Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• To find specific rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "LABELS" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
• Readers can email the webmaster at

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A who's who of Native American actors, including Howling Wolf, Chief John Big Tree, High Eagle, Chief Thundercloud and Chief Thunderbird, assembled on the Iverson Movie Ranch

"Custer's Last Stand" (Stage and Screen serial, 1936)

I ran across this remarkable lobby card a while back for the 15-chapter Western serial "Custer's Last Stand," featuring a photo taken on the plateau just above the Iverson Gorge, with Nyoka Cliff in the background.

The photo depicts a gathering of leaders from various bands of Indians, played by a who's who of Native American actors of the early B-Western era.

The lead role among the Native Americans is that of Young Wolf, played by Chief Thundercloud.

"Custer's Last Stand": Chief Thundercloud vs. young Paleface Bobby Nelson

Thundercloud is not a nice guy in "Custer's Last Stand." His character is so treacherous and bloodthirsty that it's hard to imagine the actor was about to become one of Hollywood's quintessential "good Indians."

Promo still for "Custer's Last Stand": Chief Thundercloud with Nancy Caswell

I get a kick out of the expression on Thundercloud's face in this promo shot for the serial. I can't help but wonder what he had in mind before Nancy Caswell produced her big six-shooter.

"The Lone Ranger" (1938): Chief Thundercloud as Tonto with Lee Powell as the Masked Man

Chief Thundercloud would go on two years later to become the original "Tonto" of the movies, starring in the 1938 Republic serial "The Lone Ranger" along with its 1939 sequel, "The Lone Ranger Rides Again."

Chief Thundercloud as Tonto

For those of us who grew up with Jay Silverheels' kid-friendly interpretation of Tonto, Thundercloud's version still comes off as a bit of a big scary meanie.

Chief Thundercloud on the Uncle Russ children's radio program

Born Victor Daniels in 1899, Thundercloud claimed at times to be either Cherokee or Creek/Muscogee. While his Native American heritage has never been nailed down, his "Chief" status is pure Hollywood hype.

Chief Thundercloud on the Upper Iverson in "The Phantom Rider" (1946)

Thundercloud's prolific film career, spanning 1935-1956 and including 76 movies along with numerous TV appearances, brought him back to the Iverson Ranch on many occasions — often in bad guy or "savage" roles.

Chief Thundercloud in the title role of "Geronimo!" (1939)

Tonto was one of two career-defining roles for Thundercloud in the late 1930s. He followed up his "Lone Ranger" serials with a tour-de-force performance as Geronimo in Paramount's 1939 movie about the Apache warrior.

Poster for "Geronimo!" — Where's Chief Thundercloud's credit?

Curiously, Chief Thundercloud's credit was omitted from much of the marketing material for "Geronimo!," even though he played the title role.

Chuck Connors as "Geronimo" (United Artists, 1962)

The role of Geronimo would later be played by Chuck Connors, who was moonlighting at the time from his day job on "The Rifleman."

The real Geronimo

The real Geronimo spent his later years as a prisoner of war and a tourist attraction, traveling under Army guard and becoming one of the most widely photographed Americans of his era.

Also appearing in the lobby card is Chief Thunderbird — not to be confused with Chief Thundercloud. Billed as "Chick Davis" in "Custer's Last Stand," Thunderbird played the character Rain-in-Face.

Chief Thunderbird in 1935

Born Richard Davis in 1866, Thunderbird, a Cheyenne chief, had a film career going back at least to 1914, with many of his appearances uncredited.

Chief Thunderbird

By the time "Custer's Last Stand" was filmed in 1935, Chief Thunderbird was pushing 70 and had become something of a patriarch to the Native American actors of the period.

Chief John Big Tree, whose character in the serial is identified simply as "Medicine Man," is another interesting figure from early Hollywood.

Chief John Big Tree with Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert in "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939)

A member of the Seneca Nation, Big Tree was reportedly born Isaac Johnny John in 1877. He became one of director John Ford's go-to Native American actors, appearing in a string of Ford movies including "Stagecoach," "Drums Along the Mohawk" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."

Big Tree in uncredited role in "Stagecoach" (1939)

He was uncredited in Ford's "Stagecoach" in the role of an Indian scout who wore a cool "Indian Police" star and dressed up like a Cavalry soldier.

Indian Head Nickel, first issued in 1913: NOT Chief Big Tree

Besides appearing in more than 60 movies going back to the silent era, Big Tree became the focus of a number of myths and legends — including his own claim that he was the model for the Indian Head Nickel.

Chief Big Tree on the cover of Esquire, 1964

The claim, which has since been discredited, was widely believed for years — with Big Tree even appearing on the cover of Esquire magazine in 1964 as part of a feature perpetuating the false claim.

The blurb on the cover reads: "Chief Johnny Big Tree today ... and as he looked when he posed for the Indian-head nickel 51 years ago."

Promo material for the early Western talkie "Red Fork Range" (1931)

Big Tree was apparently encouraged by the Hollywood studios to cash in on his image as the Indian on the nickel, whether it was true or not.

Besides circulating a story about how the prolific actor had become known as "Shoot-a-nickel" among production crews, this example of vintage Hollywood hype describes Chief Big Tree as a "heap-good actor" — a characterization the studio probably wouldn't use in today's more PC climate.

Following Big Tree's death in 1967 at age 90, the Franklin Mint issued a "Proof Silver Medal" — not actual U.S. currency — featuring Big Tree's profile along with a mockup of Big Tree's mythical modeling session with the designer of the Indian Head Nickel, sculptor James Earle Fraser.

James Earle Fraser, designer of the Indian Head Nickel, working on Benjamin Franklin

Fraser himself refuted Big Tree's claim of being involved in the nickel, including explaining that the image was a composite. But controversy over the identities of the models for the nickel has never been fully resolved.

Adoeette — aka Big Tree: Kiowa war chief

That's at least in part because Fraser's own recollection "evolved" over the course of his life. By the time the sculptor died in 1953, he had apparently settled on the story that one of the models for the nickel was in fact named "Big Tree" — but it was a different Big Tree, the Kiowa war chief also known as Adoeette.

"The End of the Trail" (James Earle Fraser sculpture, 1915)

A similar controversy surrounded Chief John Big Tree and "The End of the Trail," one of Fraser's best-known sculptures. Big Tree claimed to be the model for the artwork — another claim that is widely regarded as false.

At this point things get a little sketchy for me when it comes to trying to ID the Native American actors in the lobby card. I invite readers to set the record straight if you know who's who, but I'll offer a few of my best guesses.

I think this is Carl Mathews, who plays two roles in "Custer's Last Stand," including that of True Eagle.

"Custer's Last Stand": Carl Mathews as True Eagle

This is what Mathews looks like as True Eagle in a different scene in the serial. Mathews, a prolific actor and stuntman, worked in well over 200 movies in a career spanning 1930-1957.

Mathews, who was said to be one-eighth Cherokee, also appeared in "Custer's Last Stand" as Curley, Gen. Custer's Native American orderly.

Carl Mathews, left, gets under Dennis Moore's skin in "Black Market Rustlers" (1943)

Mathews typically played non-Indian characters, frequently working uncredited, and almost as often as not, appearing in the uncelebrated role of "henchman."

One character I'm sure about is Red Fawn, played by the non-Native American actress Dorothy Gulliver.

Dorothy Gulliver

The beautiful Dorothy Gulliver was a pretty big star in the 1920s and 1930s, including playing the heroine in serials both before and after the arrival of sound. She was once married to Danny DeVito's father, Chester DeVito.

Dorothy Gulliver with Rin Tin Tin in a promo shot for "A Dog of the Regiment" (1927)

Gulliver starred opposite some of the biggest stars of the era — none bigger than Rin Tin Tin. (Click here to read our recent post about Rin Tin Tin's adventures on the Iverson Movie Ranch.)

Dorothy Gulliver puts the heat on Roy D'Arcy in "The Shadow of the Eagle" (1932)

In this lobby card for Mascot's early sound serial "The Shadow of the Eagle," Dorothy demonstrates that empowered female characters aren't an entirely new idea in Hollywood.

The lobby card also features legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, seen standing next to B-Western workhorse Bud Osborne. Osborne chalked up something like 600 credits over a 50-year career.

John Wayne snuggles with Dorothy Gulliver in "The Shadow of the Eagle"

Gulliver starred opposite John Wayne in "The Shadow of the Eagle." Some of her other leading men around that time were Hoot Gibson, Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Hoxie, Bill Elliott, Rex Lease, Tim McCoy and Red Grange.

Dorothy Gulliver with Kenneth Harlan in "Under Montana Skies" (1930)

Much of Gulliver's work was in Westerns, including Tiffany's early talkie "Under Montana Skies."

Howling Wolf as Sitting Bull in "Custer's Last Stand"

The little-known Native American actor Howling Wolf — no relation to bluesman Howlin' Wolf — plays Sitting Bull in "Custer's Last Stand," but I've been unable to make a positive ID on him in the lobby card.

I think he might be the guy on the right here — I'd be interested in hearing what readers think. The fact that he's shirtless in other shots in the movie is throwing me off.

We're getting into some pretty low-res material here, but the credits for "Custer's Last Stand" also give us a look at another relatively obscure Native American actor, High Eagle, who plays Crazy Horse.

Here again, the costume is different, but my best guess is that this is High Eagle.

Iron Eyes Cody as Brown Fox in "Custer's Last Stand"

Famed actor and Iverson Movie Ranch regular Iron Eyes Cody plays Brown Fox in the movie. IMDb suggests that Iron Eyes is in the lobby card, but I haven't been able to find him — my hunch is he isn't in the shot.

Famous "Crying Indian" anti-pollution ad from the 1970s, featuring Iron Eyes Cody

Readers may be surprised — I know I was — to learn that Iron Eyes Cody, if not the most famous of all "Native American" actors, at least high on the list, was not in fact Native American, but was of Italian heritage.

A lot of question marks remain about the "Custer's Last Stand" lobby card. Maybe blog readers can help fill in some of the missing or incorrect IDs. You should be able to click on the photos to see a larger version.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Remembering Bill Sasser, movie history pioneer, prolific video documentarian, Iverson Movie Ranch enthusiast

Bill Sasser

I recently received the sad news that my friend Bill Sasser, an accomplished film historian and a longtime fan of the Iverson Movie Ranch, has died.

Bill Sasser on the Iverson Ranch in 2009 

Bill was one of the first major location researchers I got to know back when I was getting started on my own full dive into movie history about 10 years ago. Even though we lived on opposite coasts, we kept in touch and collaborated when we could, connecting over our shared obsession with the Iverson Ranch.

"Iverson Summit," 2009: Bill Sasser, left, and Jerry England on the Nyoka Summit

Bill traveled to California almost every year from his home in Virginia, specifically to visit movie sites. His annual Iverson visit presented an opportunity for some heavyweight movie historians to gather — and gave me, as an upstart Iverson researcher, a chance to tag along and learn from the masters.

"Iverson Movie Ranch - Then and Now" — a 7-minute Bill Sasser YouTube video from 2008

Bill captured much of his research on video, including constantly expanding his famous "Iverson DVD" over the years. The last time I received the latest updated version from Bill, it ran more than three hours.

"Callaway at Iverson's" (Posted by Bill Sasser in 2010)

Bill posted one of my favorite Iverson Movie Ranch clips, from the 1951 MGM movie "Callaway Went Thataway." The clip pays tribute both to the cliches of the cowboy movie and to Iverson's widely filmed rock features.

"Gold Raiders Rock"

Bill put together a quick "then and now" focusing on the Upper Iverson feature known as Gold Raiders Rock, posted in 2011. I believe it was Bill who came up with the rock's name.

"Iversons Rock"

Most of this clip comes from the 1937 Shirley Temple movie "Wee Willie Winkie," and the clip includes a "then and now" on the Pirate Ship.

"Gun Belt"

Footage posted by Bill from the 1953 Western "Gun Belt" showcases the rocktabulous South Rim of the Upper Iverson, including location aficionado favorites Wrench Rock, Turtle Rock, the Molar, Ambush Rock and Ambush Pass — plus a few seconds at the end of something that looks to me like the Conejo Valley.

"Desert Gold"

Here's some eerily silent footage of a shootout in the 1936 Buster Crabbe Western "Desert Gold," spotlighting a bunch of familiar Lower Iverson features along with nearby Stoney Point.

"Tornado Arch"

This one's just a rough cut with three clips on a formation I usually hear referred to as "Tornado's Cave," which remains in place today in the Iverson Gorge. Bill posted this back in 2011.

"Stacked Rock & Center Rock"

This clip features the old Western town set on the Lower Iverson, including Pond Rock and, at the very end, a quick look at Center Rock.

"Law of the Canyon" (1947)

In this YouTube clip, Bill highlights the weird two-tone fake mine near the Grove Cabin.

"Relay Station" ("The Plunderers," 1948)

Just one more video from Bill — this one has color footage from "The Plunderers" showing a lot of the Saddlehorn Relay Station with some fake rocks sprinkled in.

Bill has more videos of the Iverson Movie Ranch and other filming locations posted on his YouTube account, which you can go to by clicking here, and a few items on his Google+ page, which is found here.

Bill Sasser, left, with Williamsburg Film Festival Lifetime Achievement recipient Grady Franklin, 2010

Back home in Virginia, Bill poured much of his energy over the years into the Williamsburg Film Festival, and was one of the prime movers behind the event's success.

But my own fondest memories of Bill are about seeing him among the rocks at Iverson, where he will be sadly missed. Keep on a-rockin', Bill!