Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On the Silver Screen

In August, the Museum of the American West exhibited photographs of Native Americans who worked with matinee idol Tim McCoy in the early Hollywood Westerns.

According to the press release, Colonel Tim McCoy (1891 - 1978), a western film star, circus performer, and producer of the last Wild West Show, recruited many families from the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes in this area to work as movie extras. As a young cowboy, McCoy was befriended by Goes in Lodge, and through his relationship with that Arapaho family, McCoy learned Indian sign language. McCoy was inspired by all things Western, but it was his friendship and his ability to communicate with the Native Americans that got them both to Hollywood in 1922 to work on "The Covered Wagon," and many other films.

Tim McCoy was MGM's cowboy star from 1926 thru 1929, which was the end of the silent film era. McCoy starred in 16 movies, most of which included Native Americans in a somewhat historical setting. The later films appealed to youth and McCoy became a "matinee idol."

I enjoyed photographs in the display, but I was terribly disappointed that they were so poorly lit: many were difficult to see because of glare.

Riders of the Dark
This was by far my favorite photograph in the exhibit. It was cropped from the image shown below.

Advertisement for Tim McCoy's Wild West Show
the group traveled to Europe to perform

As I looked at the exhibit, I realized the costumes for these films were clearly authentic and the men themselves were free of cosmetic character. Their facial expressions and characteristics were realistic: their lives had not been easy.

I have no idea if the Indian motorcycle was part of the movie, but the irony did not escape me.


  1. I really love the feathered headdresses.

  2. I really learn so much on your posts....
    their weathered faces are certainly telling as you said.

  3. Thanks for sharing such a fascinating exhibit.

  4. What an insightful post. I had no idea there was an Indian sign language, but why not?! The different tribes needed to communicate with each other and the non-natives they encountered...

  5. Wow, I just realized it has been much too long since I've seen one of those movies. Wonderful post, thank you!

  6. "Riders in the Dark" is a wonderful photo; I really like the contrast of characters too! I don't remember hearing of Tim McCoy. Then again, I did not watch many western movies as a kid. The photos are fascinating.

  7. My Dad comes from Metis background, and looking at those faces in the black and white photos I see many similarities.

    I love the cropped photo, such a disparity in the faces of the actors.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  8. I'm telling my age here but I can't help it!! I remember Saturday morning matinees with Tim McCoy westerns! I would sit in the theater with what seemed like a thousand other kids (probably 50) and watch one film after another. Not all of the films were Tim McCoy. There were also Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and others. Those were the days!!

  9. What a cool, exhibit! I liked the last photo an Indian on an Indian..cool:)

    1. My grampa played in a lot of his movies I have pic of him and I would like.to find out all the movies he played.in my grampa and my uncle are the ones that taught Tim Mccoy sign language befor he was a start tramps name was. Red Turtle (william Shakespeare) my uncles name.was George shakesphear they were all three best friends Greig stardom


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