Classic Hollywood: ‘The Searchers’ camps for night at Aero

John Ford’s classic western starring John Wayne screens. Glenn Frankel will sign his new book about the film and the true story that inspired it.

On May 19, 1836, a force of Comanche warriors accompanied by their Kiowa and Kochi allies attacked Ft. Parker in central Texas. Besides killing several of the residents of the fort, the Comanches kidnapped five captives, including 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker.

For years, her uncle James Parker tried and ultimately failed to find her. Cynthia Ann stayed with the Comanches for 25 years, marrying a warrior and having three children, including the legendary Quanah Parker, a famed Comanche chief and leader of the Native American Church.

Cynthia Ann was returned to her white family when she was found by the U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers. Thoroughly Comanche at this point, she lived with relatives for a decade but couldn’t adjust to the white man’s world. She stopped eating and died of influenza in 1870.

Nearly 120 years after Cynthia Ann’s kidnapping, legendary director John Ford returned to his beloved Monument Valley, a location near the Arizona-Utah border that he used in several films including 1939’s “Stagecoach,” to film his most complex western, “The Searchers.” The story was based on the Parker tale.

The 1956 film stars Ford’s frequent collaborator John Wayne in one of his most emotionally daring performances, as Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards. Accompanied by his adopted nephew (Jeffrey Hunter), Ethan goes on an obsessive search to find his niece Debbie (Natalie Wood), who had been kidnapped by Indians when they attacked the family’s homestead. As the years unfold, the true reason behind Ethan’s dogged determination to find Debbie is revealed.


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