Author: Glenn Frankel

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition (February 19, 2013)

ISBN-10: 1608191052

ISBN-13: 978-1608191055

Many film buffs now virtually revere John Ford's 1956 The Searchers starring John Wayne. Devotees of literary Westerns point to Alan LeMay's The Searchers, the novel on which the film was based, as a classic of the genre. Those interested in the history of the Old West, especially the bloody conflicts between Native Americans and the growing tides of pioneers in Texas and Oklahoma, must know something about the story of Cynthia Ann Parker which was the basis for both the book and movie versions of The Searchers. Now, what author Glenn Frankel achieves so successfully in his rich study of The Searchers is telling this multi-layered saga with depth, insight, and fresh perspectives drawn from research that should surprise many who think they know the truth behind the legend of Cynthia Ann Parker.

In particular, approximately half of Frankel's book has the historical Parker, her white family looking for her after her 1836 abduction by a Comanche band, and her son Quanah center stage. But Frankel has a wider vista to paint. Frankel discusses the history of relationships between white settlers, the U.S. army, and buffalo hunters dealing with Native Americans largely dismissed as primitive and dangerous obstructions to white expansion for most of the 19th century. Neither side is portrayed with clean hands—life was clearly brutal and often gruesomely vicious on both sides of the cultural divide. Add to the mix white culture's fears about kidnapped women, especially those bearing Indian children, that victimized freed captives thought tainted by immoral sexual relations. Thus, "searchers" for missing loved ones often were more interested in revenge than rescue.

Frankel spends less time showing how novelist Alan LeMay adapted the Parker story into The Searchers, although he demonstrates how the book fit into the literary traditions of American captivity stories, 20th century Western novels, and the writer's desire to make his way in Hollywood before finally scribing the book that was his popular break-through. Then, Frankel switches gears and provides a detailed account of how John Ford cast his most famous leading man into a movie intended to be a taut and photogenic epic. Frankel shows the production was an epic itself in the history of Hollywood movie making. Ironically, 130 Navajo Indians residing near Monument Valley where the location shooting took place became part of the crew and served as extras for the production. They made Ford an honorary member of their tribe. By 1956, relations between assimilated "redskins" and the victors now telling the tales were a far cry from the violence spun into myth almost as soon as it had occurred.

All in all, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend is 2 and 1/3 books in one. Throughout, Frankel explores the uncertainties of so-called fact and American legends constantly shifting to suit different generations. The stories of Cynthia Ann Parker and her family open up examinations of moral ambiguities, the clashing of alien cultures, and the meaning of what it means to be an American. On so many levels, it's a book well worth reading cover to cover.

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