PENDLETON - The award-winning documentary film "American Cowboys," which tells the story of Nez Perce Indian Jackson Sundown and African American George Fletcher competing at the Pendleton Round-Up, will be shown this weekend at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon, Ga.
The writers and producers of the film, Cedric and Tania Wildbill of Pendleton, will attend the Friday and Saturday showings and present a discussion afterward. The Wildbills also will present programs to several humanities and history classes at Central High School in Macon.
Cedric Wildbill is a Nez Perce/Umatilla/Cayuse Indian who grew up in Pendleton listening to neighbor George Fletcher tell about his adventures. Tonya Wildbill, a former radio reporter and producer, is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Narrated by actor William Hurt, the film won the 1999 Best Documentary made for Public Television and the 2001 Best Documentary at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. It tells the story of the two cowboys, whose lives intersected at the 1911 Round-Up, through narratives from historians and accounts from family and tribal members. It includes rare, raw footage of rodeo competitions.
The film deals with the breaking of the color barrier in pro rodeo. Sundown and Fletcher were both competing in the saddle bronc finals at the 1911 Round-Up, along with John Spain, a white cowboy. Sundown's horse bumped into a judge's horse and he lost his chance to win the title. Spain rode second, and many in the crowd contended he fouled by touching the horse with his free hand, but the judges scored the ride despite loud protests.
Fletcher, the first African American to compete for a Round-Up championship, rode last. His performance brought the cheering crowd to its feet, but the judges awarded Spain the title.
The angry crowd charged the arena, but Sheriff Til Taylor calmed the masses by tearing up Fletcher's hat and selling the pieces to the crowd. He then awarded the money he collected to Fletcher, honoring him as the people's champion.
That was the end of Fletcher's rodeo career, but he was inducted into the Pendleton Round-Up Hall of Fame in 1969.
In 1916, Sundown became the first American Indian to win the saddle bronc title at the Round-Up. He was 53. He also was inducted into the Round-Up Hall of Fame, in 1972. In 1976 he became the first American Indian to be inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The showing of "American Cowboys" and the appearance of the Wildbills is supported by the Georgia Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.