|Moving Picture World, September 13, 1919|
Who Had the First Picture Show?
None Other Than Comanches and Cherokees Who Saw
Their Stone Daubings Flash in Fire of Oil-Soaked
Shale in "No-He-Go-Mah," Place of Painted Rocks
By Phil Fox
THE first picture show in America — in existence years before the sunbeams flashed from the armor of La Salle and his intrepid troop as they tediously navigated turgid South-western currents — is still operating in Texas.
Before its vast amphitheatre it displays the greatest screen on the continent. Between the flash and shadow of its pictures, fierce Comanches and Cherokees, smeared with ochre, once danced and whooped with the scalps of their enemies hanging to their belts.
"No-He-Go-Mah," the Place of the Painted Rocks, is the earliest picture show in history and perhaps the only place in the world where pictures that move are portrayed naturally.
The Place of the Painted Rocks is located near Paint Rock in Conche County, Texas, and according to the legend of the town, for years untold Indian tribes have gathered for their ceremonials before a vast ridge of shale-like rock, burning and glowing perpetually through internal combustion.
Glow from Oil-Soaked Shales.
The flames from the burning, oil-soaked shale throw in weird relief the Indian sculpture and clay daubed paintings. The shale, which holds a high percentage of oil, was set on fire, possibly by lightning, ages ago. It smoulders and some times breaks into flames in the vicinity of the Indian paintings. During rainy weather nothing but a dull glow is seen, but during the summer nights, the light rays make the crude pictures twist and distort into fantastic shapes.
Some of the Pictures.
Two great hands, their imagery chipped slowly out of the rocks by some Indian's hands of bygone ages, seem to clutch and grasp at the spectator as the oil flames are fanned by the wind. An Indian figure, riding what seems to be a buffalo, has a steed which bucks and twists when the wind fans the smouldering shale fires.
The sun, a gigantic conception larger than the side of a house, glitters and throws off rays when the light effect is right. The moon is also carefully carved in respect to the light and shadows thrown from the natural illumination. And then there are some clearly later pictures. Possibly they were added by Indians who returned from some great adventure towards the Northeast.
Demons Once Exorcised.
There is the roughly chipped figure of a church with a cross which is so situated as to reflect the light. There is also a design which looks like a ship beneath which, when the shale flames rise, is a rippling sea. Other designs are grotesque and unaccountable.
The earliest settlers in Conche county say that their fathers' fathers have told them that the Place of the Painted Rocks was a sacred Indian ritual ground on which no white man could trespass.
The cowled monks of old Mexico, who a century ago ruled this territory, according to rumor, tried to exercise the demons which they declared infested this volcanic section and which were leading their Indian converts away from the true faith. After their efforts to extinguish the fires with sand and water the Indian dances for a while ceased. Later the fires broke out again, and the dances were resumed.
A Great Amphitheatre.
Some of the Eastern geological sharps who have flocked to Texas since the first oil discoveries declare that the Paint Rock vicinity is rich in mineral wealth. The amphitheatre of the first picture show of America, a vast bowl in the greensward, which has seated thousands, is being profaned by derricks. For miles around ground has been leased for oil drilling. One well is already spouting gas, while yet another is giving small production.
The picture show flames have not yet gone out.