What History Taught Me
- Written by Jim Hatzell
- Published May 25, 2010
The Artist Ride is going stronger than ever after 26 years. It is held once a year at the Shearer Ranch, 20 miles north of Wall, South Dakota. About 150 authentic Old West models provide scrap for the artists. The ride is so popular that we now have to set limits on how many artists can come each year. Right now we have slots for 50 artists.
I prefer my manual film camera for the rich darks and lights (thanks to back lighting). Also, digital cameras have a sensor that corrects the “mistakes” it thinks I am making in my images.
My daddy always told me work hard and show up on time. Also, wear comfortable shoes.
I got the history bug at a very early age. I was tutored by my great-great aunt (born in 1879), who used to tell me stories of her mother feeding the Indians in her backyard in Illinois. I also grew up hearing war stories. My father’s cousin, Leslie Short, was credited by Admiral Nimitz with shooting down the first Japanese aircraft at Pearl Harbor. My father Boyd was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in a B-24 Bomber in WWII. And my uncle Jack Flavin served with Gen. Patton.
What most people don’t know about me is I was offered a job as a cartoonist for Mad Magazine by Al Feldstein in 1997. I turned the job down because it meant moving to New York City.
The first time I visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield I was hitchhiking during the summer of 1975. I got a private tour from one of the park rangers. The next day I ran into the film crew for 1976’s The Missouri Breaks in Billings. I eventually went on to work at the battlefield as a seasonal park ranger for two summers.
The aspect of the battle that intrigues me most is the Lakota/Cheyenne ledger drawings completed just after the battle. This is eyewitness testimony, by the participants, of precise action between soldier and native.
Don’t get me started on the whole Custer-Benteen- Reno thing! Too many people have a “dog in the hunt!”
I have been working in movies since August of 1989. I consider my first film, Dances With Wolves, to be the Western version of Avatar.
I have done some 70 shows, and my favorite work was on TNT’s 1997 movie The Rough Riders. I served as one of 20 technical advisors and military trainers. We worked from pre-production to the wrap party. The camaraderie was excellent, much like being in the miliary, and Director John Milius made you want to do your best work. It was a big party, with a terrific group of dedicated guys!
The biggest problem with getting an authentic look in Westerns is some people in authority don’t know any better...and don’t care. I still can’t believe that the 1994 film Maverick got an Academy Award nomination for costume design! It costs just as much to get it right.
The Western I would love to see is a miniseries remake of the book The Searchers, done in the same style as 1989’s Lonesome Dove. A lot was left out of the two-hour 1956 film. I would also like to see the movie script Bitterroot finally come to the screen. John McTiernan almost got to make it back in 1993. It’s about the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada in 1877.
History has taught me when you are walking down a road, and you come to a fork in that road,take it!
Jim Hatzell, Artist
Jim Hatzell is a graduate of the American Academy of Art from his native Chicago. He moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1981 and works as a freelance artist, photographer and stage hand, and on assorted film crew jobs. He worked on Dances With Wolves, Far and Away, Gettysburg, Ride with the Devil, Wyatt Earp, Hidalgo and, most recently, America Before Columbus. Since 1997, he has directed the annual Artist Ride (held this year on August 20-22). The ride is invitation only, but people can visit ArtistRide.com for more information on how to participate. Jim lives with his patient wife Jacqui, who makes it all possible.