Almost a century ago, a silent film production company came to the Wind River Reservation looking for actors to play in black and white Westerns. Tim McCoy, the star of these early films, was a close friend of Chief Goes In Lodge. This is their story and the story of what once was a Hollywood production studio amongst the vastness of central Fremont County.
He was born in 1845 somewhere in what was then known as unorganized territory by the rest of the world, but as biito’owuu’ (my land) to the Arapaho people. Goes In Lodge led a long and eventful life. He was one of the final survivors in the modern world of a people that roamed freely over the plains, foothills, and mountains of the West for millennia before the arrival of European and American settlement.
As with many Native people, Goes In Lodge had another name as a young man, Nock a Sha. He was just a teenager at the brutal Sand Creek Massacre near modern-day Julesburg, Colorado, and traveled with the Northern Arapaho tribe after John Chivington’s men brutally attacked Chief Black Kettle’s village.
A year later, near present-day Ranchester, Wyoming on the Tongue River, Brigadier General Patrick Connor led another massacre that further broke up the band Nock a Sha was traveling with.
While the Arapaho were pursued by the United States Army and various volunteer militia groups, they were still at war with their long-standing rivals, the Crow.
In 1866, Nock a Sha entered a Crow lodge, killed two Crow warriors, took their horses, and returned victorious to his people. He earned the name Goes In Lodge for this act of bravery.
June 25, 1876, witnessed the greatest victory for tribes of the Great Plains over the U.S. Army at the Little Big Horn, known as Greasy Grass by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho at the battle, but it also marked the end of a way of life as the scattered bands following the battle were captured and forced onto reservations.
The Arapaho were a people without land and were placed by force with their traditional enemies the Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation.
It was here that Goes In Lodge would spend the rest of his life. That is his personal life. The boy born free and without confinement on the open grasslands would lead another life as a Hollywood movie star.
The mountain community of Lander, Wyoming doesn’t seem to fit the stark backdrop of Monument Valley, where many westerns were shot over the last century, but it was one of the original locations for early films and more importantly, members of the Arapaho tribe were among the only “free” Native Americans to ever appear in cinema.
Sometime in the early 1890s, Goes In Lodge met Ed Farlow, a local cowboy married to Lizzie Lamoreaux, the niece of the Sioux war chief Gall, one of the planners and leaders of the victory over Custer. Lizzie was born on Christmas Eve 1864 at Fort Laramie, her father Jules was a Frenchman and her mother Woman Dress was Gall’s younger sister.
Farlow and Goes In Lodge became friends.
In 1909, future Hollywood cowboy star Tim McCoy rode into the Wind River Country for the first time. Born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1891, McCoy was a freshman studying Latin with a presumed path to Catholic priesthood when the urge to go west struck him. Without telling his parents, he bought a train ticket west and ended up in Lander.
Fascinated by the West portrayed in dime novels, McCoy sought work as a cowboy and was hired a few days after arriving in Lander.
McCoy was quick to notice how many ranchers and their hired men looked down on the Arapaho. “They treated them disparagingly and often with haughty attitudes,” McCoy said. He didn’t share that sentiment and didn’t care for it at all.
He treated the Natives he encountered with respect, as equals, and was fascinated by their culture but couldn’t communicate with them.
Farlow learned sign language many years before and was able to communicate in this universal language of the plains with members of the Sioux, Arapaho, Shoshone, Cheyenne, and Crow tribes.
McCoy knew this and Buffalo Lodge, one of his Arapaho friends, taught him sign language. With this tool in hand, McCoy began to converse with the men of the Arapaho tribe and met Goes In Lodge.
The two men became best friends for life. Though Goes In Lodge was much older than McCoy, the two men treasured each other’s company. Goes in Lodge regarded McCoy as a son and McCoy was honored to have the old warrior as his best friend.
One of McCoy’s lasting memories was the night Goes In Lodge introduced him to Water Man. Water Man was a young man at the Greasy Grass. He described the events of June 25, 1876, to the awestruck McCoy and set to rest many myths about the Custer fight that had emerged through second and third-hand renditions of the battle.
McCoy lived a varied life, serving in the US Army in World War I, as Adjutant General of the State of Wyoming, and of course as a cowboy and soon a rancher in central Wyoming.
After resigning as Adjutant General McCoy was approached by Jesse Lasky of Famous Players-Lasky, later taken over by Paramount Pictures as an “Indian Wrangler” for director James Cruze’s epic western “The Covered Wagon.”
McCoy’s job was to find 500 Native American extras who had long, traditional hair and who could ride bareback, for the film.
The 1923 silent epic was filmed in Utah but Native American actors were difficult to find. McCoy asked his friend Goes In Lodge for help in filling the cast of the film and 300 Arapaho men and women were eventually hired with an additional 200 Shoshone and Bannock actors.
McCoy bargained hard with Lasky and guaranteed that Native American actors would be paid the same as the white actors in the film.
Respected Arapaho leaders Red Pipe, Wolf Elk, Buffalo Lodge, Broken Horn, Painted Wolf, Goes In Lodge, and Yellow Calf all signed on with the remaining company joining soon after. Legendary Shoshone Chief Washakie’s sons Dick and Charlie joined as well but they still needed a hundred more Native actors.
McCoy left Farlow in charge of preparations for taking the group to the film location in Utah and headed for Ft. Hall, Idaho. Lasky had attempted to recruit Bannock actors out of Ft. Hall but the government agent in charge of the reservation was hostile to the idea and refused to allow the Bannock to leave. McCoy used his connections from World War I to clear the agent out of the negotiations. A letter from Wyoming senator Francis E. Warren, father-in-law of General John Pershing, did the trick and McCoy was able to recruit.
He found a group of Bannock men speaking together and waited for a chance to sign his request to hire them as actors. They were amazed that a white man could sign and one of them asked if he was a half-breed.
“I’m all Arapaho,” McCoy signed, and it was true. He had been adopted into the tribe earlier by Goes In Lodge.
McCoy asked the Bannock his name and he signed, “Black Thunder” but then said in perfect English, “My name is Randall.”
“You speak pretty good sign,” Randall said.
“You speak pretty good English,” McCoy replied.
The path was set and McCoy had another 100 fully equipped, qualified Bannock riders for the motion picture.
By 1922, the conditions on the Wind River Reservation were dire. Poverty and starvation were driving the proud Arapaho to ruin and the economic impetus from working on the film was a godsend for the people of Wind River.
They became known as “Show Indians.”
McCoy and the 300 Native American actors, their families, and numerous horses, tipis, and equipment headed for Rawlins, Wyoming, and a ride west on the Union Pacific to Milford, Utah.
Cruze had ideas on how the Arapaho and other tribes should set up their camp, face their lodges, and even ride their horses that didn’t fit with reality. McCoy worked as an intermediary, interpreting for Cruze and setting him straight on how things were done in Native camps.
The film was a great success, regarded as the first blockbuster picture of its day. It earned $3.5 million after a production budget of $785,000.
When the Arapaho returned home, they brought an additional three railcars full of food and supplies for the people on the reservation. The extra food meant survival for many desperate people back home and the success of the film launched a world of cinematic opportunity for Goes in Lodge and his people.
The roles they played were often stereotypical, portraying Native Americans with the prejudice of established beliefs and not as they actually were, but it paid the bills and launched McCoy’s career as a cowboy star.
The success of “The Covered Wagon” led McCoy to take many of the Arapaho to Hollywood, New York City, and across the Atlantic to London.
At the premiere of “The Covered Wagon” at the world-famous Grauman Theatre in Hollywood Lasky brought McCoy and 30 Arapaho men and women on stage prior to the showing of the film.
The Arapaho appeared in full traditional dress and made a stunning, visual image on the stage. At 6-6, Red Pipe was a huge man for the period and was prominent among the actors.
Goes In Lodge was introduced as a warrior who fought against the United States as a young man. Charlie Whiteman’s tale as a white youth captured by the Utes from a wagon train and then captured again by the Arapaho from the Utes astonished the audience.
Broken Horn’s wife, Lizzie, was also captured in a raid in 1865 by Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, but her older sister escaped. In 1902, the sister found Lizzie but she no longer spoke any English and was called Kills In Time, a red-headed Arapaho woman.
Perhaps the biggest reaction came when Left Hand stepped forward in his Army coat with the sergeant’s stripes he earned as a government scout. As a young man, Left Hand had fought Custer and there he was on stage almost half a century later.
While in Hollywood, promoters arranged for a bus trip so the visiting Arapaho could see the ocean. The man in charge had no idea of Arapaho traditions and a near riot erupted when he tried to seat the men next to their mothers-in-law on the bus.
Placing a man next to his mother-in-law is a serious violation of Arapaho tradition and the men refused to board the bus.
McCoy came out, realized the situation, and quickly rearranged seating to comply with tradition and the trip to the ocean took place. The assembled Arapaho were greatly impressed by the expanse of the Pacific.
While the New York and Hollywood trips involved a few days on the train the trip across the “Big Water “was a concern for many of the Arapaho in the company. Lasky had arranged for another special showing in England where Western films were even more popular than in the United States.
It took help from Goes In Lodge again to convince his people to travel to London. While in England, the Native American actors were a tremendous hit with the English people.
Goes In Lodge was an incredibly brave man but didn’t want to enter New York’s subway. After McCoy convinced him it was okay, the aging Arapaho warrior was very impressed.
“White man the same as the prairie dog,” Goes In Lodge said. “He goes down one hole, comes up another.”
While many of the films were shot on location in Utah and Nevada, a pair of movies, “War Paint” and “Wyoming” were filmed on the Wind River Reservation near Fort Washakie.
Local theatres, the Grand in Lander and the Acme in Riverton, were given special consideration with the Arapaho troupe appearing on stage for a pre-film performance before “The Covered Wagon” was shown at the Acme.
The movie “War Paint” had its opening night at the Grand Theatre.
The era of Wind River Reservation films came to an end in 1931 but the Grand and Acme remain and Goes In Lodge is remembered by the highway that bears his name on the eastern side of the Wind River Reservation.