Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Sitting Bull" possible lost South Dakota film?

Everything I can find about the 1954 western "Sitting Bull" tells me it was filmed in Mexico. However a viewing makes me not so sure it wasn't filmed right here in South Dakota.

I bought the movie on a hunch that I might find a South Dakota connection in it. The film stars J. Carrol Naish as Sitting Bull, Dale Robertson as cavalry officer Bob Parrish and Iron Eyes Cody as Crazy Horse.

The background of the opening title scene is very obviously the Needles area of Custer State Park and Harney Peak, but could be just a still photo inserted into the film.

The first moving scene is a camera pan across a ridge of mountains while Naish narrates, "These are the Black Hills of Dakota..."

I'm not going to say I can positively identify this location, but it looks very much like the area on the Custer State Park/Wind Cave National Park border that is known as "Cow Camp." I would have to take the film along into the parks to compare the background hills, but it sure looks like it to me.

A few minutes later in the movie the cavalry rides into this fort. Again just judging by memory, but this reminds me of the area where the Blue Bell ticket booth is now in Custer State Park.

At this point I have no positive proof, but I'd like to think I've come across a lost South Dakota movie. Either that or the production company found some Mexican hills that are a pretty darn good match for the Black Hills. If you know anything about this film or have any other information, I'd love to hear about it.

NOTE: If you want to know more about this film, which turns out to be partially filmed in South Dakota, click on the comments below. Thanks to Dan Siebersma and Brenda Hemmelman of the South Dakota State Library, we now know quite a bit more about "Sitting Bull."


  1. Dan Siebersma, South Dakota State LibraryJanuary 26, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    Your eyes did not deceive you, Chad...

    Wilfred Frank, the film's producer, had planned to film on location in the Black Hills, but the development of CinemaScope made it necessary for him to obtain additional capital, which he did by joining forces with a Mexican film group. This resulted in moving the filming to Mexico where, Frank discovered, "the scenery was virtually identical with that of his beloved Black Hills." Frank then contacted the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, "who obtained for him a number of wonderful panoramic color scenes of the Black Hills, and these Frank cunningly spliced at the very start of the picture, where with the ringing tones of Naish describing their majesty and beauty as if intoning a prayer, the film's audiences are immediately conveyed to the Black Hills."

    Source: Rapid City Journal, 8/15/54 (in the files at the SD State Library)

  2. Dan Siebersma, South Dakota State LibraryJanuary 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    And by the way...a "full-fledged Hollywood premiere" for the film was to be staged in Rapid City (at the Elks Theatre) on August 19, 1954. Scheduled to be on hand were stars J. Carroll Naish, Dale Robertson, and Mary Murphy.

  3. Wow, very cool information. Thanks much Dan, I appreciate it. Funny to know that I was half right and half wrong.

    The premiere "was to be staged." So it didn't happen? I wonder why.

  4. It probably was staged, but I only had the paper from 8/15/54 (Sunday) available to me, and it was describing an event that would take place the following Thursday. I'll see if we can verify that it really took place.

  5. Brenda Hemmelman of the State Library's research staff was able to verify that the premiere did, in fact, happen...and in a *big* way. Here's what she found:

    Thurs, Aug 19, 1954 Rapid City Journal: front page photo of Dale Robertson, Mary Murphy, J.Carrol Naish and W.R. Frank (producer) upon their arrival at the RC airport

    Friday, Aug 20, RCJ: front page photo of Gov. Sigurd Anderson addressing the premiere crowd. Plus reaction stories.

    Saturday, Aug 21, RCJ: a review of the events of the day, which included:

    --Gov. Sigurd Anderson and Mary Louise (Defender of ND; Miss Indian America) smoked a peace pipe to mark the end of the feud between the two states over the removal of Sitting Bull's bones from Ft. Yates to Mobridge;
    --A buffalo barbecue;
    --Presentation of the survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn;
    --Bringing Capt. George Armstrong Custer III, grand nephew of General Custer, to the premiere.

    Also present were descendants of the seven bands of the Sioux Nation which wiped out Custer. In a ceremony, Capt. Custer and the reps of the Battle literally buried a hatchet to commemorate the occasion. The hatchet was buried at the Pennington County Fairgrounds.

  6. Wow, sounds like that was quite the premiere. Wonder if in the construction of new buildings at the Fairgrounds anyone has unearthed that hatchet.

    Thanks again for finding this fun information. It's great to know more than what I could surmise by watching the film.