Ghost Dance in The Pit

After Billy is bitten by the snake – and (spoiler alert) lives – he comes back to pass along the message he received in the vision following the bite. Billy talks of reaching through the ‘thin veil’ that separates the material world from the spirit world. What Tom didn’t know when he created and scripted ‘Billy Jack’ were the incredible connections between his fictional script and the Ghost religion that played a huge role in the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Tom did not know of the Paiute medicine man, Wovoka, the creator and leader of the Ghost religion, nor the Ghost Dance, that is loosely emulated in the film. Much of this came to light during the break in shooting between Prescott, Arizona, in the fall of 1969 and the final shooting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the spring of 1970 (see previous post for more).

Below are pictures from the filming of the dance sequence that are a bit less glamorous than the ideas or finished product. It was blazingly hot midday that day, and everyone was standing around in a pit. (It felt a bit like being on the wrong end of one of those old time sun reflectors people used to hold up to their faces before we knew there was such a thing as skin cancer.) But we started filming in the morning, when it was really cold, so everyone got fooled by the temp change and were stuck with the wardrobe they started with. I felt the worst for the Indians in their full outfits and Tom in the head-to-toe leather sauna. But as midday turned to early afternoon, the temp dropped fast and people began grabbing for coats between setups.

If you've never been on the set of a film, it's hard to believe how UNglamourous making a movie really is. It is painful beyond words, especially for the performers who spend the majority of their time waiting for the crew to get all the lights and camera ready. Julie Webb (facing away from camera) looks like she's praying for an end. Also in the picture: Delores Taylor (Jean), TC Laughlin (Carol), Debbie Schock (Kit), Stan Rice (Martin)

Tom climbing the ladder out of the pit in full costume. Fred Koenekamp, the cinematographer is on the left; Bill Smith, wardrobe, is wearing the hat waiting for Tom.

What does TC's face tell you about the thrill of making movies? Also in the picture: Delores Taylor (Jean), Debbie Schock (Kit), Stan Rice (Martin)

me/Frank (left), Tom (center in costume), and Rolling Thunder (right) discussing the scene. (I actually wasn't disucssing the scene as much as listening.)

5 Responses to Ghost Dance in The Pit
  1. Kerry Chavez

    Dear Frank, I love these pictures. I wanted to say that I’ve been searching the web for information about Stan Rice, who played the character “Martin” in “Billy Jack” and I haven’t been able to find anything. Do you have any information about what happened to him after “Billy Jack?” Thanks again for putting this out there.-Kerry

    Current score: 2
    • admin

      we would love to know, too. sorry, we haven’t been able to track stan down.

      Current score: 0
  2. casper

    i love the ghost dance scene! i always point out to people when i show this movie to friends that its funny how martin is participating as billy’s aprentice one second, and soon as a spying dinosaur and BERNERD turn around, theyre able to capture martin again, this time frolicking with barbara, who was also at the ceremony(and wearing different clothes), on the other side a the canyon! but that shows how interesting the movie is, because everyone is so concerned with whats gunna happen that they dont notice that people cant be two places at the same time. it takes a really good story to be able to get away with stuff like that, which is what this film is, pure and simple.

    Current score: 0
  3. Samantha

    thought that was julie webb with her back turned. I remember the outfit she wore during those scenes, red long sleaved shirt I believe and purple jeans.

    Current score: 0
  4. Michael Appel


    These photographs are fantastic. Thank you very much for posting them here and sharing them with us. However, since you are trying to raise money for your documentary, I think you should publish them in a book, with the proceeds going to the documentary. “THE BILLY JACK / LAUGHLIN FAMILY SCRAPBOOK VOLUME #1” You’ve already got all the material – the photos. Instead of randomly posting them here you would randomly put them on pages of a book. No particular order, just like here on the site. One photo might just have a caption that reads Delores and Tom, while the next page might have your helicopter shots with extensive detail. I think such a book would be great and if it goes over well, start cranking out volume #2.

    Thanks again for sharing all these great photos, even though you’re making my collection look very bad.


    Current score: 3
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