally cast in the movie's last scenes where cavalry troops try to catch the Lakota tribe in their winter camp. This involved riding a horse in slippery, snowy Spearfish Canyon.

"...we would start out at at a trot - head to tail, stirrup to stirrup with looks of determination on our faces. We trotted as far as we could before we would have to cross the creek. We then retraced our steps trying to stay on our past tracks. We did this scene several times... Once I almost lost my seat as we trotted to a halt in the quagmire. I do not remember how many times we did this scene, but it was a lot."

Markley's book tells of long hours of boredom between shoots, hot and dusty prairie sets, and the thrill of meeting Hollywood actors. He describes the process of casting, costuming and numerous retakes in a fun and engaging style. I highly recommend "Dakota Epic" for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes process of movie making.

"Dakota Epic" is available at and includes illustrations by another South Dakota movie veteran, Jim Hatzell of Rapid City.


  1. Lived in the us for four years , i wish i knew that Sd is that beautiful, as i would love to visit

  2. Hey... I was there too! I was one of the Confederates hired from California. I was just telling the story to my mother, about how there was almost an uprising on the set, when they told the rebs they had to run away rather than fight? Were you aware of the tension that existed? I always wondered if Costner had any idea how close it came to the rebs walking off the set?

  3. That's an interesting angle on things. Sounds like some extras got carried away with their roles. Thanks for bringing us a behind-the-scenes insight I hadn't heard before.

  4. I really wanna see more pictures from the set! especially from the first battle.

    if any of u guys have any. plz let me know:

  5. Thanks for writing this Bill.
    Brian Harrington