Clip: ‘The Mystic Warrior’ (1984)
Notes from Indian Country
Monday, September 14, 2020
Reminiscing about “The Mystic Warrior”

Stan Margulies was a little apprehensive about coming to Rapid City for the preview of a film produced by him and David Wolper called The Mystic Warrior. Margulies and Wolper had joined forces to produce the great TV miniseries on slavery called Roots. They had also produced the Thorn Birds.

But when they turned a book by Ruth Beebe Hill called Hanta Yo into a TV miniseries they faced some criticism from several Lakota people about its authenticity. They first made the mistake of having their publicist call the miniseries the “Roots of Indian Country.” With more than 500 Indian tribes in America, each with different traditions, language and culture, that was not very likely.

Margulies asked me, Joe American Horse, and Mike Her Many Horses to review the script while the shooting was in progress and make any cultural changes we thought to be necessary. After the show was complete Margulies decided to preview it at the Elks Theater in Rapid City in early 1982. Joe, Mike and I flew out to LA to meet with Wolper and Margulies and discuss some of the changes we had made to the script. It was a good meeting and they agreed to adjust the script.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Before we drove up to the Mountain I got a call from Stan’s secretary. She asked me to get a bottle of orange juice and keep it in the car because Stan had diabetes and at times his blood sugar fell very low and it was dangerous. I did as she asked. We had a wonderful dinner at the Crazy Horse Memorial. All 11 children were there and Margulies regaled them with tales of behind the scenes while shooting Willie Wonka.

Ruth Ziolkowski, the wife of Korczak, the sculptor of the Crazy Horse Monument, called me and invited Margulies and me to dinner at the Memorial. Margulies had produced the 1971 movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the Ziolkowski children had fallen in love with the movie and wanted very badly to meet the producer.

It was late in the evening when we drove back to Rapid City. As we approached Hill City we saw the flashing lights of a police car behind us. Stan and I had both had a couple of glasses of the homemade wine served at our dinner. We were a little apprehensive when the Hill City police officer walked up to the car, asked for my driver’s license and shined his flashlight in the window. He immediately recognized Margulies. He asked for an autograph handed me back my driver’s license and waved us on our way.

The Elks Theater was packed that night. Oglala Sioux tribal members were invited to the movie without charges. Joe American Horse was honored and then the lights dimmed and the movie was on. It was going to be a two-part series on ABC so the first part of the show went on and we were given a 30 minute break before Part II aired. All in all Margulies need not have been apprehensive because everybody loved the show.

Jump Big Crow and Robert Fast Horse came up to Stan and me after the show to tell Stan how much they enjoyed the movie and I could see Stan visibly relax.

I think that the bad public relations preceding the show caused confusion and concern and so what could have, and should have, been a great movie about American Indians never got off of the ground. It aired for two consecutive nights on ABC and it never had the impact we hoped it would.

I still have the tapes of the Mystic Warrior and I take them out and look at them occasionally if only to see my old friends Will Sampson and Sonny Skyhawk playing their assigned roles. Sampson made his film debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Skyhawk has been in several movies, but his major role in Hollywood had been as an advocate to get fair treatment for Native American actors.

The First Americans: Will Sampson Interview (Circa 1975-76)

Thanks to Skyhawk many of the roles that would have gone to non-Natives posing as Natives are now going to real Native Americans. Sampson came to Rapid City in the early 1970s to appear on my television show that aired on KEVN-TV back then called The First Americans. The interview is available on YouTube.

Margulies passed away not long after he produced The Mystic Warrior, but he always recalled the wonderful trip he made to Rapid City, the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Black Hills.

Tim Giago can be contacted at

Note: Content © Tim Giago