Chickasaw’s historical figures Montford Johnson and Te Ata have appeared in films that are now available for streaming
November is National Native American Heritage Month, a time allotted for the United States to pay tribute to the rich culture and history of the Native Americans.
As a result, events examining the lives and times of important First American historical figures are a common sight in the country’s classrooms, libraries, and museums.
Chickasaw Nation Productions’ films “Te Ata” and “Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” offer similar opportunities for learning about the influential First Americans from home or on the go. Both films are now available for streaming.
Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher explores the life of historic Chickasaw rancher Montford Johnson, who suffered great hardships and tragedies to build a vast ranch empire along the Chisholm Trail, the famous cattle highway of the American West .
Johnson’s story is a true Western epic, spanning from his birth in 1843, through the tumultuous years of the Civil War and its aftermath, to the Land Rush of 1889.
Inspired by accounts of Johnson’s life and the book “The Chickasaw Rancher”, this story tells of Johnson’s time among settlers, cowboys, tribes, military and bandits.
Few people have influenced ranching as much as Johnson. He was a warrior, businessman, rancher, and philanthropist. The self-made man who suffered from chronic illnesses and family trauma all his life managed to build a family legacy in Oklahoma that is celebrated to this day.
Armed with determination and dreams of a better life, he had the guts and courage to tame the seemingly endless wilderness while always maintaining respect for the First Americans who lived there.
Johnson, the son of an Englishman and a Chickasaw woman, befriended Jesse Chisholm, who encouraged him to establish cattle ranches and trading posts to serve other First Americans and others living in Indian territory.
As his ranch empire expanded, Johnson’s persistence established his legacy. Conflicts with Boomers and cattle thieves and numerous personal tragedies kept Johnson strong. His ranching practices, like burning fields to control growth and reducing diseases spread by ticks, along with barbed wire fences, are still used today.
At the height of his ranching, Johnson gathered a herd of more than 35,000 cattle that grazed over a million acres of newly created Indian territory.
Many tribes are represented in the cast of the film. Martin Sensmeier, who portrays Montford Johnson, is Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan. Tatanka Means, who plays Rising Wolf, is an award-winning First American actor from the Oglala Lakota, Omaha, and Navajo tribes. Casey Camp-Horinek plays Granny Vicey and is a member of the Ponca tribe. Sonia Hoffman is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and is cast as Asha, the wife of Rising Wolf. Rebeckah Boykin, a Choctaw model and actress, portrays Johnson’s sister Adelaide. Eddie Easterling, a Chickasaw citizen, plays Jesse Chisholm. Richard Whitman, Yuchi and Muscogee; Zack Morris, Sac & Fox; and Bella Muncy, Choctaw, also represent the First Americans as actors in the film.
Other actors include Dermot Mulroney, Tommy Flanagan, Grace Montie, James Landry Hébert, Denim Richards, Mackenzie Astin, Caleb Martin, Danny Tracey, Cat Merritt, Randy Mendez-Kestler and Callan Wilson.
“Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher” was directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons.
Most of the film was shot on Oklahoma soil during the spring and summer. Davis, Reagan and Fort Gibson were major filming locations.
It is the third feature film produced by the Chickasaw Nation to follow on from “Te Ata” and “Pearl” to tell the story of the Chickasaw people.
Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher
“Te Ata” (pronounced TAY ‘AH-TAH) is based on the inspiring, true story of Mary Frances “Te Ata” Thompson Fisher, a woman who broke cultural barriers to become one of the greatest First American performers of all time.
Born in Indian Territory and raised with the songs and stories of her Chickasaw culture, Te Ata’s path to finding her true calling has led her through isolation, discovery, love and a stage career that has included appearances for US presidents, European royalty and society Audiences all over the world.
In 1957 into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and 1990 into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame, Te Ata was awarded the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award in 1975 and in 1987 was declared Oklahoma’s first “Treasury”.
With an entertainer and storyteller career spanning six decades, Te Ata achieved international fame with a one-of-a-kind one-woman show about the heritage and culture of the First American.
Te Ata learned of the beauty and wisdom of Native American culture from her father, Thomas, who told her a variety of Indian stories, and from her mother, Bertie, who taught her useful and medicinal plants.
She attended Bloomfield Academy and graduated from Tishomingo High School. While it was unusual for a woman to attend college at the time, Te Ata received support from her mother to attend the Oklahoma College for Women (OCW) in Chickasha.
Francis Dinsmore Davis, acting and expression teacher at OCW, recognized Te Ata’s talent and encouraged her to pursue a career in the theater. After graduating in acting, Te Ata continued her education at the prestigious Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Te Ata later moved to New York, where she appeared in several Broadway productions. Upon arriving in New York, Te Ata stayed at the Three Arts Club, a boarding house for aspiring actresses.
It was there that she first met Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the wealthy “housemothers” whom the actresses hired for private appearances in their homes. Many of Te Ata’s performances in the early 1930s took place in downtown children’s summer camps.
Te Ata became famous for telling the stories of the first American tribes, not limited to her own Chickasaw stories. As their popularity grew and their performances became more frequent, other tribes sought them out to tell the stories of their heritage. Te Ata hugged them all.
The film “Te Ata” tells her story of breaking through cultural barriers and changing public perception during an eventful career that stretched from the 1920s to the 1980s.
The Chickasaw Nation Productions film was shot entirely in Oklahoma in 2014. Directed by Nathan Frankowski and produced by Paul Sirmons, several award-winning First American actors help bring the story based on Te Ata’s life to screen.
Q’orianka Kilcher will play Te Ata and Gil Birmingham will be cast as Te Ata’s father Thomas Benjamin (TB) Thompson. Oscar-nominated Graham Greene plays the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Douglas H. Johnston.
Via Chickasaw Nation Productions
Chickasaw Nation Productions was founded in 2009 as a result of the vision of Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby to use film productions to preserve the stories of the Chickasaw people.
The goal of Chickasaw Nation Productions is to educate audiences through the production of feature films and documentaries with accurate, positive depictions of the people, history and culture of Chickasaw.
Each film illustrates how Chickasaw culture played an important role in the lives of the people and events depicted in the films, and how those people and events influenced the world around them.
For more information about Chickasaw Nation Productions, please visit ChickasawFilms.com.
Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher and Te Ata are now available to stream on Netflix.