Private Investigator Stumbles on Long Lost 1920s Silent Film on Native Americans

As the saying goes, “chance favors the prepared mind.” This was clearly the case for a private investigator that took five nitrate celluloid reels as payment for a case from a North Carolina resident. Little did he know that he was about to discover a prized film thought to have been lost in a fire.

The 1920 film Daughter of Dawn originally screened in Los Angeles and depicted scenes of ceremonial dances and buffalo hunting that have since been obscured by time. A year later, a fire destroyed the warehouse used by the Texas Film Co. to store most of its work. The film was considered to be a tragic casualty of this fire.

Renowned by historians as a groundbreaking film that used only Native Americans as actors, the movie featured approximately 300 Kiowa and Comanche people and portrayed a fictional love story. Two of the actors were children of the legendary Quanah Parker—a Comanche Chief widely known for his exploits.

When the PI realized the value of what he had, he sold it to the Oklahoma Historical Society for more than $5,000 in 2007. The film had been damaged over time, and it took years of delicate work to restore it. Finally in 2012, an orchestral score was completed.

The Library of Congress added the film to its National Film Registry a year later citing it as some of the “best regional, independent filmmaking during the silent era.” This year, Daughter of Dawn premiered again, 95 years after it was originally produced at a library in Amarillo, Texas.

While it is being premiered nationally, the original celluloid reels are being kept safe in the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in LA. This historical discovery would never have happened had the PI not taken a chance on a few reels of celluloid.