Broken Arrows Clear Talk

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In Broken Arrow, Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) befriends Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and negotiates a peace between the Apaches and settlers in the 1870s. The film depicts a mixed-race couple (Jeffords and his Apache child bride, Sonseeahray, played by Debra Paget) attempting to heal social rifts through their union, but peace comes only when the bond is broken and the Native American partner is sacrificed. Although the film's successful peace talks allude to the possibility of both assimilation and cultural tolerance, dual tensions of the conformist 1950s and the breakdown in cross-cultural communication toward the end of the film, along with the end of the cross-racial marriage through the death of Sonseeahray, complicate the film's verbal pro-assimilation message.11 In contrast to Devil's Doorway, the events of Broken Arrow act as a ceremony of purification for Jeffords, who is "sick and tired of all this killing." Through his relationship with Sonseeahray and through her death, both Jeffords and his community are reborn as a nation in harmony with itself and its conquered peoples.12

Several critics have addressed the relationship of voice-over and dialogue to the film's function as representation. Armando José Prats has described the way Indian Westerns—especially those of the 1950s—systematically transmute visions of Indians into an absence. The appropriative vision of the films (and their white heroes) becomes a dispossession of Indians through knowledge of them; seeing, and by extension spectatorship, becomes "a hostile act" (Invisible Natives 11). Prats argues further that voice-over narration in Broken Arrow and other pro-Indian Westerns dissociates a white man or couple from the violence of Manifest Destiny and conquest yet reiterates the story of the vanishing American. As I discuss in the final section of this chapter, my reading of Devil's Doorway suggests a similarly conflicted positioning of the viewer as both an instigator of genocidal frontier violence and a conscientious eyewitness, ready to intervene in the name of social justice.

In Broken Arrow, visual icons of communication—arrows, smoke signals, hand signals, mirror signals, maps, and the U.S. mail—become tropes for military advantage during the Indian wars and have a self-referential function in which cinematic representations of history are part of the spoils of conquest. Verbal elements in Broken Arrow gesture to the power of the visual—and the idea of revisionism—through the motif of eyes. The script goes to some trouble to establish the superiority of Apache vision, visual communication, and military intelligence. When Jeffords is captured by the Apaches at the beginning of the film, he is forced to watch while a gold miner is buried in the sand and left, his face rubbed with mescal, for the ants to devour. Later, as Jeffords describes his plan to visit Cochise, his friend Milt warns him, "Well don't try it, Tom, the ants'll be feedin' off your eyes." When Jeffords insists, Milt leaves the room, saying, "It's your eyes." Later in the film, General Howard confesses that his "eyes are getting old." In contrast to these references to the vulnerability of white men's eyes, Apaches are presented as accurate readers of both the landscape and human motives. When Jeffords and his Apache teacher Juan send smoke signals to Cochise's men, Juan says, "Enough, Apache eyes are quick"; later in the same scene, he tells Jeffords not to lie to Cochise, because "his eyes will see into your heart."

This hypervaluation of Native American military prowess—here indicated through visual acuity—was part of a long-established warrior stereotype that recirculated both during and after World War II. The U.S. absorption and appropriation of this image, harnessed for national purposes during the war, became a reified media cliché. Publicity photographs portrayed native soldiers in fighting poses wearing Plains-style feather headdresses, and Pima soldier Ira Hayes's participation in putting up the American flag at Iwo Jima made him—through his photographed image—an instant celebrity and an icon of nonwhite American patriotism available for multiple public uses.13 Publicity for Broken Arrow clearly emphasized the theme of overcoming racial prejudice, and secondarily the idea of historical accuracy, but methods for promoting the film made Apaches available as visual signs by appropriating historical Apache wilderness skills to target a youth audience.14

Broken Arrow opens with Tom Jeffords riding through the wilderness and realizing from the gathering buzzards that "something—or somebody—was getting ready to die." The "somebody" turns out to be a wounded Apache boy, never named in the film, whom Jeffords heals and returns to his people. This opening image of impending fatality is carried through in the film with the deaths of the two prominent young Apache characters, the boy and Sonseeahray. Jeffords encounters both characters during their ritual transformation from childhood to adulthood; the boy is in his "novice time," when he "learns to be a man," while Sonseeahray is "in the holiest time of her life" during the ceremony marking her transition to womanhood and eligibility for marriage. Structurally parallel, both characters are killed by whites, the boy on an Apache raid, and Sonseeahray while protecting Jeffords during an ambush of Cochise by hostile ranchers. Their deaths suggest the film's premise that Apache numbers and power will dwindle, since their life cycles have been interrupted and neither will reach full maturity or have children of their own.

When Apache warriors come to rescue the boy, they shoot an arrow near Jeffords to indicate their presence, and then two more. There is a brief, low-

angle shot ofJeffords against the sky, framed and trapped by arrows that form a barrier between him and the Apache boy. "This is clear talk—it says they can still kill!" says the boy. His speech inaugurates the arrow as a primary symbol in the film, linking the ability to "speak" through action with masculine aggression and military power.15 Later, Cochise leads a successful ambush by maintaining a high position on a bluff where he can see the action clearly, then signal different war parties to attack at key moments by having a man shoot arrows into trees or into the sky. Just as the Apaches use networks of visual signals—arrows and mirrors—to communicate across great distances in the western landscape, they also maintain tactical advantages over the U.S. military and over Jeffords by staying above them physically. Their positioning becomes a location for Apache military signaling or "speech" that occurs simultaneously with Jeffords's voice-over (as the Apaches speak, they are spoken for and spoken over by Jeffords). Such a system equates vision with appropriation and situates the spectator in the ultimate position of superiority.

Active communication is tactical power in Broken Arrow, and when Cochise stops the mail from running, he hampers the settlers' abilities to fight and to maintain private and commercial ties to the East. When talking with Cochise about letting the U.S. mail go through, Jeffords asserts, "When the Indian wishes to signal his brother he does so by smoke signs. This is the white man's signal [holding out a letter]. My brother can look at this and understand my meaning. We call this mail, and the men who carry the mail are like the air that carries the Apache smoke signals." The analogy between visual Apache communicative systems and the whites' use of paper—specifically maps and the U.S. mail—is quite explicit in this speech. When Jeffords first enters Cochise's wickiup, the camera briefly cuts to the leather U.S. mail bags Cochise has taken during raids. Later in the film, through treaty negotiation, the Apaches give up their military advantage and their appropriation of U.S. communications through the mail to accept a paper treaty and map of the new reservation.

When Cochise talks to the Apache leaders about the treaty, he holds the rolled-up map of their territory in his hand, and as he concludes his speech, he exchanges the map for an arrow. Their similar shapes link the objects visually, and as Cochise "breaks the arrow" to mark his approval of the treaty with the U.S. government, he indicates an exchange of "clear talk" through martial power for a representational system on paper, one to which he has no access. He renounces his method of communication, signing over the power of self-

representation with his agreement to demilitarize. The film's interpretation of this treaty moment retrospectively gives Jeffords the power to speak for the Apaches, which he does by narrating events in voice-over, and it gives the filmmakers the power to assimilate the Apaches by rendering all speech in English. The visual communicative icons in the film, especially the arrow as both a weapon and a masculine symbol, can be seen as analogous to the medium of film itself, where the Apaches become visual icons rendered on the screen for public consumption. Indigenous self-representation, symbolized here by the arrow, is characterized as a sexualized threat to white settlement that becomes over the course of the film available for appropriation, what Prats might call a metonymy for Indian absence, a fragment "at once hinting at and concealing a complete human identity." The arrow as a synecdoche in this scene signifies the Indian in order "to suppress him"—to render him absent from the settlers' frontier landscape (Invisible Natives 23, 31).16

Jeffords's argument that the mail is not used to carry messages against the Apache is tantamount to arguing that private and public messages do not act in concert in times of war, but over the course of the film we learn—and Jeffords learns—that private and familial relations, as well as private communication, are available for public purposes. Verbal communication between groups and individuals begins to break down as Ben Slade's boy Bob lies to Cochise and Jeffords in order to lead them into Slade's ambush. For Jeffords, communication breaks down when Sonseeahray is killed and he calls the peace treaty a lie. When Cochise speaks to him, he says, "Why do you speak to me? Speak to her [the slain Sonseeahray]. What she hears I'll hear." Yet the body of Sonseeahray—a character coded as a "bearer" of culture—becomes the visual emblem of the success ofJeffords's negotiation rather than its failure. Framed with the pile of stones that mark each day of the armistice, and which also resembles a memorial or grave, Jeffords is comforted by General Howard, who tells him, "Your very loss has brought our peoples together in the will to peace." The grave/marker that puts "a seal on the peace," like Cochise's "broken arrow," also stands for the "vanishing" of native people that leaves Arizona open for white settlement. Significantly, Sonseeahray's "gift" of her body to Jeffords sexually represents a union that is broken when she also gives her body to the treaty process through her death, "signing" herself over out of love and loyalty to Jeffords.17 Rather than devaluing the treaty process as Devil's Doorway does, Broken Arrow maintains and misreads this site of exchange in "a (fantasy) version of the treaty story in which Indians sign over all of their rights to self-determination and ongoing, distinctive identities."18 According to Allen, "Central to these fantasies is an available and thus knowable Indianness: an Indianness defined as racially 'pure' but organized in non-Indian terms" ("Hero with Two Faces" 612). The death of Sonseeahray enables such a "pure" exchange, undisturbed by future mixed-race children, while the "broken arrow" of the film's title connects the treaty-based reservation with compromised Apache masculinity, just as does Lance's Shoshone name, "Broken Lance," in Devil's Doorway.

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