Thursday, October 12, 2017

Born Today October 12: Charles King (Major General)


Major General Charles King, who became known as a writer credited with establishing the western novel and eventually an actor in films, was born on this date in Albany, New York to a very prominent military family.  His great grandfather Rufus was one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.  The younger King here graduated from West Point in 1866 and was sent to serve under General Crook in the Indian Wars. He suffered severe enough wounds to retire from the Army with the rank of Captain in 1879--this occurred during the shameful Yavapai War.  As of 1885 he was serving as Captain in the National Guard in the state of Wisconsin.  Sometime between these two years, he crossed paths with Buffalo Bill Cody for the first time.  In 1885 he was engaged by the Head Master of the St. Johns Military Academy after a chance encounter in Delafield, Wisconsin (the story goes that he amusingly corrected some young men practicing with broom sticks military drilling in a very wrong fashion and proceeded to show them the correct West Point Manuel of Arms--whether the story is true or "true-ish" is any one's guess).  In 1899 he was appointed brigadier general of volunteers sent to the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War.  It was in the subsequent Philippine-American War that he and his volunteers saw action; quite a bit of it before the war understandably became a guerrilla affair in which traditional military tactics would not work, and traditional military men did not understand.  He returned home to the U.S. and his position at the military academy that he would work at for the rest of his life.  He was also a lifelong member of the Wisconsin National Guard, which he would train for service in World War I.  It was after his return to the U.S. that his writing came into the picture.  In truth, he was more of a an editor, but he did write novels and tales.  All of his subject matter focused on the western frontier; and his work came to be viewed as solidifying the narrative of the western novel: adventure, romance, "wild people" that needed "taming"--or at least "enlightening."  It is the narrative that both boasts of westward expansion, while using a lament of a "disappearing people" to entertain people back east.  The first film to use his material, also featured him as an actor.  The Indian Wars (1914) was produced, with backing from the U.S. government, by William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), who also starred in it.  Unlike King's novels, this was based on memoir material (some based on his actual experiences, some not) which hew closer to the truth than his novels were.  Several real events were re-enacted (many of them traumatic, such as the January 29 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre); all of the natives were actual Native Americans and all of the soldiers were actual military men--the film was shot on location in the Dakota territory. The film was re-released in 1917 following Cody's death, but disappeared not long after that (there are several rumors surrounding this film that the government had something to do with it's disappearance); however part of the last reel was found in 1978 in a private film collection.  King appeared in one additional film in his lifetime, which also dates from 1914:  The Secret Of The Will, where he is credited as "Charles W. King." It would not be until 1925 that his material was again used for a screenplay; Warrior Gap was this time based on his fiction (one of his short stories). Four more films were made from his work to date, all of them dating from the mid-1920's; the last of which was Fort Frayne based on his most popular novel in 1926.  King outlived the motion picture industry's interest in his work, dying at the age of 88 on March 17th in Milwaukee.  He is buried in Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.  

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