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THE MARK OF UNCAS

The Mark of Uncas
Produced, Written & Directed by Kenneth A. Simon
Broadcast Premiere: May 2002
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Printer-Friendly Version    

OPEN

ERIC SCHWEIG (NARRATOR): This is the story of Uncas, the controversial 17th-Century Sachem of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut.

 

His life has become legend, passed down through 13 generations. It is a complex legacy, mingling fact and fiction.

 

According to Mohegan Oral Tradition, “The people are the story.”

 

Telling this story are the descendants of Uncas, the English and neighboring tribes; American Indian scholars and activists; and the residents of Uncasville, the village that bears his name.

 

KURT EICHELBERG: I’d like to tell you a story of a great warrior that lived in the time of our ancestors.  This warrior’s wisdom, courage, and vision saved the Mohegan from total annihilation. This great warrior, who became our first sachem, is known as Uncas.”

JOHNNY LONDON: In his time, in the early 1600s, he was the major player in America

 

LORD SAYE: All nations and cultures do produce outstanding men from time to time. Perhaps the British saw in him somebody who was outstanding, with whom they could, as it were, do business.

 

ERNEST GILMAN: Tahbut ne Mundo, Mundu Wigu

TITLE

ROBERTA COONEY: He cared for his people. He cared for the colonists, too. He also was shrewd and cunning.

 

RAY GEER: Uncas was a greedy individual that wanted power and he sold his soul to the colonists.

 

JOHN BROWN: He coped with people whose intent was truly black and black-hearted and he won.

 

UNCAS AROUND THE WORLD

 

NARRATOR:  In 1826, James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “The Last of the Mohicans,” introduced a fictional Uncas to the world.

 

JOE BRUCHAC In many ways it’s the first American adventure novel, the first American popular novel, and the first novel that features Native Americans as main characters.  It became probably the icon by which all Native Americans were drawn for generations after that because we have those two images in the characters of on the one side Uncas and Chingachgook, who were the noble Mohegans, and on the other side Magua, who is the despicable, lying, dangerous redskin, who is the villain of the piece.

 

And they’re names that were picked out of the popular imagination. But Uncas, of course, was an historical character, the leader of the Mohegan people, who became the primary ally of the English and was a sort of exemplar of the relationship between the white man and the Indian.  In the popular imagination he was the good Indian, so when Cooper wrote this book it’s not surprising that the Uncas character should be used in name if not an actual person because, of course, the fictional Uncas is totally different.

 

So you had this picture of Uncas as being absolutely steadfast. He is sort of the image of Tonto. He’s the first Tonto and the Lone Ranger. And this image of the white man with the faithful Indian by his side continues on down through movies and television right to the present day. It’s one of the most popular images in the American imagination, even though beginning with Uncas himself it is a false image.

 

NARRATOR:  Fiction met reality when publicity for the 1920 version of The Last of the Mohicans discovered “real Mohicans” in Connecticut.

 

The Mohegan Tribe has lived in the area now encompassing Montville, Connecticut, for centuries. In and around Montville and its village of Uncasville, the name "Uncas" is ubiquitous, used by numerous public and private institutions, businesses small and large, and even residences.

 

When Cooper used the name of Uncas for his fictionalized character, he created an unprecedented international literary phenomenon.

 

EXCERPT FROM “THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS” ( 1936)

 

NARRATOR:  More than 12 movie versions of The Last of the Mohicans  have left an enduring mark on American culture. 

 

Roberta Cooney still recalls her hometown’s 1936 premiere.

 

ROBERTA COONEY: I was a young girl when I went to see this movie. And it was quite something to go to a movie because we didn’t go to the movies that often. And before we went my mother told us that it was not all true -- it was a movie. It did make a lasting impression on me.

 

NARRATOR:  Carleton Eichelberg also went with his famliy to see the 1936 version.

 

CARLETON EICHELBERG: I remember going down on a Saturday morning with my mother and my step-grandmother and you know, as a young boy at that time, I think everybody was interested in cowboys and Indians so to speak. it was basically fiction but it did take and put our most famous leader into a national limelight and it made the Mohegan people  more world renown.

 

RUSSELL MEANS: To me it was a fictional story. It didn’t have any import to me other than James Fenimore Cooper was an obvious racist.

 

NARRATOR: American Indian activist and actor Russell Means played the fictional Uncas’s father in the 1992 hit film version. Means first read Cooper’s story in the second grade.

                       

MEANS After three auditions I won the role. Dennis Banks and I were competing for the role. I won, and did that awesome movie.

 

Well, the characterization  of Uncas was not developed.  He was two-dimensional. He did fall in love, supposedly, but that was the only humanity he was allowed to have in the movie. So to try to compare him to the historical Uncas is impossible,  you know, because the whole movie’s concept, "the last of the Mohegans," is an absolute fabrication. He wasn’t one of the last, you know.

 

EXCERPT FROM “THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS” (1992)
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