From “Broken Arrow” (1954) through “Little Big Man” (1970) to “Dances with Wolves” (1990), Hollywood Westerns fell into step with the spirit of the times. They took an ever-more sympathetic view of the Indians and an ever-more negative view of the white Americans who conquered the West. Occasionally, some people have taken a more “classical” view. In particular, “Ulzana’s Raid” (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1972) and “The Missing” (dir. Ron Howard, 2003) focused their attention on Apaches out for blood. In part, they are effective because they take Indian beliefs seriously as a motivation to action.
In “Ulzana’s Raid,” an Apache warrior named “Ulzana” (Joaquin Martinez) jumps the San Carlos Reservation. Basically, he’s fed up with the smell of women, children, dogs, and old people. He wants to smell ponies running, burning, and blood. In short, he chooses Life over Death. He takes along his teen-age son and a few other young warriors. He gets right to business, while the Army tries to track him down. The Army patrol is “led” by a young lieutenant fresh from West Point (Bruce Davison). The lieutenant’s father is a Protestant minister in favor of “humane” treatment of the Indians. The real leader of the patrol is an old scout named “Mr. McIntosh” (Burt Lancaster). The scout is assisted by an Apache from the San Carlos Indian Police, who happens to be Ulzana’s brother-in-law (Jorge Luke). (This seems more credible once you’ve been married for a while.) The patrol revolves around the education of the lieutenant. Ki-Ne-Tay, the Apache policeman, explains that Apaches torture prisoners to obtain their power: “in this land, you must have power.” He also learns to command, although his commands are not always for the best and are not always well-received by his troopers. The movie ends badly for a number of those concerned, as was common in that time and place.
In “The Missing,” Samuel Jones, a white man who “went Apache” years before (Tommy Lee Jones) appears at the ranch of his daughter, Maggie Gilkerson (Cate Blanchett). She is a “grass widow” who also works as the local “healer.” She hates her father and rejects his effort to make amends. At that same moment, an Apache called “El Brujo” jumps the reservation and goes on a rampage. He kills white settlers and other Apaches, and kidnaps young women of both races for sale as sex-slaves in Mexico. One of the kidnapped girls is Maggie’s rebellious daughter, who wanted bright lights instead of the homestead. Maggie’s ranch-hand/lover is among the slain. The local sheriff can’t help because it’s outside his jurisdiction. (Sound familiar?) The Army can’t help because it is busy with other stuff. (Plundering the homes of murdered settlers for example.) Maggie tells her father that he can make amends by helping her get the kidnapped daughter back. So Maggie, and her youngest daughter, and her father set off in pursuit of the Apaches.
One problem is that “Brujo” is the Spanish word for “witch.” This “El Brujo” has mystical powers and can change into a wolf or an eagle. Probably he found this a stressful experience as a child because he’s crazy and sadistic. (There having been too few trained talk therapists in Arizona in the 1880s. Sad, but true.) Eventually, the dysfunctional little family teams up with a couple of Chiricahua Apaches who are hunting “El Brujo” for the same reason. They get the girls back and kill “El Brujo” and his merry men, but at a cost. On the other hand, there’s a certain amount of reconciliation between the generations, a la Mark Twain.