Scenes of South Dakota fill 'Dances With Wolves'

MANY FACES OF THE BLACK HILLS

April 07, 1991|By John Madson | John Madson,Universal Press Syndicate

The motion picture "Dances With Wolves" opens with a Civil War battle sequence filmed in Georgia, but the rest of the movie's locales are in western South Dakota.

From the Southern battlefield the action moves to the bleak Dakota Territory outpost to which a young cavalry lieutenant (Kevin Costner) has been assigned -- a ramshackle corral and sod hut built by location crews on a ranch northeast of Rapid City not far from the airport. (Months later, an assessor making her rounds saw a distant building where none had been before. Thinking it might be new grist for the county tax rolls, she took a closer look. Like millions of moviegoers, she had been fooled by the false front of the army outpost.)

The soldier eventually finds a Sioux village in a grove of cottonwoods by a small river. This location was along the Belle Fourche River about 15 miles east of the town of Sturgis near the northern edge of the Black Hills.

He is befriended by the Indians when he leads them to a buffalo herd and joins them in a hunt. Buffalo and hunt were filmed north of Fort Pierre on the 55,000-acre Triple U Standing Butte Ranch, which owner Roy Houck stocks with as many as 3,000 buffalo.

The movie's final scenes of a Sioux winter camp are in Spearfish Canyon in the northern edge of the Black Hills.

Painstaking research produced a screenplay, costuming, sets and roles that seem true. And the movie's raunchy mule skinner really lives in New York and bathes regularly. The Hollywood wolf has never seen a buffalo, and painted Indians in real life shop in suburban malls. And no, there weren't any buffalo killed during ,, that hell-for-leather hunt; those were mechanical animals on rails, made to fall in clouds of dust. In another scene, the skinned carcasses of buffalo left strewn about the prairie by white hunters also were products of the special-effects crew. So like most movies, "Dances With Wolves" is illusion.

But there was no make-believe in the setting. Those vistas of treeless land rolling toward far and open horizons really exist. The superb cinematography truly caught the clear light of the high plains with their storm skies and flaming sunsets, and the newly minted gold of cottonwood leaves beside a prairie river.

--John Madson

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