movie scene

All the Indian actors are wearing their own eagle feathers, for a very good reason.

We're not allowed to use them because eagles are endangered.

But it's legal for the Indians to have them, and in a lot of cases, they've been passed down from older family members.

-Elsa Zamparelli
costume designer

Did you know...

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from the book "Dances With Wolves, The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film" by Kevin Costner, Michael Blake, and Jim Wilson © 1990 by Newmarket Press.


thumbnail To stage the Tennessee battle scene, 250 Civil War reenactors were brought in - organized groups that regularly put on reenactments of Civil War engagements, complete with costumes and horses. (Our Honorary Member named Scott has some interesting information in the guestbook as he was one of these reenactors in the film.)

Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft: "These scenes were supposed to take place in the fall, but logistically we couldn't shoot in the fall. So what we did was literally to paint the season in, using 10,000 gallons of paint. Painting the cornstalks yellow. And since we were shooting in South Dakota, painting the foliage on trees to resemble an Eastern autumn. The grass, on the other hand, was too brown there; that had to be dyed green. It was one of the biggest visual challenges of the film."

The buffalo hunt scenes were shot on a ranch owned by Roy Houck, a former lieutenant governer of the state, outside the capital of Pierre, South Dakota. He has the largest private herd of buffalo in the world… 3,500 head. The shooting took eight days.

thumbnail Several trained animals were brought in to handle some of the more unusual special effects. Domesticated buffalo such as Cody and Mammoth (owned by rock singer Neil Young) were lent to the production for a scene during which the buffalo are supposedly struck by arrows, fall from a full run, and are trampled by other buffalo. Mammoth was safely rigged with a strap to look as if arrows went through him. Lookalike buffalo built from wire and fur coverings were used to portray the fallen animals.

Singer-songwriter John Coinman (currently part of Kevin's band Modern West) served as the movie's music consultant. He worked with such Native Americans as Cyvert Young Bear, a member of the Porcupine Singers, to help portray the Lakota music and dancing with great authenticity. As a result, Young Bear choreographed buffalo and scalp dances that have not been recreated in more than 120 years.

The language spoken by the Sioux people in the film is Lakota, one of several Sioux dialects. This native language was nearly lost in the government's attempt to assimilate the tribes. Few people speak it today, but community colleges on the reservations have recently begun teaching it to younger people again.

thumbnail Production designer Jeffrey Beecroft: "The painting on the horses was taken from old photographs on tipi liners - those were a great source of designs - and each symbol is significant. Kicking Bird, the medicine man - his horse has a key symbol and a hailstorm. People in mourning have a hand wiped across the side. It all means something… and the Pawnee symbols are different from the Sioux."

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