The neighbors are on the warpath. What’s a homesteader to do?
You carve out and clear a swath of land from the forest – back breaking work to say the least – then you struggle to put up a house, capture and save water, and grow a few meager crops. It’s an ongoing battle to keep out rodents, stay warm in the winter, and if you need to go shopping for supplies, it’s next to impossible, as there’s no nearby shops. Besides that, as I said, you’ve got to worry about those troublesome neighbors on the warpath.
Such is life in upstate New York. In 1757.
Your neighbors are the Redcoats otherwise know as the British who set up a Fort William Henry just south of Lake George. A short two day walk from here. This fort was under the leadership of a Colonel Monro.
Twenty six miles away, at the north end of the lake was Fort Carillon under the leadership of Marquis de Montcalm. This was home to the French troops aka the Bluecoats, your other neighbors.
You see, the French and British were fighting over this part of the North American Colonies. Amidst all this lived still other neighbors who were some tribes of Native Americans, the Delaware, the Ottawas, the Hurons, and the Mohicans. Some of whom aligned with French, some with the British, and some with the settlers, or as they were known at the time, the Colonials.
We now are aware that this period was known as the Seven Years War in European history books, and was called The French and Indian War in American History books. James Fenimore Cooper wrote a novel, published in 1826, about this period called The Last of the Mohicans. While it has remained a standard in American Lit courses, it is more famous for been made into a movie numerous times.
The most recent was the Michael Mann production released in 1992 (cover above) . The stars were Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye, and Madeleine Stowe as Cora Munro, with Russell Means as Chingachgook, and Eric Schweig as Uncas.
The movie’s tagline was, The First American Hero. While this film was a real guy’s movie – you know, fast and ferocious action,
rugged outdoors locations,
as well as passionately heroic figures,
it is also one of a handful of films, where a man born of one race, whether through circumstances created by his own choice, or by events not of his choosing, takes a side, or makes a journey, to join with members of another race.
Nearly at the end of the movie Chingachgook makes a statement:
Chingachgook: The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us.
Hawkeye: That is my father’s sadness talking.
Chingachgook: No, it is true. The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here.
Hawkeye was the white son adopted by Chingachgook, and lived his life with his Indian family. While all lives are a form of journey, this one was far different than most. And for Nathaniel/Hawkeye his life was far nobler than most.
Another such character was Lt. Nathan Algren played by Tom Cruise, in Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai (2003). The movie is set in the late 1870’s. Author, photographer, and journalist Simon Graham narrates:
They say Japan was made by a sword. They say the old gods dipped a coral blade into the ocean, and when they pulled it out four perfect drops fell back into the sea, and those drops became the islands of Japan.
Algren was an army officer who was still haunted and struggling over atrocities he and his men committed against Indians in the wars to push the American frontier further and further west. His life has fallen into disrepair.
To atone and to ‘get away from it all’ he is hired by a Japanese businessman, Omura, to come to Japan, and train the Emperor’s troops to quell the last of the Samurai led by Katsumoto,
played by Ken Watanabe (above and below).
Of course, Algren is captured by the Samurai and over time, his wounds heal, he learns their ways, and ultimately fights with them against the very troops that he had trained. He too has made a journey to a destination that he had not considered only a short time before.
Of course there is a woman, Taka,
played by the mesmerizing Koyuki,
who will eventually take an interest in Algren.
A marvelous movie, this was again a story of a white man who not only made a long journey halfway across the world, but who also made an inner journey within himself by adopting the ways of another race. It was more than a journey; rather it was a transformation and a cleansing of his soul. The Last Samurai, made in 2003, in many ways reflects a similar story in a 1990 movie called Dances With Wolves.
This movie starred Kevin Costner, who also directed the movie. ‘Dances With Wolves’ walked away with 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Costner plays Lt. John Dunbar who asks for a posting to the western frontier following the Civil War. He is sent to remote outpost which is deserted. Only it’s not.
He ‘befriends’ a wolf, who lingers around hoping for some food scraps. Dunbar calls this wolf Two-socks. Then he meets the local Sioux Indian tribe, who instead of being belligerent and bellicose, are instead curious about this solitary soldier.
The friendship blossoms and Dunbar is accepted by the tribe.
The Indian chief who befriends Dunbar is called Kicking Bird, and is played by Graham Greene.
He meets a white woman who was raised by the tribe since childhood. She is called Stands With A Fist and is played by Mary McDonnell in an Oscar nominated role. Of course, love blossoms.
Stands With a Fist: [translating for Kicking Bird] He thanks Dances with Wolves for coming.
John Dunbar: Who is Dances with Wolves?
Stands With a Fist: It is the name all the people are calling you now.
So this is the third film in which a white man makes a journey overland and at the same across an inner frontier, and learns the ways of another people.
Of course movies can be slanted in a particular direction, or influenced by the writer’s and director’s backgrounds and feelings. The characters of Hawkeye, Algren, and Dunbar all made journeys toward brighter destinations both inwardly as well as physically.
The same is true in the world of art. Often we can see and feel a particular direction or destination which is significant in an artist’s works.
Artist B.C. Nowlin also makes such a journey through his paintings. It is my pleasure to share these with you.
His works are filled with emotion, mystery, and spirituality.
His use of vibrant colors is extraordinary as his painting are both intense and dramatic.
Nowlin’s roots in the southwest of America, along with his first hand relationship with Native American history, no doubt are a powerful influence on his work.
His paintings most often do not define the locations or destinations in specific terms.
His abstractions make us use our imaginations and intellectual capabilities to get to that place which is universal in the minds of all humans.
As the tagline from Dances With Wolves says, Inside everyone is a frontier waiting to be discovered. Take note of how Nowlin’s art seems to portray people on their way to something or someplace. The paintings are a mirror of the decisions we make on the journeys through our own lives. But these paintings are far more eloquent than mere words. Happy trails to you and thanks for reading.