3 US History Movie Moments That Never Happened
US filmmakers get a lot of crap for showing wildly inaccurate views of other countries in Hollywood movies, but let's be fair: they show a wildly inaccurate view of the US, too. Not only is every cop in the country not a loose cannon with a heart of gold who would take on 27 armed terrorists while barefoot to save a single orphan (sadly), but also ...
The British Never Burned Any Churches Full Of Colonists Like In The Patriot
During the Revolutionary War, the ruthless Brits gather a village full of innocent people of all ages and grill them about the whereabouts of Mel Gibson's brave-hearted character, Benjamin Martin. Even after the town snitch gives up Martin's location, the evil Colonel Tavington orders his men to burn down the church, killing everyone inside, including Heath Ledger's sweetheart and her parents.
Earlier in the movie, Tavington also killed Martin's young son and burned down their house. Child murder and arson were, like, his signature move.
Tavington is very clearly modeled after Colonel Banastre Tarleton, except there's no evidence (or even accusations) of him burning a single child alive. His army did commit a number of atrocities, but they were no worse than the ones pulled off by the guy Mel Gibson's character is based on, Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion. Among other things, the movie left out the part about Marion being a slave owner who was instructed to "make severe examples" of Black people who might be helping the enemy and personally pledged to "prevent negroes traveling anywhere without a pass from him." Here's a jolly song about him from a Disney show where he was played by Leslie Nielsen!
But maybe that church massacre happened under another context? Yes, it did ... about 170 years later, in Nazi Germany. We're guessing that's where The Patriot screenwriter Robert Rodat got the idea since he also wrote Saving Private Ryan and presumably did some research for that one. There's no record of the English ever doing anything like that in America. While on the subject of fire-related moments in American history that never happened: Salem never burned accused witches and '60s feminists never burned bras. At this point, we're not entirely convinced fire even exists.
We Remember The Alamo (All Wrong)
We've been making movies about the Battle of the Alamo, the tragic but inspiring tale of a scrappy gang of Texans standing up against oppressive sombrero-wearing forces, since 1911. The most famous is definitely The Alamo with John Wayne, which cemented the image of folk hero Davy Crockett dying in a literal blaze of glory after being stabbed by a lance and still finding the strength to blow up a building full of gunpowder.
The legendary Jim Bowie also went out taking out as many Mexican soldiers as he could with his guns and Bowie knife (or "knife," as it was called back then) despite being gravely sick. His exact illness isn't specified, but it's implied that he was dying from "being too awesome and manly for a mortal body."
Why would they do this? Because FREEDOM. That's all you need to know.
It's accurate to say that the martyrs of the Alamo died for freedom ... the freedom to take other people's freedom away, that is. See, Mexico was trying to outlaw slavery, and the white settlers in Texas didn't appreciate that, so they decided to form their own state -- with blackjack and rampant racism. "Father of Texas" Stephen Austin (you know, the guy Austin, Texas is named after) once wrote that "Texas must be a slave country." He was also pretty worried that "the white population will be destroyed some fifty or eighty years hence by the negroes" which sounds like the sort of thing you're always two clicks away from hearing while watching any Tucker Carlson video on YouTube.
At the time, there was a generalized sense of paranoia among the white Texans that slaves would one day rise up and end civilized society. For Jim Bowie the concern might have been more monetary since he made a great deal of money in the slave smuggling business (or "human trafficking," as we call it now). When the US banned the importation of slaves from Africa, Southern authorities set up a system where anyone could inform on illegal slave traders and get half of the money they'd fetch at auctions. So Bowie came up with a little scheme: he'd smuggle slaves with the help of pirate Jean Lafitte, inform on himself, buy them at half price at auction, and resell them for a profit elsewhere. (The last step of “end up in hell” was implied.)
So perhaps the mystery illness that made him die in bed during the Battle of the Alamo (there's no evidence he killed a single enemy soldier) was just good ol' karma. As for Davy Crockett, some evidence suggests he "surrendered and then begged for his life" before being executed, which isn't quite as cinematic as bravely blowing yourself up. But fear not, Hollywood: it's only a matter of time before Texas outlaws any retelling this story based on evidence and makes sure the myth of the badass Alamo warriors is the only version that can be uttered in the state. FREEDOM!
Pretty Much Everything We Know About Cowboys Is A Lie
Let's take the most iconic gunfight in the history of the Wild West, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral between the Earp brothers and the Cowboys gang, which has been immortalized in movies like, well, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993) ...
And the Deep Impact to Tombstone's Armageddon, Wyatt Earp (1994). (If that sentence makes no sense to you, ask your local Gen X-er.)
For starters, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral didn't even happen on or near the O.K. Corral -- for decades, this was known as the "Gunfight on Fremont Street" because it happened in a far less dramatic vacant lot there, but then a Wyatt Earp biography decided to move the action to a corral and it just stuck. The fight itself was also less dramatic: it lasted only 30 seconds, two of the cowboys ran away at the start, and, despite taking place at pretty close range, most of the 30 bullets shot went nowhere. Here's a more accurate reenactment:
Movies like these might give you the impression that these were daily occurrences in the Wild West, but nah. The three casualties in this gunfight plus two more made 1881 the deadliest year ever for the old town of Tombstone, which, by the way, had stricter gun control then than it does now despite being in the actual Wild West. This wasn't unusual: the Wild West had lots of (mostly crappy) guns but also a lot of gun control, which meant that it wasn't uncommon for towns to demand you check in your gun with the authorities before you were allowed to be a part of civilized society.
This might explain why most cattle towns saw "fewer than two homicides a year" -- which is statistically high given the low populations, but pretty far from the daily bloodbaths seen in those movies where everyone from the barman to the hookers is waving a gun around at the local saloon. While we're ruining westerns for you: there were barely any bank robberies in the Wild West, cowboys mostly wore bowler hats, and most of their job consisted of watching cows pooping. Happy America Week!
Thumbnail: Sony Pictures Releasing, Buena Vista Pictures