Fairbanks starred in movie set in Wyoming
by William Brenneman
In 1917, near the height of his career in pictures, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. came to Wyoming as master of ceremonies for Cheyenne Frontier Days. While there, he promised to make a movie in the state. Some weeks later, as promised, Fairbanks and his entourage arrived in Laramie. The retinue required two Pullman and three Union Pacific freight cars. He even brought his Maxwell automobile.
The title of the film he was starring in was “The Man from Painted Post.” The “extras” for the film were mostly local cowboys and their horses. Of course, the cowboys (the good guys) chased the “villains” across the plains. The chasing occurred where Lake Sodergreen is today.
A focal point for the movie was the mouth of a canyon on the west slope of Jelm Mountain. Fairbanks, as producer of the movie, had the front of a cabin built across the canyon’s mouth. It was into this cabin that the rustlers drove cattle to change their brands.
Fairbanks, then 34 years old, had the agility to climb the cliff on the west side of the canyon and peer through a trap door, observing the changing of the brands. After the branding, the cattle were driven out the rear of the building into another valley. That was all the evidence he needed to catch the thieves.
After 85 years of wind, decay, and vandalism, little remains of the building used for that movie. About 15 years ago, the trap door was auctioned off to benefit charity.
In 1910, Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith had formed the United Artists Picture Co. (Pickford and Fairbanks were married in 1920.)
Just to the south of the mock-up cabin is another man’s work and aspirations. It is a mine tunnel blasted by silver miners in the 1890s. Considered an attractive nuisance, the Bureau of Land Management decided it should be closed.
First, explosives were used. However, before it was completely closed by dynamite, they realized this was (or might be) a cave for endangered bats. Finally, the BLM had a contractor mantle the opening with an array of rebar and cables. Now people are safely excluded and bats are not!
If you are interested in obtaining a tape of the movie “The Man from Painted Post,” a Web site is available at http://www.silentera.com/PSFLdata/Manfrom PaintedPost1917.html.