Nebraska’s First Motion Picture

The movie industry was in its infancy seventy-five years ago, but that didn’t stop some

enterprising Nebraskans from getting in on the ground floor. The Black Hills Feature Film

Company of Chadron, Nebraska was organized in 1915 with the intention of producing a

movie about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

And produce they did. Using a script penned by Mrs. James Hartzell, and featuring local

citizens A. J. Johnson and Freda Romine in the principal roles, the company made a seven 

reel western thriller. Cavalry from Fort Robinson and Indians from the Pine Ridge

reservation recreated their formerly hostile roles for the film.

“In the Days of ’75 and ’76” opened to rave reviews in 1916. “The picture is a marvel of

movies. Every scene is taken from the real article and the characters are so true and familiar

to us as to almost demand speaking recognition. This picture has cost the Black Hills Feature

Film Company hours of hard and hazardous labor, to say nothing of money cost. No finer

scenery is to be seen on any screen in America today. Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are of the

never-dying types of pioneers.”

Chadron citizens were not the only enthusiasts. Audiences in Wayne, Tekamah, and

Hartington, Nebraska, and Douglas and Lusk, Wyoming agreed “there is not a Wild West

film going the rounds this season that is anything to compare with the Wild Bill and Calamity

Jane output.”

Ads for the film included a synopsis that promised thrills and chills. The movie followed the

love affair of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, “showing their life and dealings with the Indians,

the attack by the Indians on the wagon train, the thrilling drive of Calamity Jane driving the

stage coach loaded with gold bullion from Deadwood to Sidney, and the holdup of the stage

by Jack McCall’s gang.” Wild Bill’s death, at the hands of the jealous Jack McCall, and

McCall’s subsequent conviction, brought the film to a tragic but just conclusion.

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