Initially I considered doing a review of the GRIZZLY ADAMS series for this occasion (I may still), but that's not generally my style...I prefer less a direct sort of a eulogy. So, in this spirit, I present the fun and wholesome 1977 (or 1976, depending on whether you believe the titles or the credits) film BUFFALO RIDER. Released under the "Starfire films" banner (of which I haven't heard), it was directed by George Lauris and/or Dick Robinson and John Fabian (depending on whether you believe the titles or the credits). It has a strong TV movie feel...and by that I mean a 70's TV movie feel, which is very much a good thing in my book. At the core it's very wholesome. That's the key here...wholesomeness. The 70's were the real beginnings of the mainstreaming of postmodernism, and certain factions of the American public didn't (don't) like how fast (and where) this process was leading them. I believe that shows like LITTLE HOUSE and THE WALTONS started cropping up as a refuge for those people to rest in. GRIZZLY ADAMS was certainly one of these shows, and no less so was BUFFALO RIDER.
Set in the late 1880's (otherwise known as the 'olden days'), it centers around the subject of Buffalo hunters and the mass hunting of the Buffalo for hides. As the film itself tells, new techniques for the processing of the soft hides of Buffalo had made it more useful (as the hide of cattle had been), which was bad news for the existence of those beautiful critters. Before that era was finished, herds of millions were brutally and wastefully whittled to hundreds.
It was in this world that Jake Jones lived.
Based on a real person, the Jake Jones in the film was called "Buffalo Jones" by both the Indians and the settlers. He left a life in Texas, according to the narrator (rustically rasped by C. Lindsay Workman), disgusted by the mass butchery of the southern Buffalo herds, and headed up north, to live life of a wilderness hermit. His character was known to be honest and respectful; our wilderness hermits, as Grizzly Adams shows, should be thus. He wore the appropriate leather mountain man clothes, and his long hair and bushy mustache would have been the envy of every trapper and "Griz" hunter from Colorado to Alaska.
It's exactly this sort of fellow that would tame and ride a Buffalo.
After saving a baby Buffalo from attack by hungry coyotes (which he doesn't kill, btw), Jones takes him under his wing and keeps him safe for the winter. During that time, the Buffalo, by this time (appropriately) named Samson, has grown into quite a beast...six feet at the hump, and around two thousand pounds. A bit bigger than Grizzly Adams' pet bear Ben, wot? So, Jones gets the crazy idea to put a saddle on his new critter, and after a bit of creative negotiating, they become a lean, mean, wilderness-hopping machine. Cue banjo music. Yep, banjo music.
The pair have some rollickin' adventures; they fight a wolf, chase a bear (a sort of dig at Grizzly Adams, if indirectly, I think), get shot at by Indians (Samson is seen as 'big magic', so he's in great demand), champion a woman and her infant child, brave rough rivers, and, in much of the plot, get harassed by the evil Buff Hunter Frank Nesbitt (John Freeman), and his shaggy, mean, (and quite ugly) hide-skinners Ralph Pierce and Ted Clayborn (played by Rich Scheeland and George Sager, respectively). The climax is a gunfight in a saloon, and if you haven't seen a bar fight including a Buffalo, I think you must. Shot in various wild locales, it made me want to pack up and head right up into the wild country (if, in fact, that still exists anywhere). This simple and relatively innocent story was, relative to what one sees these days, quite refreshing and jolly (if a tad silly...and probably BECAUSE it was a tad silly), and it was interesting enough for me to track down the historical Jake Jones...which is exactly what I did for the historical Grizzly Adams.
I live in North Dakota, and last year I visited a place where Buffaloes are kept (they have a white one there, and a giant Buffalo statue...they're serious), and also was fortunate enough to go to South Dakota and experience a small herd of the big, beautiful, beasts. In my imagination I tied these experiences together with this film, which made for great memories of both. I recommend THE BUFFALO RIDER for that lazy Sunday morning (or afternoon, if you're church-folk) in which you crave something light and frisky to spend the time between breakfast and later plans. I predict you'll want to go hiking afterward, or maybe you'll try to find a way to pet a Buffalo.
...which is exactly what I did after I saw it; North Dakota is good like that.
To the right here is the mp3 of THE BALLAD OF BUFFALO JONES. Enjoy!