Western Wednesdays: Bronco Billy’s Adventure (1911)

Lucy (Edna Fisher), the daughter of tavern owner Riley (Arthur Mackley) is seen flirting with her lover (Fred Church). Riley objects to the relationship, forbids the lover from ever seeing Lucy again and vows to kill him if he is ever seen on his property again. Moments later Broncho Billy (Broncho Billy Anderson) arrives at the tavern to take up lodging for the night. Riley and Billy share a drink and practice straight shooting together.

Later that day, Lucy’s lover returns with a posse so he could visit with her once more. Riley catches him and as promised, shoots him on sight. One of the lover’s saddlemates rides to local doctor Carney (Augustus Carney) to take care of his friend. Lucy, desperate for help, goes to Billy who holds Riley at gunpoint while the doctor tends to her lover.

While the lover is being treated, Billy and Riley have a discussion about Lucy’s relationship, with Billy telling the weary father that he cannot keep his daughter to himself forever. After some serious contemplation on the matter, Riley has a change of heart and provides Lucy and her boyfriend his blessing.

“Broncho Billy’s Adventure” was an enjoyably brisk fourteen minutes that did not overstay its welcome. Broncho Billy certainly has a commanding screen presence, even if I did find his furry chaps to be more humorous than attractive. I especially liked how Arthur Mackley’s Riley isn’t a one-note villain as most of the mustachioed men are in these films. While he is the antagonist and commits attempted murder, you sympathize with him somewhat because he is only behaving in this manner to protect his daughter and keep her by his side. He isn’t completely evil, which is refreshing to see. The other actors acquit themselves nicely, even if their performances aren’t exactly remarkable.

Broncho Billy Anderson, also known as Gilbert M. Anderson and born Maxwell Henry Aronson, is widely considered the first true western star of the silver screen. He was a jack of all trades in the art of motion picture filmmaking as he was not only star, but often director, producer and writer for his films, much like fellow Essanay star Charles Chaplin. Anderson founded the Essanay film studios with businessman George Spoor, the name deriving from the first initials of both men’s surnames. Before founding Essanay, Anderson worked as actor and occasional script collaborator for pioneering filmmaker Edwin S. Porter and even has a small role in Porter’s revolutionary work “The Great Train Robbery” (1903). Anderson starred in over 140 silent western films for Essanay and filmed most of them in Niles, south-east of San Francisco in California. Anderson also lensed a series of comedy westerns featuring Broncho Billy’s Adventure star Augustus Carney as Alkali Ike.

Anderson largely retired from the motion picture business in 1916, however he made a brief comeback in the latter half of the decade producing comedy shorts for Stan Laurel, including the first film in which he appears with his famous partner Oliver Hardy, 1919’s “Lucky Dog.” For his achievements in motion pictures, he was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1958. Broncho Billy Anderson, the screen’s first cowboy hero, died in 1971 at the age of 90.

A big tip of the Texan hat goes out to the Niles Essanay Film Museum in Fremont, California and their YouTube channel for providing a copy of this rare film, mislabeled “Broncho Billy and the Maid,” available for viewing.