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Is Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher on a True Story?

November 10, 2021

Directed by Nathan Frankowski, Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher is a neo-western drama that shows human resilience in the face of bitter adversity. The story follows Montford T. Johnson, an orphan who built a sprawling ranch empire in 19th century Oklahoma. With Martin Sensmeier and Tommy Flanagan at the helm of the cast, the film’s larger-than-life story is inspiring to say the least. However, you will wonder if the story was taken from a history book. If so, then let’s dive deeper.

Is Montford the Chickasaw Rancher a True Story?

Yes, ‘Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher is based on a true story. The film was the third independent project produced by Chickasaw Nation Productions, a production company that aims to showcase the indigenous culture of the tribes through feature films. The production house had previously produced two feature films, namely ‘Pearl’ and ‘Te Ata’.

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‘Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher, Te Ata’s team has largely re-cast, including director Nathan Frankowski, content producer Jeannie Barbour and producer Paul Sirmons. The screenplay was penned by Lucy Tennessee Cole and is based on the book of the same name by Neil R. Johnson from 2001. The book in turn illuminates the real character of Montford T. Johnson, an orphan who was born in Oklahoma in the 19th century became the self-proclaimed king of a vast ranching empire.

When Montford was born in November 1843, the region we now know as Oklahoma was part of an uncategorized land known as Indian Territory. His father, Charles Boggy Johnson, was an English stage actor who came to the United States with a touring theater. He traveled south and married Rebekah Courtney Johnson, a Chickasaw resident of partly Scottish origin. During the Chickasaw Removal, he emigrated with the tribe to the Indian area.

The journey was fraught with dangers. After crossing the Mississippi, the tribe found themselves in a vast swamp area. Using a technique he learned in England, Charles managed to get the crew through the swamp, earning him the nickname Boggy. Rebekah died shortly after Montford was born, and Charles decided to return to his homeland. According to the custom of the tribe, motherless children of Chickasaw families should be raised like their own. Charles Montford and his older sister left Adelaide in the care of their grandmother.

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At the Chickasaw Manual Labor Academy, Montford learned modern farming techniques that could result in higher yields. But times were volatile, and the looming civil war was already within our grasp. At the age of 22, Montford took over the running of the homestead, while his sister Adelaide lost her faithful husband around the same time. The civil war subsided in 1865. Montford opened its first ranch in the western part of the Chickasaw Territory in 1868.

With the help of his legendary pioneer friend, Jesse Chisholm, Montford made an agreement with the natives. The deal allowed him to use the vast stretch of land as long as he didn’t hire a white man to work on the ranch. His diligent efforts brought prosperity to Oklahoma, as he was instrumental in giving central Oklahoma its present form. His ranch empire spanned a vast area, reaching into what we now know as Oklahoma City.

By paying homage to the fearless entrepreneur, the film opens up a repressed chapter in the country’s history. In addition, the director was keen to have many of Montford T. Johnson’s descendants appear as extras in the film, including Montford’s great-granddaughter. Hence, despite the western theme, the gritty story is firmly rooted in Oklahoma history.