Is Hidalgo really based on a true story?

What really happened.
March 4 2004 6:27 PM

A Mirage in the Desert

Viggo Mortensen's Hidalgo is based on a not-so-true story.

(Continued from Page 1)

Fusco, also a horseman, has slightly better evidence for his claim that some version of Hopkins the equestrian existed. He researched the Hopkins story in America for over a dozen years, mainly by recording oral histories from members of the Lakota and Blackfeet communities of Sioux Indians (Hopkins said his mother was a Sioux princess) and by seeking out articles—mostly from mid-20th-century equestrian magazines—that recount different aspects of Hopkins' tale. Fusco has since posted some of these articles online; a close look at them reveals that many seem short on primary sources. Fusco says he speaks the Lakota language himself, and that tribal elders told him "the story of the small pinto mustang who had won many long-distance races under a half-breed cowboy." The elders had also heard about the great victory in a long-distance race in Arabia.

Fusco's research is difficult to verify, but some of it does lend credence to the notion that Hopkins was an accomplished rider. CuChullaine O'Reilly claims that the only known image of Hopkins in cowboy attire shows him sitting on a stool, and that "the idea that there is no documented photo of Hopkins in the saddle is staggering." Fusco, however, correctly points to a set of newer images found at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. One of the images shows an older Hopkins seated on top of an unidentified horse.

Advertisement

Fusco likens the controversy to "a shoot-out between posses" in the equestrian community, but the larger question about whether Disney should promote Hidalgo as "based on a true story" remains. To call Hopkins an enthusiast seems fair, but to present him as a real-life champion cowboy is outlandish. It's unclear why Disney felt the need to gussy up its timely epic—the movie is a tale of American triumph on the Arabian peninsula, after all—with the "true story" moniker. Perhaps they were looking for a Seabiscuit competitor. Perhaps it was a misguided attempt to lend their jingoistic narrative some historical heft. But whatever the rationale, the scale of their fabrication would probably have made Hopkins—an enthusiast of horses and tall tales alike—proud.

Anuj Desai is a writer living in New York.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.