10 Historical Events that Should be Turned into Movies

History has provided filmmakers with ample stories to be brought on the big screen. Movies such as Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Braveheart, etc., are all based on real people. But there are many historical events that are mind-blowing and not even known by many. Maybe its time for filmmakers to go back his history and whip up some blockbusters. We bring you ten such historical events that should be turned into movies.

1. During the 1870s, the town of Palisade, Nevada was home to an elaborate hoax. The townspeople used to stage gunfights and bank robberies to entertain people in passing trains. This is where the concept of the “Wild West” originated. 

Palisade, Nevada
View of Palisade, Nevada from just north of Nevada State Route 781. Image Credit: Famartin via Wikipedia

In the movies, the “Wild West” is depicted as a place that was once filled with outlaws. Cowboys, gunslingers, native Indians, gamblers, gangs, and gunfighters were a common sight. Every movie set in the Wild West has a scene where two cowboys or gunslingers would come outside and shoot at each other. But, in reality, there was never a Wild West! The culprit behind the creation of such a wild image of the western United States is a small town in Nevada called Palisade.

During the early 1870s, Palisade started a hoax to boost tourism. Whenever a train used to pull up at the town, the residents would stage rehearsed gunfights and bank robberies. The train passengers had no clue that the scene unfolding in front of them is just a well-rehearsed play! In reality, there was hardly any crime in Palisade. The town didn’t even have a sheriff. This hoax continued for about 30 years (1865 – 1895). When movies began portraying the Wild West, they went with the outlaw image and the stereotype stuck for years to come. This gave birth to the Wild West that we know today.

Palisade is a ghost town as of now. Relatives of John Sexton, an Atlanta businessman, owned the town since the 1920s. T”hey auctioned it off in 2005 and sold the entire town to an anonymous bidder for $150,000. (source)

2. The “War of the Insane” was a revolt by an Asian tribe against the taxation by the French colonial administration. Their leader used to climb trees to receive orders from heaven. The revolt lasted almost three years. 

Hmong
Hmong women/ A flintlock gun similar to the ones used during the battle. Image Credit: Flower Hmong women via Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The Hmong are a native tribe of Asia. They belonged to one of the French colonial territories in Southeast Asia. Drunk with colonial power, the French imposed heavy taxation on the tribes. Although there were people from the community who sided with the French, there were more who were against them.

The battle against the French army started in 1918. The Hmongs designed their own guns and gunpowder. One mentionable weapon was the Hmong cannon. It was made with a tree trunk and was filled with metal pieces and the Hmong gunpowder. It weighed over 200 lbs and only one man, Lwv, could carry it.

For the majority of the rebellion, the Hmongs won. The French army was flabbergasted as they had no idea on how to fight people in the jungle. The Hmong army was almost invisible and attacked out of nowhere leaving the French confused. Moreover, World War I was underway at the time and most of the French army was in the war. So, for this battle, the French had to include other natives. The other natives were not so willing to fight the Hmong rebels.

Also, the French were scared to death by rumors that the Hmong rebels were protected by magic! Their leader, Pa Chay Vue, used to climb trees to receive orders from heaven. Pa Chay’s sister, Kao Mee, deflected bullets using a white hemp flag. It was said that being the righteous virgin, she received her powers from the Heavens. Finally, in 1920, the French granted a special status to the Hmong tribe, thus ending the rebellion in 1921. (source)

3. In the first Olympics of 1904, the men’s marathon first place finisher completed the race in a car and was disqualified. The second place finisher was carried to the finish line by his trainers, and the fourth finisher took a detour to eat during the race.

Frederick Lorz and Andarín Carvajal
Frederick Lorz, who finished first with the help of a car and Andarín Carvajal who ran the marathon wearing street clothes and even took a nap in between. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The men’s marathon in the 1904 Olympic Games might have been one of the most hilarious events in history. Only a few of the runners in the marathon had previous experience. The other participants were “oddities.” There were 10 Greeks who had never run a marathon, two belonged to the Tsuana tribe of South Africa and arrived barefoot to the race, and one was a Cuban mailman who wore street clothing to the race.

That was not all. The first to complete the race was American runner Fred Lorz. Apparently, Lorz had dropped out of the race after nine miles and then hitch-hiked in a car. When the car broke down at the 19th mile, he jogged to the finish line. He was banned from the competition for life.

Tom Hicks
Tom Hicks, Marathon Olympic Champion and his supporters at the marathon. St. Louis Olympic Games, 1904. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The second to arrive, and the champion, was Thomas Hicks. Ten miles from the finish line, he almost gave up but his trainers urged him to continue. He was given several doses of strychnine, a common rat poison, to help get him to the end of the race. When he reached the stadium, his trainers, and supporters carried him to the finish line! Even though he got the gold medal that time, he never ran professionally again.

Andarín Carvajal, a Cuban postman, ran the race in street clothes. He had not eaten in 40 hours and took a detour into an apple orchard during the race. He ate some rotten apples that gave him stomach cramps. Despite falling ill, he managed to finish in the fourth place! (source)

4. Wojtek was a bear adopted by Polish soldiers who had been deported from the Soviet Union. The bear ate and drank with the soldiers and even fought with them. In order to pay for his rations, he was enlisted and promoted to the rank of Corporal.

Wojtek
Wojtek with soldiers. Image Credit: Imperial War Museum via Wikipedia, The New York Public Library via Wikipedia

The story of Wojtek, the bear, would make a wonderful movie. After the  Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, a large number of Polish civilians were being deported to forced labor camps. Few Polish soldiers were made to accompany them. During one such deportation, the train stopped at a station where a young Iranian boy was sitting with a young bear cub. Eighteen-year-old Irena Bokiewicz, a civilian refugee, loved the bear and it made the lieutenant purchase him. The young bear spent the next three months in the refugee camp. In August 1942, the bear was donated to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company and the soldiers named him Wojtek.

Wojtek statue
A statue of Wojtek the Bear in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland. Image Credit: Taras Young via Wikipedia

Wojtek ate and drank with the soldiers. His favorite drink was beer! He even learned to smoke, sometimes eat, cigarettes. He became the unofficial mascot of the all the units that were nearby. When the soldiers moved to Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, they took Wojtek with them. Eventually, Wojtek was made a private in the Polish Army with his own pay, rank, and serial number. It is said that he helped the army by carrying 100-pound crates of 25-pound artillery shells during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

After the World War II, the 22nd Company were stationed in Scotland with Wojtek. He soon became popular and was made an honorary member of the Polish-Scottish Association. Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo in 1947. He died at the age of 21 in December 1963. (source)

5. The Central Intelligence Agency made around 638 attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro during his time as the President of Cuba. Not one was successful.

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro, arriving at MATS Terminal, Washington D.C. (1959)/ Che Guevara & Fidel Castro (1961). Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

A biopic on Fidel Castro would be the most thrilling biopic ever! A documentary by the name of 638 Ways to Kill Castro has been made, but a movie would do a better justice. Fidel Castro was a Cuban communist revolutionary and politician who served as both the prime minister and president of Cuba. When World War II ended, the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) became increasingly involved with assassinations and targeted killings of foreign leaders. The US Government has long denied the existence of such a program, but later, the CIA admitted to it. And one of the most documented plans of such assassinations was the plan for killing Fidel Castro.

The CIA attempted 638 times to assassinate Castro and failed every single time. The mafia was hired first to eliminate Castro. When that failed, numerous attempts were put into play that included poisoned cigars, exploding cigars, infected scuba-diving suit, booby-trapped conch at the bottom of the sea, and a ballpoint pen with a syringe containing a lethal concoction among others. The CIA even resorted to using Castro’s ex-lover, Marita Lorenz, to assassinate him. Marita was made to smuggle poisoned pills into Castro’s room. But Castro learned about her motive and reportedly gave her a gun himself to kill him. But she couldn’t do it. The last attempt to take his life was made in 2000 when the CIA placed 90 kgs explosives under a stage where Castro was about to give a speech.

When asked about the attempts on his life, Castro said, “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.” Hard to argue! (source)

6. The mutiny on the Batavia, a ship that was shipwrecked on her maiden voyage, became famous due to the mutiny and massacre that took place among the survivors. Out of 341 people, only 68 survived. 

Ship Batavia
Ship Batavia – replica – in the Netherlands. Image Credit: Wikipedia

Batavia was a ship that belonged to the Dutch East India Company. She set sail on her maiden voyage on October 27, 1628. The ship was under the command of Francisco Pelsaert with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as the captain. Pelsaert and Jacobsz had earlier met in Surat, India and had developed an animosity towards each other. Also onboard was Jeronimus Cornelisz, a prominent merchant.

The ship was carrying a lot of gold and silver. So, Jacobsz and Cornelisz made a plan to take over the ship and start a new life somewhere. They took a few men into confidence and steered the ship off-course away from the fleet. They even molested a high-ranking, young female passenger to spark off a mutiny. Their plan was to make Pelsaert take strong actions against the men on board in lieu of the molestation. Then Jacobsz and Cornelisz planned to talk the men, who would be fed up with Pelsaert’s orders, into joining their team. But the female passenger was able to identify her attackers and Pelsaert didn’t have to take any strong action against all men on board.

Batavia mutiny
Beacon Island in the Wallabi Group, Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia, site of the Batavia mutiny. Image Credit: Wikipedia

On June 4, 1629, the ship hit a reef and was wrecked. Many drowned and the remaining survivors made it to nearby islands. But the problem was that none of the islands had any fresh water. So, a team of crew members with Jacobsz and Pelsaert went in search of fresh water. It took them 33 days to find water. When the search party arrived in Batavia (present-day Central Jakarta), Jacobsz was arrested for negligence. Pelsaert was instructed by the governor general to go back and rescue the survivors and bring back whatever he can from the wrecked ship. Pelsaert arrived to find that a bloody mutiny has taken place among the survivors.

Cornelisz was left behind in charge of the survivors. He was still dreaming of taking the riches from the wrecked Batavia and building his own paradise somewhere. So, he assembled a group of men who would follow him blindly. He made them kill survivors one by one on the false pretense that the survivor had committed some crime. His followers murdered at least 110 survivors including men, women, and children. Cornelisz himself left a group of soldiers to die on another island under the false pretense of searching for water. He just wanted the survivor numbers to come down to 45 so that the supplies would last longer.

Batavia mutiny
Rijksdaalder silver coins from the Batavia (1629) wreck displayed in Geraldton Museum/ One of the Batavia mutiny (1629) victims, excavated on Beacon Island and now displayed at Fremantle Shipwreck Museum. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

The soldiers who were left to die eventually found water and food sources. They learned of the barbaric activities undertaken by Cornelisz and prepared to stand up against him. They were able to defeat Cornelisz and take him hostage. The battle was almost over when Pelsaert reached the islands. He organized a trial where the worst offenders were executed. Cornelisz and many of the major mutineers were hanged. After all that, even Pelsaert was found guilty by a board of inquiry and his financial assets were seized. He died a year later.

Originally, there were 341 people onboard the Batavia, but after the mutiny, only 68 made it to the port of Batavia. This story has all the elements that an audience demands in a thriller. (source)

7. The “Bone Wars” was the time of intense rivalry between two paleontologists who resorted to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones to destroy each other’s careers. 

The Bone War
Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, rival American paleontologists. Image Credit: Wikipedia

There have been wars for money and freedom, but it’s quite rare to see a war for fossil bones! The “Bone Wars” refer to such a war in which two great paleontologists, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, were ruthlessly fighting over fossils. They used to be friends when they first met and even named species after each other. But as time passed, their relationship soured and they ended up in a heated rivalry. This might have been primarily due to their differences in scientific beliefs. While Cope was a firm believer of Neo-Lamarckism, Marsh supported Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

They used to bribe pit operators to direct fossil finds to one, instead of the other. They began openly attacking each other in papers and publications. In one occasion, Marsh humiliated Cope by claiming that Cope’s reconstruction of the Elasmosaurus was wrong as he placed the head in the place of the tail. Cope, in turn, took his revenge by starting to collect fossils from Marsh’s private bone-hunting turf in Kansas.

Between 1877 and 1892, both the paleontologists used their own funds to finance fossil expeditions and purchase dinosaur bones from fossil hunters. Amidst their rivalry to gain paleontological supremacy, they exhausted their funds. They completely ruined themselves in this fight. On the bright side, their rivalry led to the discovery of more than 136 new species of dinosaurs. This rivalry would make an amazing movie similar to the biographical sports film Rush that centered around the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, Formula 1 drivers. (source)

8. Hiroo Onoda was an  Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II. He refused to believe that the war had ended, do he continued keeping his position in the Philippines 29 years after the war ended and until his former commander relieved him of his duty in 1974.

Hiroo Onoda
Hiroo Onoda as a young officer/ Hiroo Onoda offering his military sword to Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos (L) on the day of his surrender, March 11, 1974. Image Credit: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

Hiroo Onoda came from a family of ancient Samurai warriors. He enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army Infantry when he was just 18 years old. He was sent to Lubang Island, Philippines on December 26, 1944. His job was to hamper all enemy attacks on the island. Also, his instructions clearly said that he was not to surrender or take his own life under any circumstance. Some of the soldiers were already on the island. They outranked Onoda and did not let him carry out his commands. The United States and Philippine Commonwealth forces took over the island on February 28, 1945.

Just after the island was taken over, only Onoda and three other soldiers survived. Others were either killed or they surrendered. Onoda and the three soldiers retreated to the hills and continued as  Japanese holdouts. They carried out guerrilla activities and engaged in numerous shootings with the police. Even though there were leaflets floating around about the end to the war, Onoda did not believe them. He thought these were tactics by the enemy to lure him out. One of the soldiers left the group in 1949. In 1952, letters from family members were dropped into the mountains urging the remaining three to come out. But again, the three soldiers decided that it was merely a trick. Eventually, two of the soldiers were killed—one by a search party looking for the men and the other by a police shootout. Onoda was left alone.

On February 20, 1974, a Japanese traveler, Norio Suzuki, met Onoda in the woods. Suzuki and Onoda became friends. But Onoda refused to leave the mountains. He told Suzuki that he was still waiting for orders from his senior officer. When Suzuki told about this encounter, the Japanese government tracked down Onoda’s senior officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi. Taniguchi flew down to the island and visited Onoda in person thus fulfilling the promise he made in 1944, “Whatever happens, we’ll come back for you.” Onoda spent almost 30 years holding out in the Philippines.

An army officer not believing that his country surrendered? That’s a tough one to find! Such a story about a patriot who refused to let down his guard, even after being told that his country surrendered, would make a great movie. (source)

9. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were instances of forced sterilization of Native American women. The government was involved and a total of 3,406 American Indian women were sterilized. 

Native American women
A group of Native American women. Image Credit: Flickr

Native American women were made to undergo surgical sterilization without being made aware of what was happening. This happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s throughout the United States. The procedures were legally funded by the Indian Health Service (IHS). Within three years, between 1973 and 1976, 3,406 American Indian women were involuntarily sterilized. Even though there was a court order not to sterilize women younger than 21, there were 36 women who were sterilized. Most of the victims were not even aware that they have been sterilized after the surgery. The procedure was carried out under the false pretense of check-ups and abortions. The government blackmailed them into giving consent by stating that not agreeing to the procedure would lead to their welfare benefits being taken away.

The excuse given for such an unacceptable act was that the Native American women were considered inferior and unfit to raise children. Moreover, the authorities believed that this would lead to financial improvement and better quality of life. A story centered around a particular woman would make an amazing heartfelt movie. (source)

10. Lewis Williams, a slave, was on trial for running away from his master. But he managed to escape from the courtroom by swapping with a similar-looking young man. He also managed to escape right under the noses of the policemen dressed like a woman!

Slavery
Slaves of General Thomas F. Drayton. Image Credit: Wikipedia 

A story of a slave escaping his sealed fate through deception—sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, doesn’t it? This is the story of Lewis Williams, born into the world of slavery in Kentucky. As a child, he managed to escape from the shackles of slavery and built a life in Cincinnati. In the prime of his life, he fell in love with a girl, but to make sure that the girl loved him back, he consulted a fortune-teller. The fortune-teller, a woman, asked him all about his past. She then sent word to his former master who came and had Williams arrested.

Rev. William Troy, the author of the 1861 book Hair-breadth Escapes from Slavery to Freedom, hears about Williams and starts devising an escape plan. He worked with the colored people in the city and used a man who looked like Williams as a body double. They swap the two men right in the middle of a courthouse, without the authorities getting any wind of it. When the authorities realized the swap, they organized a manhunt. Williams was taking refuge in Troy’s house. Despite the risk of harboring a fugitive slave, Troy continues to harbor Williams.

The police were all around looking for Williams, so he had to leave as soon as possible. The next part of the plan involved Williams learning to behave like a woman. Troy made Williams practice walking like a woman. Williams successfully pulls off his disguise and escapes to Canada!

The first-hand commentary on the entire Williams escape can be found in Troy’s book. Here’s the account. (source)

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