In 1956 John Ford's The Searchers presented a complex portrayal of frontier life in post Civil War Texas encapsulated by the brooding presence of John Wayne's Ethan Edwards - a bitter, haunted man in search of his kidnapped niece. Adapted from Alan Le May's classic novel, dramatized this week on Radio 4, The Searchers has become an enduring classic. But what is the real history behind the 1954 novel and later film? Who were the real searchers?
Mark Burman takes an epic journey across the American West that begins in God's own movie set, Monument Valley. The backdrop for all Ford's Westerns from Stagecoach onwards. On screen this is Texas 1868, marauded by Comanches. In reality this is Arizona, the Indians are Navajo and their leader, Scar, is actually Heinrich von Kleinbach! A piece of casting that finds unlikely echoes in the real history behind The Searchers.
A history of two irreconcilable worlds approaching end game; a history filled with rape, murder, revenge, abduction and slavery. The Comanches, Lords of the Plains for well over a 150 years, have, by the 1860's , been ravaged by disease and endless conflict with Anglo settlers whose numbers seem endless. Now Civil War means absent men, much anarchy. A chance for the Comanche and their allies to reassert their dominance and perhaps drive back the hated Tejano's for good. For those families whose children and loved ones have been abducted by raiding bands of Comanches the possibility of recovery is slim. Few are capable of traversing vast distances in extremely hostile territory in pursuit of the taken but history does give us real searchers. A rogue and Indian hating settler in the 1830's and, most startling of all, a former slave every bit as heroic as any Western hero.
Producer: Mark Burman.