Friday, July 15, 2016

Friday's Film Adaption: The Searchers by Alan Le May

From the moment they left their homestead unguarded on that scorching Texas day, Martin Pauley and Amos Edwards became searchers. First they had to return to the decimated ranch, bury the bodies of their family, and confront the evil cunning of the Comanche who had slaughtered them. Then they set out in pursuit of missing Debbie Edwards. In the years that follow, Amos and Martin survive storms of nature and of men, seeking more than a missing girl, and more than revenge. Both are driven by secrets, guilt, love, and rage. Defying the dangers all around them, two men become a frontier legend, searching for the one moment, and the one last battle, that will finally set them free. . .

Supper was over by sundown, and Henry Edwards walked out from the house for a last look around. He carried his light shotgun, in hopes the rest of the family would think he meant to pick up a sage hen or two — a highly unlikely prospect anywhere near the house. He had left his gun belt on its peg beside the door, but he had sneaked the heavy six-gun itself into his waistband inside his shirt. Martha was washing dishes in the wooden sink close by, and both their daughters — Lucy, a grown-up seventeen, and Debbie, just coming ten — were drying and putting away. He didn't want to get them all stirred up; not until he could figure out for himself what had brought on his sharpened dread of the coming night.

"Take your pistol, Henry," Martha said clearly. Her hands were busy, but her eyes were on the holster where it hung empty in plain sight, and she was laughing at him. That was the wonderful thing about Martha. At thirty-eight she looked older than she was in some ways, especially her hands. But in other ways she was a lot younger. Her sense of humor did that. She could laugh hard at things other people thought only a little bit funny, or not funny at all; so that often Henry could see the pretty sparkle of the girl he had married twenty years back.

He grunted and went out. Their two sons were on the back gallery as he came out of the kitchen. Hunter Edwards, named after Martha's family, was nineteen, and as tall as his old man. He sat on the floor, his head lolled back against the adobe, and his mind so far away that his mouth hung open. Only his eyes moved as he turned them to the shotgun. He said dutifully, "Help you, Pa?"


Ben, fourteen, was whittling out a butter paddle. He jumped up, brushing shavings off his blue jeans. His father made a Plains-Indian sign — a fist pulled downward from in front of his shoulder, meaning "sit-stay." Ben went back to his whittling.

"Don't you forget to sweep them shavings up," Henry said.

"I won't, Pa."

They watched their father walk off, his long, slow-looking steps quiet in his flat-heeled boots, until he circled the corrals and was out of sight.

"What's he up to?" Ben asked. "There ain't any game out there. Not short of the half mile."

Hunter hesitated. He knew the answer but, like his father, he didn't want to say anything yet. "I don't know," he said at last, letting his voice sound puzzled. Within the kitchen he heard a match strike. With so much clear light left outside, it was hard to believe how shadowy the kitchen was getting, within its thick walls. But he knew his mother was lighting a lamp. He called softly, "Ma ... Not right now."

His mother came to the door and looked at him oddly, the blown-out match smoking in her hand. He met her eyes for a moment, but looked away again without explaining. Martha Edwards went back into the kitchen, moving thoughtfully; and no light came on. Hunter saw that his father was in sight again, very far away for the short time he had been gone. He was walking toward the top of a gentle hill northwest of the ranch buildings. Hunter watched him steadily as long as he was in sight. Henry never did go clear to the top. Instead he climbed just high enough to see over, then circled the contour to look all ways, so that he showed himself against the sky no more than he had to. He was at it a long time.

Ben was staring at Hunter. "Hey. I want to know what —"

"Shut up, will you?"

Ben looked astonished, and obeyed.

From just behind the crest of the little hill, Henry Edwards could see about a dozen miles, most ways. The evening light was uncommonly clear, better to see by than the full glare of the sun. But the faint roll of the prairie was deceptive. A whole squadron of cavalry could probably hide itself at a thousand yards, in a place that looked as flat as a parade ground. So he was looking for little things — a layer of floating dust in the branches of the mesquite, a wild cow or an antelope disturbed. He didn't see anything that meant much. Not for a long time.

He looked back at his house. He had other things, the stuff he worked with — barn, corrals, stacks of wild hay, a shacky bunkhouse for sleeping extra hands. But it was the house he was proud of. Its adobe walls were three and four feet thick, so strong that the first room they had built had for a long time been called the Edwards Fort. They had added on to it since, and made it even more secure. The shake roof looked burnable, but it wasn't, for the shakes were laid upon two feet of sod. The outside doors were massive, and the windows had heavy battle shutters swung inside.

And the house had luxuries. Wooden floors. Galleries — some called them porches, now — both front and back. Eight windows with glass. He had made his family fairly comfortable here, at long last, working patiently with his hands through the years when there was no money, and no market for cows, and nothing to do about it but work and wait.

He could hardly believe there had been eighteen years of that kind of hanging on. But they had come out here that long ago — the same year Hunter had been born — drawn by these miles and miles of good grass, free to anyone who dared expose himself to the Kiowas and Comanches. It hadn't looked so dangerous when they first came, for the Texas Rangers had just punished the Wild Tribes back out of the way. But right after that the Rangers were virtually disbanded, on the thrifty theory that the Federal Government was about to take over the defense. The Federal troops did not come. Henry and Martha held on and prayed. One year more, they told each other again and again ... just another month ... only until spring ... So the risky years slid by, while no military help appeared. Their nearest neighbors, the Pauleys, were murdered off by a Comanche raid, without survivors except a little boy less than two years old; and they heard of many, many more.

Six years of that. Then, in 1857, Texas gave up waiting, and the Rangers bloomed again. A tough line of forts sprang up — McKavitt, Phantom Hill, Bell's Stockade. The little strongholds were far strung out, all the way from the Salt Fork to the Rio Grande, but they gave reassurance nonetheless. The dark years of danger were over; they had lashed out, won through to years of peace and plenty in which to grow old — or so they thought for a little while. Then the War Between the States drained the fighting men away, and the Kiowas and Comanches rose up singing once more, to take their harvest.

Whole counties were scoured out and set back to wilderness in those war years. But the Edwardses stayed, and the Mathisons, and a few more far-spread, dug-in families, holding the back door of Texas, driving great herds of longhorns to Matagordas for the supply of the Confederate troops. And they waited again, holding on just one year more, then another, and one more yet.

Henry would have given up. He saw no hope that he would ever get a foothold out here again, once he drew out, but he would gladly have sacrificed their hopes of a cattle empire to take Martha and their children to a safer place. It was Martha who would not quit, and she had a will that could jump and blaze like a grass fire. How do you take a woman back to the poverty of the cotton rows against her will? They stayed.

The war's end brought the turn of fortune in which they had placed their faith. Hiring cowboys on promise, borrowing to provision them, Henry got a few hundred head into the very first drive to end-of-track at Abilene. Now, with the war four years past, two more drives had paid off. And this year he and Aaron Mathison, pooling together, had sent north more than three thousand head. But where were the troops that peace should have released to their defense? Bolder, wilder, stronger every year, the Comanches and their Kiowa allies punished the range. Counties that had survived the war were barren now; the Comanches had struck the outskirts of San Antonio itself.

Once they could have quit and found safety in a milder land. They couldn't quit now, with fortune beyond belief coming into their hands. They were as good as rich — and living in the deadliest danger that had overhung them yet. Looking back over the years, Henry did not know how they had survived so long; their strong house and everlasting watchfulness could not explain it. It must have taken miracles of luck, Henry knew, and some mysterious quirks of Indian medicine as well, to preserve them here. If he could have seen, in any moment of the years they had lived here, the endless hazards that lay ahead, he would have quit that same minute and got Martha out of there if he had had to tie her.

But you get used to unresting vigilance, and a perpetual danger becomes part of the everyday things around you. After a long time you probably wouldn't know how to digest right, any more, if it altogether went away. All that was behind could not explain, exactly, the way Henry felt tonight. He didn't believe in hunches, either, or any kind of spirit warnings. He was sure he had heard, or seen, or maybe even smelled some sign so small he couldn't remember it. Sometimes a man's senses picked up dim warnings he didn't even recognize. Like sometimes he had known an Indian was around, without knowing what told him, until a little later the breeze would bring the smell of the Indian a little stronger — a kind of old-buffalo-robe smell — which of course had been the warning before he knew he smelled anything. Or sometimes he knew horses were coming before he could hear their hoofs; he supposed this came by a tremor of the ground so weak you didn't know you felt it, but only knew what it meant.

He became aware that he was biting his mustache. It was a thin blond mustache, trailing downward at the corners of his mouth, so that it gave his face a dour look it didn't have underneath. But it wasn't a chewed mustache, because he didn't chew it. Patiently he studied the long sweep of the prairie, looking steadily at each quadrant for many minutes. He was sorry now that he had let Amos go last night to help the Mathisons chase cow thieves; Amos was Henry's brother and a rock of strength. It should have been enough that he let Martin Pauley go along. Mart was the little boy they had found in the brush, after the Pauley massacre, and raised as their own. He was eighteen now, and given up to be the best shot in the family. The Mathisons hadn't been satisfied anyway. Thought he should send Hunter, too, or else come himself. You can't ever please everybody.

A quarter mile off a bedded-down meadowlark sprang into the air, circled uncertainly, then drifted away. Henry became motionless, except for his eyes, which moved continually, casting the plain. Five hundred yards to the right of the spot where the meadowlark had jumped, a covey of quail went up.

Henry turned and ran for the house.

Martin Pauley had found this day a strange one almost from the start. Twelve riders had gathered to trail some cow thieves who had bit into the Mathisons'; and the queer thing about it was that five out of the twelve soon disagreed with all the others as to what they were following.

Aaron Mathison, who owned the run-off cattle, was a bearded, calm-eyed man of Quaker extraction. He had not been able to hold onto the part of his father's faith which forswore the bearing of arms, but he still prayed, and read the Bible every day. Everything about the Mathison place was either scrubbed, or raked, or whitewashed, but the house was cramped and sparely furnished compared to the Edwards'. All the money Aaron could scrape went into the quality of his livestock. Lately he had got his Lazy Lightning brand on ten head of blood bulls brought on from Kansas City. These had been held, by the chase-'em-back method, with a small herd on the Salt Crick Flats. This was the herd that was gone.

They picked up the churned trail of the stolen herd shortly after dawn, and followed it briskly, paced by the light-riding Mathison boys on their good horses. Martin Pauley lagged back, dogging it in the early hours. He had a special grouch of his own because he had looked forward to a visit with Laurie Mathison before they set out. Laurie was eighteen, like himself — straight and well boned, he thought, in terms he might have used to judge a filly. Lately he had caught her unwary gray eyes following him, now and then, when he was around the Mathisons'. But not this morning.

Laurie had been flying around, passing out coffee and quick-grab breakfast, with two of the Harper boys and Charlie MacCorry helping her on three sides — all of them clowning, and cutting up, and showing off, till there was no way to get near. Martin Pauley was a quiet boy, dark as an Indian except for his light eyes; he never did feel he cut much of a figure among the blond and easy-laughing people with whom he was raised. So he had hung back, and never did get to talk to Laurie. She ran out to his stirrup, and said, "Hi," hardly looking at him as she handed him a hunk of hot meat wrapped in bread — no coffee — and was gone again. And that was the size of it.

For a while Martin kept trying to think of something cute he might have said. Didn't think of a thing. So he got bored with himself, and took a wide unneedful swing out on the flank. He was casting the prairie restlessly, looking for nothing in particular, when presently he found something that puzzled him and made him uneasy.

Mystified, he crossed the trail and swung wide on the other flank to take a look at the ground over there; and here he found Amos, doing the same thing. Amos Edwards was forty, two years older than his brother Henry, a big burly figure on a strong but speedless horse. He was some different from the rest of the Edwards family. His heavy head of hair was darker, and probably would have been red-brown, except that it was unbrushed, without any shine to it. And he was liable to be pulled back into his shell between rare bursts of temper. Just now he was riding lumpily, hands in his pockets, reins swinging free from the horn, while he guided his horse by unnoticeable flankings with the calves of his legs and two-ounce shifts of weight. Martin cleared his throat a few times, hoping Amos would speak, but he did not.

"Uncle Amos," Martin said, "you notice something almighty fishy about this trail?"

"Like what?"

"Well, at the jump-off I counted tracks of twelve, fifteen ponies working this herd. Now I can't find no more than four, five. First I supposed the rest had pushed on ahead, and their trails got tromp out by cows —"

"That's shrewd," Amos snubbed him. "I never would have thunk of it."

"— only, just now I find me a fit-up where two more ponies forked off — and they sure didn't push on ahead. They turned back."


"Why? Gosh, Uncle Amos — how the hell should I know? That's what itches me."

"Do me one thing," Amos said. "Drop this 'Uncle' foolishness."


"You don't have to call me 'Sir,' neither. Nor 'Grampaw,' neither. Nor 'Methuselah,' neither. I can whup you to a frazzle."

Martin was blanked. "What should I call you?"

"Name's Amos."

"All right. Amos. You want I should mosey round and see what the rest of 'em think?"

"They'll tell you the same." He was pulled back in his shell, fixing to bide his time.

It was straight-up noon, and they had paused to water at a puddle in a coulee, before Amos made his opinion known. "Aaron," he said in tones most could hear, "I'd be relieved to know if all these boys realize what we're following here. Because it ain't cow thieves. Not the species we had in mind."

"How's this, now?"

"What we got here is a split-off from an Indian war party, running wild loose on a raid." He paused a moment, then finished quietly. "Maybe you knowed that already. In case you didn't, you know it now. Because I just told you."

Aaron Mathison rubbed his fingers through his beard and appeared to consider; and some of the others put in while he did that. Old Mose Harper pointed out that none of the thieves had ridden side by side, not once on the trail, as the tracks showed plain. Indians and dudes rode single file — Indians to hide their numbers, and dudes because the horses felt like it — but white men rode abreast in order to gab all the time. So the thieves were either Indians or else not speaking. One t'other. This contribution drew partly hidden smiles from Mose Harper's sons.

Young Charlie MacCorry, a good rough-stock rider whom Martin resented because of his lively attentions to Laurie Mathison, spoke of noticing that the thieves all rode small unshod horses, a whole lot like buffalo ponies. And Lije Powers got in his two cents. Lije was an old-time buffalo hunter, who now lived by wandering from ranch to ranch, "stopping by." He said now that he had "knowed it from the fust," and allowed that what they were up against was a "passel of Caddoes."

An Indian-hating Civil War veteran tracks down the tribe that slaughtered his family and kidnapped his niece.

Release Date: March 13, 1956
Release Time: 119 minutes

John Wayne as Ethan Edwards
Jeffrey Hunter as Martin Pawley
Vera Miles as Laurie Jorgensen
Ward Bond as Rev. Capt. Samuel Johnson Clayton
Natalie Wood as Debbie Edwards (older)
John Qualen as Lars Jorgensen
Olive Carey as Mrs. Jorgensen
Henry Brandon as Chief Cicatriz (Scar)
Ken Curtis as Charlie McCorry
Harry Carey, Jr. as Brad Jorgensen
Antonio Moreno as Emilio Gabriel Fernandez y Figueroa
Hank Worden as Mose Harper
Beulah Archuletta as Wild Goose Flying in the Night Sky (Look)
Walter Coy as Aaron Edwards
Dorothy Jordan as Martha Edwards
Pippa Scott as Lucy Edwards
Lana Wood as Debbie Edwards (young)
Robert Lyden as Ben Edwards (uncredited)
Patrick Wayne as Lt. Greenhill
Peter Mamakos as Jerem Futterman (uncredited)
William Steele as Nesby, wounded posse member (uncredited)
Uncredited: Ruth Clifford, Mae Marsh, Jack Pennick, Chief Thundercloud

American Film Institute:
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – No. 96
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: Ethan Edwards – Nominated Hero
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: "Let's go home, Debbie." – Nominated
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – No. 12
AFI's 10 Top 10 – No. 1 Western Film

Author Bio:
Alan Le May was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and attended Stetson University in DeLand, Florida in 1916. In 1918 he registered for the World War I draft in Aurora, and then enlisted and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. While attending the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1922 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree, he joined the Illinois National Guard. He was promoted to First Lieutenant Field Artillery for the Illinois National Guard in 1923. He published his first novel, Painted Ponies, in 1927 (about the Cheyenne and the U. S. Cavalry horse soldiers).




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