THE LEGEND OF
TURTLE MOUNTAIN A SYNOPSIS
By Norm Pringle SWGA #17781 BMI CCMA CMA
At 4:10 a.m. on April 29,1903, disaster struck the Northwest Territory of Canada. A gigantic wedge of limestone, 1300 feet high, 4000 feet wide, and 500 feet thick, crashed down from Turtle Mountain and destroyed part of the town of Frank, Alberta. Seventy million tons of rocks swept over two miles of the valley, killing at least one hundred people, burying numerous homes, mines, railway sidings, and 3200 acres of fertile land to depth of 100 feet. All of this occurred in approximately one hundred seconds.
This is the backdrop for the story of Turtle Mountain and the people of the town of Frank. It is a story of rugged pioneers, a crafty American capitalist, and coal miners of British and French descent. Threaded throughout the story is a Blackfoot Indian legend, which forewarns of the disaster. The legend began in 1853 when the BLACKFOOT Indians fought a battle at the base of Turtle Mountain with the Crow Indians of Montana. In the midst of the battle, a huge rock the size of a three-story building broke away from the mountain. The rock killed about 200 Native Canadians. The battle ended abruptly as the Indians believed that some spirit within the mountain had given a warning. The spirit was "Napi", whom the Indians believed to be their God and Creator. They tell that "Napi" had created the world and when he was through, he climbed to the top of Turtle Mountain and vanished. They believe that he had taken the mountain as his final resting-place. Shocked into ending their battle, the Indians and their Chiefs made peace and carved a hieroglyphic in the rock that fell. It read, "Peace forever in this valley. Let no one break the peace."
The mountain was then called Turtle Mountain, because the Indians believed that it moved slowly. The region was named Crow's Nest Pass in honor of the Crow Indians that died in the battle. Peace did exist in the valley until the early 1900s. H.L. Frank (actual character of that era), an American banker from Butte, Montana, discovered coal at the base of Turtle Mountain and founded the town which bears his name. Frank, a bearded character who liked to do things in a grand style, had a terrific ego. He liked booze and women. Once the mine was in full operation, Frank lost interest in its affairs and left for a trip to Europe. In H.L. Frank's absence, the Marceaux family of French-Canadians opened a coalmine adjacent to Frank's. They became very competitive. They began to undercut Frank's prices as well. The Marceauxs also gained control of the major businesses of the town: banking and lumber. When news of his failing mine reached Frank in Europe, he decided that he'd better come back and direct the business of the mine first hand.
On the trip back to Canada, he visited Wales and hired a top-notch Welsh mining manager. His name was Red Burton. Red was a tall, strong, giant of a man. The populace of the town welcomed Frank back. The town was booming, but the Frank Mine was going bust. His old friends liked Frank, but a feeling of animosity began. The French-Canadians having so much economic power in the town caused this. They tried to set Frank's friends against him. H.L. Frank tried many methods to get his mine back into making a profit and regaining control of the town. The first thing he tried to do was to buy out the Marceauxs. They were uninterested. In fact, they wanted to but out Frank . Frank brought with him $100,000 in American silver dollars to help buy his way back into business. Marcel Marceaux, the brother that ran the only bank in Frank, refused to accept the money for a deposit. Frank had to put it in an empty jail cell in a huge steamer trunk. The trunk was located at the Mounted police station. Right off the bat, Red Burton got involved with Edna Gates. She was a pretty schoolteacher and was married to Willie Gates, a railroad engineer. Robbie Gates, their 6 year old son was torn between and Burton, who was kind to him.
Chief Running Wolf from the nearby reservation warned the town of bickering men that there would be grave trouble if they continued their conflict. They had no fear of the Indian legend and ignored him. But indications of the truth of his warning became dramatically apparent. The Spokane Flyer (an actual CPR train of that era) engineered by Willie Gates ran into a rockslide as it nears the town of Frank. Gates was thrown clear, down under the debris and was considered killed. Gates suffered from amnesia and was befriended by an old half-breed who lived in one of the many caves in Turtle Mountain. Edna believed that her husband was dead paved the way for her romance with Red Burton. H.L Frank had many setbacks in his effort to get his mine rolling. He tried to hire back the miners that now worked the Marceauxs. He had no luck, as the French-Canadians are willing to match any increase that Frank can offer. Chief Running Wolf (actual chief of that era) held an impressive memorial service at the Blackfoot Rock and made his prophetic speech by reading the legend about Turtle Mountain. He warned the town of greedy and immoral men that the mountain would surely fall if they continue their immoral ways.
After the ceremony, Frank befriended Danny Bearspaw. Danny was a young independent Blackfoot who does not accept the Chief. He told Frank that there were many other young Indians like him whom he could get to work in the mine. The Marceauxs heard of Frank's plan and were outraged, as they believed that the Indians should be on the reservation. Raoul Marceaux, the blacksheep of the family, devised many schemes to discourage the Indians, including setting off mysterious explosions and feeding whisky to them. The reappearance of Willie Gates whom everyone thinks is dead also discouraged the Indians from working in the mountain, as they believed he was a spirit. Raoul and a miner heard of Frank's money trunk in the town jail and devised a plan to steal it. Part of his plan included setting fire to the jail, the stables, and Brook's General Store. The Indian miners helped put out the fire, but saw Willie Gates watching. This is the topper for them, as they believed that Willie was a spirit for sure.
They headed back to the reservation for good. Danny Bearspaw remained in Frank and fell in love with pretty Claudine, daughter of Andrea Marceaux. Claudine kept their romance a secret due to her father's distaste for the Indians. Meanwhile Frank headed for Nova Scotia to hire some experienced miners. The CPR started an official investigation of the train wreck by engaging Professor Woodward of the University of Toronto. The Professor was also a member of the Geological Survey of Canada. A survey party was formed to climb Turtle Mountain to check an earthquake fault that ran down the mountain from a gigantic dark area at the summit. During the escapade many unusual incidents occurred including strange occurrences in the sacred Indian burial ground. As they reached the black hole, Danny Bearspaw and Jerry Marceaux were trapped by a rockslide in the hole. The survey party thinking they were dead returns sadly to village. Danny and Jerry lived through the experience and they discovered a series of caves which lead to a pyramid-like catacomb which they believed to be the final resting place Napi, the Indian God. Back in the town of Frank, the villagers were shocked to hear not only of the death of Danny and Jerry, but also Corporal Greesome of the Mounties while on a routine ride up one of the mountain trails. The Corporal discovered Raoul and his friend with the trunkload of Frank's silver dollars. A fight occurred ending in the death of Raoul's friend and the Corporal.
These deaths added credence to Chief Running Wolf's legendary prophecy. The story builds to a dramatic climax when the French hold a fund-raising party in Scottie's Saloon to collect money to rebuild Brook's General Store. The party turned into a drunken rumpus that lasts till dawn. As morning approached, Burton and Frank well fortified by a night of guzzling whisky act on the false belief that the Marceauxs have the trunkload of silver dollars in the bank. They decided to take the law into their own hands. They broke into the bank and retrieved the money. The Marceaxs heard of their plan and a gun battle evolved between the opposing factions.
That is the moment the prophecy of the BLACKFOOT came true. Turtle Mountain came crashing down and wiped out most of the town of Frank. The tremendous impact of the disaster brought conflicting factions together in a dramatic effort to save the entombed miners. The Old Man River was backed up causing an additional problem for the few survivors. Robbie Gates was untied with his father Willie in an emotional sequence as the both flagged down the Spokane Flyer as it roars at full speed toward the rubble. When the dust settled, the only survivors were H.L. Frank, Andrea Marceaux, Danny Bearspaw, Claudine, Willie Gates, and Robie. The few survivors gathered around the Blackfoot Rock. Frank proclaimed that he would rebuild his town.
To this day the town remains buried under tons of rock from the angry Turtle Mountain. It's victims buried forever under gigantic tombstones. From a nearby mountain, the final scene shows Chief Running Wolf attired in full Blackfoot dress watch silently. He now realized that there was peace at last in the Crow's Nest Pass.
Complete screenplay available Crashnorm@aol.com