View of Rogue Valley from Wagner Butte

"The Covered Wagon" Movie Review 1923 by William Colvig and Alice Applegate Sargent

MEDFORD MAIL TRIBINE, Medford, Oregon, Wednesday, May 2, 1923



     In certain fastidious circles cursing out the movies in a popular pastime. A frequent complaint is that the Hollywood magnates persist in dishing out sentimental trash, sex nonsense, and nothing else.
The movie press agents usually reply by maintaining that the industry merely gives the public what it wants, and if the public really wanted better films, better films would be produced, but the public doesn't.
As usual in such cases neither extremes are correct. To prove the point, one need only observe the reception given the late Emerson Hough's "Covered Wagon" in the east.
     The "Covered Wagon" is the season's movie sensation in New York City. New York newspapers and magazines are devoting columns of praise to this pictorial epic of the Far West. Cri­tics of recognized standing compare it favorably to "The Birth of a Nation" and "Broken Blossoms." Crowds are being turned away at every performance.
     Everyone agrees this is a decidedly worth while film, with a serious artistic purpose. Yet it was produced by a commercial film corporation and the public is patronizing it. Which demon­strates that neither the Film Knockers, nor the Film Apologists are correct. Our particular interest in the "Covered Wagon," however, is its value as an advertising medium for Oregon. There was consid­erable criticism when the film was being made, that California, as usual, was being left out in the cold. Not having seen the film we can't pass judgment on this phase of the controversy, but this much we do know,   in every press release we have seen, Oregon is mentioned at least half a dozen times.
     This is a good thing for Oregon. Nine people out of ten east of the Applachians don't know whether Oregon is a national park or an outdoor sport. The "Covered Wagon" will at least stimulate their curiosity and encourage enlightenment. And that is all Oregon needs just now.

Friday, May 4, 1923


"The Covered Wagon."

To the Editor:
     I cannot entirely agree with you in regard to the advertis­ing value to Oregon of that great picture entitled: "The Covered Wagon," and which is based upon the story of that name written by the late Emerson Hough.
      I saw this picture in the Egyptian theatre at Hollywood, California, on the night of its first presentation. It probably will not be as well presented in any other theatre in the United States.
In the prologue given, fifty gaudily dressed Indians   prominent men and women of the Arapahoe and Sioux tribes   per­sonally appeared upon the stage, and the spokesman gave a short biographical sketch of each of these old warriors, one of whom is a survivor of the Custer Massacre. The spokesman also told us that before this picture was ever presented to the public it was submitted to one hundred of the best critics in New York City.
      As I am one of the Argonauts that came to this state in a covered wagon, I am presumptious enough to believe that I am a better critic of that picture than those to whom it was sub­mitted. I am not thoroughly acquainted with Hough's story, "The Covered Wagon," but I think the scenario writer has taken great liberties with the historical phase of the subject.
      The first picture thrown on the screen shows the usual tumult occasioned by the gathering together of the train at Westport, on the Missouri river: the audience is told that West­port is now Kansas City. I do not know what it was called in 1845, but we lived within six miles of that place continuously from 1847 until May 5, 1851, when we started with ox teams to the Oregon territory, and during all that period it was known as Kaw Landing, it being at the mouth of the Kaw river.
     The two hundred wagons are shown in the picture, each of which is covered with a snow white sheet, and I may observe right here that in the final picture the wagon sheets are as white as they were on the day of departure. I also noted that each of the wagons had a brake to deaden the wheels. None of the wagons of our train of about 50 which started in 1851 were equipped with brakes; mankind had not yet devised such a useful contrivance.
     The scenerio writer deals with the emigration of 1845 and in order to bring California prominently into the picture he blends it with the gold rush of 1849, showing a division of the train at some point in Utah, a portion of it going to California and the remainder coming on into the Oregon country, and at this point I want to make the following criticism of the picture: the final scene showing the part of the train which came into Oregon dis­closes a group of wagons huddled together in a small mountain valley, with snow one foot deep on the ground and the landscape ornamented with rocks and bull pine. I thought to myself, after all the hardships and struggles endured by these bold pioneers, that this particular spot was poor compensation for the toil and danger they had undergone.
     It shows mothers standing in the snow, with babes in their arms, exclaiming: "Oh, my God, will this journey ever end!" Just then there appears an old mountaineer, dressed in buckskin, long hair hanging down his back, evidently one who has been in Oregon for years, and he replies to the wail of these travel worn people by saying: "Why, you are already in Oregon." Whereupon, the captain of the wagon train holds up his hands, and the emigrants gather about him and return thanks to God for safely bringing them to the end of their long and perilous journey.
     Now, no person ever knew the ground to be covered with snow in the valleys of Oregon as early as the middle of October, the time of this final picture. Jesse Wingate, the captain of the train, is evidently intended for one of our old pioneer citizens, Jesse Applegate, and if the picture had ended in the beautiful valley of the Umpqua, where Applegate settled, it would show our eastern people that these brave emigrants had at last arrived, not in the lonely and forsaken spot suggested in the picture, but in one of the fair valleys that border the sundown seas; a land of fertile soil, warmed by a genial sun, and where all nature seems to smile a welcome.
     I believe that this picture will be seen by millions of people who will wonder why any one would undergo the hardships, struggles and privations that were endured by these pioneers to reach such a miserable God forsaken looking place as that shown in the final picture. There are some fine pictures shown of the California end of the journey, and its beautiful valleys and rich gold mines are displayed in direct contrast to the miserable ending of the Oregon Trail. WM. M. COLVIG.

"The Covered Wagon"

To the Editor:
     Since reading the editorial on "The Covered Wagon" in last night's Medford Mail Tribune, it has occurred to me that some of Medford's citizens might be interested to know that Emerson Hough derived his chief inspiration for his work on "The Covered Wagon" from a little book written in Medford a few years ago. If Med­ford people should be so fortunate as to see the wonderful film of this novel this fact may add to their interest. I quote from here an extract from one of Emerson Hough's letters:
"The little book is at hand and will be invaluable in my work on the novel. 
     Need I say that of all the work I have done I approach this with about the keenest zest. It is the thing I most love. I should die happier if I could believe that in my few remaining years I should have left something to tell the mixed and motly Americans of today about the earlier and better times when we were a strong people and had a great country of our own. 
"Indeed, this Applegate journal is almost my novel done to hand. I am going to use the facts historically,   that and the diary of Tamsen Donner. I want to show the people of today what men and women used to be. I hope I may be given strength to do this book within the current year. My health has broken."
And this from a later letter: "I wish more people cared for those early days. If you and I can make them care, we do not live in vain."
     To Emerson Hough, the pioneers were the "true Americans." After the publication of the novel he wrote me as follows: "It will please you to know that this experiment of going back to those pioneer days in fiction seems to be working out very well. We are getting a great many letters, which lead us to believe that the American spirit in American is not yet wholly dead."
     I feel tht Oregon has first claim to "The Covered Wagon" which was written with an object far above the paltry dollars and cents that spur some writers on. It is a comfort to Emerson Hough's friends to feel that his desire to leave behind him something to inspire in the minds and hearts of the people of the present day an appreciation and reverence for the pioneers "the true Americans" has been fulfilled.
ALICE APPLEGATE SARGENT, Jacksonville, May 3, 1923