- Framing Race in the Arizona BorderlandsThe Western Ways Apache Scouts and Sells Indian Rodeo Films
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In early spring 1940, Charles Herbert’s Tucson-based Western Ways Features Service filmed Last of the Indian Scouts, a valedictory short feature about the eight remaining Apache Scouts at the Buffalo Soldier army post at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The Western Ways footage was shot on spec for Tucson Trails, which seems to have been an anthology series proposed to Universal.1 Part of the Western Ways archive housed at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, this 35mm nitrate footage offers an early, mid-century view of the multicultural and militarized US–Mexican borderlands nearly a decade before the desegregation of the US military and only fifteen years after Native Americans were granted citizenship. The film captures the Honor Guard ceremony, intercut with reenactments of General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Expedition into Revolution-era Mexico in pursuit of [End Page 69] Pancho Villa. The footage, which survives without a sound track, is remarkable enough for its 1916/1940 then-and-now depiction of this multicultural borderlands post, but it also includes surprising moments of performed Indianness—a form of auto-ethnic mimicry, of knowing self-parody—that was a routine part of the Scouts’ military service at Fort Huachuca. As such, it reveals Native on-screen agency that differs from the filmed performances of Wild West shows, craft demonstrations, and powwows in its depiction of race as a mediated construct.2 Scouts’ performances of indigeneity occurred as part of their regular army service, as a cultural outreach activity of sorts. This film, with its admittedly sentimental title, appealed to contemporary mainstream nostalgia for the idea of the Vanishing (Native) American, a well-established motif in US popular culture dating back at least to James Fenimore Cooper. At the same time, it resists that trope with images of Apache soldiers performing their contemporary duties along the border in 1940.
Also in the Western Ways archives is a second film of an Honor Guard ceremony for Native veterans, this at the 1945 Papago Rodeo in Sells, Arizona. The two films serve as a kind of bookends, shot on either side of US involvement in World War II and depicting notably different aspects of Native representation in the pre- and postwar eras. These two films are separated by five years in time, 130 miles of Arizona terrain, and distinct cultural differences between their subjects. The Apache Scouts film is anchored in (at least) a century’s worth of inherited tropes of Indian performance, displayed with some irony to the camera; the Papago Rodeo film reveals a postwar world in which horseman-ship and military service are foregrounded and ethnicity is present but normative in the visual narrative.3
The Tucson-based Western Ways Film Service operated from 1936 to 1976, filming a variety of local interest and actuality short films about southern Arizona and northern Mexico and venturing into television production in the early days of the medium. Drawing on a ten-year silent newsreel career with Fox Movietone, owner–operator Charles Herbert brought a newshound’s sensibility and acute skill at in-camera editing to all of his southwestern short subjects. His oeuvre ranged from documenting the transplanting of a twenty-foot saguaro cactus to travel pieces on friendly and accessible Mexico and an ill-fated venture into television serial western production. Based in a downtown adobe building, Charles and Lucile Herbert ran Western Ways as a full-service photo shop, with a photo story and print library, a portrait studio, an aerial photo service, and the moviemaking unit. They hired young men and women as still photographers and writers, [End Page 70] giving a start to Charles H. Abbott and Ray Manley, both later of Arizona Highways. The Western Ways 16mm and 35mm moving image output numbers in the hundreds, most of which have been unseen since well before Charles Herbert’s death in 1976. As such, the body of work forms a time capsule of the packaging and promotion of the Arizona borderlands at the dawn of the Sun Belt boom. Western...