The official John Wayne Twitter account shared an anecdote about the actor this week trying to exemplify his kindness, but the responses were mixed. The John Wayne estate has been trying furiously to rebuild the actor's legacy ever since racist comments from his past resurfaced, and some establishments began considering disentangling themselves from him. From the sound of it, his treatment of a Native American child in the 1950s will not sway public opinion.
According to the John Wayne Official Twitter account, a Navajo child on the set of The Searchers became seriously ill during filming, with a bad case of pneumonia. Wayne apparently instructed his personal pilot to fly the young girl to the hospital for urgent medical attention. "For his deed, the Navajos nicknamed him 'The Man With The Big Eagle,'" Wayne's heirs claimed. While this story touched many of Wayne's admirers, critics had plenty of questions about it.
While filming The Searchers, a Navajo child became seriously ill with pneumonia and needed urgent medical attention. John Wayne lent his plane and pilot to the little girl so she could get to the hospital. For his deed, the Navajos nicknamed him "The Man With The Big Eagle". pic.twitter.com/zAIZHevi9Q— John Wayne Official (@JohnDukeWayne) July 8, 2020
For one thing, if the story is true, some referred to it as "the bare minimum of human decency" and did not believe it was worth celebrating. The detractors argued that anyone with Wayne's resources in that position would have been a monster not to get help for that Navajo girl.
Others questioned the story's legitimacy, however. Many were skeptical of the nickname Wayne apparently got from the Navajo, and they thought that a member of the Navajo Nation today would likely be able to verify this story if it were true. The Searchers is one of Wayne's most famous films, and anyone associated with it would probably have passed the story on.
Many also speculated that the identity of the little girl should be traceable for verification. The Searchers had a small, mostly White cast, with no Native performers credited. Even Victor Daniels — known professionally as "Chief Thundercloud" — was uncredited, though by then, he was already well-known, particularly for playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger.
Wayne came under fire last month amid nationwide protests against racism for his comments in a 1971 interview with Playboy. In it, Wayne said: "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility." He also disparaged Native Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.
Still, for many people, Wayne the individual is less important than Wayne, the icon — an early celebrity and symbol of America's self-perception. Here is a look at how Twitter handled the story of Wayne's generosity to a young Navajo girl in the mid-1950s.
he is apparently a man with a big heart. I do not understand the public outraged about his comments made in a different society, a different way of life, and he has never had the press say anything bad about him.— Jackie Weaver (@JackieW48380793) July 8, 2020
That' s the behaviour of a fella with a heart in the right place, that's why we still love him today!— Dr. Marc-Oliver Dannenberg (@DrDannenberg) July 8, 2020
Real translation. The nickname was "The man with the big ego".— RezDevil (@rez_devil) July 12, 2020
John Wayne once went to visit singer Charlie Pride. Charlie was the only black star in country music in the 1960's. John Wayne was a huge fan of Charlies. After their visit, a delivery truck arrived at Charlies home delivering a full console color TV to Charlie from the Duke.— Mack McKinney (@USMCMcKinney) July 11, 2020
Such a wonderful man! A friend of mine had a wonderful story about him.— Cheryl Dover (@CA_Bledsoe) July 8, 2020
Native American Representation
The same The Searchers where a Native American woman was viciously kicked for laughs? Where Native Americans are treated like a horde of zombies to be killed? Where a white woman is "rescued" by force from living with Native Americans? One kindness does not erase a life of racism pic.twitter.com/1G30pP5HcW— 𝙸𝙽𝚃. 𝙽𝙰𝚃𝙴 𝚁𝚄𝙴𝙶𝙶𝙴𝚁 - 𝙿𝚁𝙴𝚂𝙴𝙽𝚃🏚 (@NateRuegger) July 8, 2020
The racist. RENAME THE AIRPORT!!!! https://t.co/oA7IVy7Jhj— Jose M Guardia (@jmguardia) July 8, 2020
HAHAHA ...!— Gallus Domesticus (@BBQdegato) July 8, 2020
Because of his white supremacist comments against Blacks and Natives, my grandma shared the pic on Facebook and said they should’ve used real bullets in his movies cause she didn’t stand for that shit 😏 https://t.co/lLMfUbnbVq— sho 🍷 (@asdzaashosh) July 12, 2020
The tribe really has to collect oral history stories from those who worked with Ford and Wayne back in those days.— Tripped Out Coyote (@Maii_Degeese) July 12, 2020