Willie Boy History and Legend

Topics: Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Culture, Native Americans in the United States Pages: 5 (1193 words) Published: April 20, 2014


Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here: History and Myth

The hunt for Willie Boy has been the subject of much debate since the manhunt occurred in 1909. Harry Lawton’s novel “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” was largely based on the conventional story that was told by Ben de Crevecoeur. The account told by de Crevecoeur, and subsequently Lawton, share the idea that Willie Boy was drunk off stolen alcohol when he committed the crime, even though there was no evidence of this. The film Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here was directed by Abraham Polonsky, and shared similarities to Lawton’s novel, but also distorts some key facts in the story in order to create a more compelling film narrative. Some of the presented “facts” in the film perpetuate the Indian-hating myth, as they build on the misleading details that were presented in Harry Lawton and Ben de Crevecoeur’s Indian-hating stories. Even if Polonsky wanted to show the Indian’s perspective, or at least treat his story with a degree of ambiguity, his basis of the story on these Indian-hating texts and the limited ability of film to visualize reality leads to a narrative that strays from history in ways that only perpetuate the divergence of myth and history. Part of the reason that this event drew so much attention, and why it was made into a novel and film, is because the story has many elements of the classic Western, and it these elements that the film, as a part of the Western genre, that the film attempts to accentuate and add to the myth surrounding the event. The film’s story is a sort of depiction of the dying moments of the Wild West, despite the fact that the Wild West was all but gone, and some of the Wild West elements presented is doctored to make the actual history surrounding the event more interesting. Perhaps the most popular rendition of Willie Boy's manhunt comes from Harry Lawton's novel, which influenced the Abraham Polonsky film starring Robert Redford. The film offers an alternate yet similar account of the events. In their book, “The Hunt for Willie Boy: Indian Hating and Popular Culture,” Larry E. Burgess and James A. Sandos say that when “When Polonsky rewrote Lawton’s story for the screen, he made significant changes, some of which adversely affected historical accuracy” (56). For one, Lawton supports the notion that Willie Boy was drunk on the night he killed Michael Boniface, which is also a key component to the character of Willie Boy in the movie, but he could not have purchased alcohol on the reservation as he does in the film because there were no bootleggers on the Morongo Reservation. Burgess and Sandos state, “Liquor initiates the action—not from a bottle found stashed in a bunkhouse but from a bottle Willie Boy purchased from a bootlegger (“blind pigger”) on the Morongo Reservation at Banning” (57) This is a total fabrication, made to show the influence of the evil white man on the Indian. Still, the notion of the drunken Indian is used in both accounts of events to provide reinforcement to Native American stereotypes. In Lawton's research, he primarily interviewed surviving members of the posse that hunted Willie Boy, perhaps prompting a biased account of the story. This biased account is transferred to Polonsky’s movie, in which he ambiguously treats the portrayal of Willie Boy, inferring that he killed Lola, and was drunk when he killed Old Mike and ran off with Carlota. To further add to the stereotype of the drunken Indian, “Coops father had been killed by a drunken mixed blood some time before the story begins” (57). This also adds to the drama of the narrative when Coop and Willie Boy face off at Ruby Mountain in the final shootout, in which Coop shoots Willie Boy, and then finds out that Willie Boy had no bullets. The real history shows that the posse stalled out at Ruby Mountain, and heard one single shot as they retreated from a standoff with Willie Boy. The posse suspected that Willie Boy had committed suicide, but did not bother to...


Bibliography: Sandos, James A., and Larry E. Burgess. The Hunt for Willie Boy: Indian-hating and
Popular Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1994. Print.
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