The Daughter of Dawn (1920) – Authentic, Romantic and Throughly Enjoyable Piece of Film History

Much has been shown of the different Native/Indigenous American tribes and cultures in media by white Americans, from the caricatures and racist depictions of old Hollywood to the sympathetic but still a little “off” showings in films like Disney’s Pocahontas and basically almost every depiction of Native/Indigenous American’s in the 90s which always had to have a sympathetic white since it wasn’t still culturally okay to them to come to terms with what they have done and see themselves as only bad guys or not be shown at all. And still they partly aren’t, especially the American government who has broken every treaty made to the Native/Indigenous American tribes and nations to further their own interest no matter what it means in terms of peace and simple goodwill. This is NOT one of those movies. 

Now I am a European, from Finland, but have lived abroad for about ten years during my younger and school days. What I know of the Native/Indigenous American tribes is certainly not what American schools teach and my knowledge of their history primarily comes from the research I have done on the internet as well as movies. It is honestly not much, but whenever it is spoken, which is rarely, then it is in the terms of how the settlers in America were honestly quite bad to put it mildly and how the Native/Indigenous American women were treated equally in their society (this is a generalisation of a conversation that came up in High School history while talking about ancient societies and their views on women, I mentioned Etruscans and my school mate in turn told about the Native/Indigenous Americans and in hindsight the term might be a generalisation as well, again, not a historian here yet and not my strong field). So that’s my clarification and disclaimer here for this movie.


In the Kiowa tribe the Chief’s daughter Dawn is in love with the brave White Eagle, but she is also pursued by the powerful Black Wolf. Her father would prefer for her to marry Black Wolf as he is the the most influential so he sets up a test for the two suitors for his daughter’s hand and the one who accomplishes it will have her as their bride. Meanwhile the Comanche are vying to take the horses and women of the Kiowa, since they lack both. Battles, romance and authenticity in both emotion, culture and history ensue.



The cast is a mix of Kiowa and Comanche people who brought their own traditional garments, tipis and other important authentic things they had. So what you are seeing on screen is real and sorry if I emphasises the word a lot in here, its just a miracle to see it on screen.

“No man shall have me without my father’s consent — He will not give me to you because I have no love for you.” says Dawn played by Esther LaBarre. A heroine who breaks all stereotypes. She is usually restrained and shy, but is not afraid to fight back and the only garment she wears is the one you see her in the above picture.

Her love interest is White Eagle played by the tall and handsome White Parker, son of the real Comanche leader Quanah Parker and Cynthia Ann Parker whose lives I recommend you google or Wikipedia because they are really interesting. His love with Dawn is so cute and sweet and gentle and loving its a real treat to watch. His sister Wanada Parker plays Red Wing, a woman who is in love with Black Wolf who doesn’t see that she loves him and her ending is really sad if not a little abrupt.

Black Wolf himself is played by Jack Sankadota who is expertly trods the line between sympathetic until he crosses the line two times. The Kiowa Chief is played by Hunting Horse and the Comanche Chief is played by Belo Cozad, both are dignified as they “speak” (this is a silent film) and their use of hand gestures as they do so captures the different between the Kiowa and Comanche dialogue.



This really is such a good movie. Especially because it was done directed, produced and acted by real Native/Indigenous Americans. That is historic and it shows on screen. It shows the daily life of what it must have been like before the Europeans came for these groups. Knowing what history made of the Native/Indigenous American’s there is certainly a romanisation and nostalgia about it all. Sure there are tribal squabbles, there are good people and bad and those who are morally grey just like in life. I am sure as a white European I miss a lot of stuff culturally and the significance if it alludes to some myths in the story.

I highly recommend watching this movie! Because for once no white face is shown and I am so happy for it. If this film hadn’t disappeared for decades after its release who knows if the landscape of the telling of Native/Indigenous Americans lives would have been different in Hollywood? For racist reasons maybe not, but it would have been there none-the-less for further on when it was most likely needed. Well, for what it is worth this film is simple and that simplicity is what makes it so significant, since it breaks all stereotypes and shows those that have been often thought of as less than human as people at a time when it was still a radical thing considering the movies that came out at that time or even after it. This is getting depressing, but honestly the love story between Dawna and White Eagle is one of the sweetest things put to celluloid and you should watch it! Also there are bisons and war scenes for those who prefer action!



Thank you for reading! 

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