Tide of Empire (1929)





Director:     Allan Dwan. 

Starring:     Renée Adorée (Josephita),  Tom Keene (Dermod D'Arcy),  George Fawcett (Don Jose),  William Collier Jr. (Romauldo),  Fred Kohler (Cannon),  James Bradbury Sr. (Bejabbers),  Harry Gribbon (O'Shea),  Paul Hurst (Poppy).

silent movie about conflict between Spanish Rancheros and American immigrants from the USA in California


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

"In 1542 Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo explored ‘a kindly sea to where it meets a rugged terrestrial paradise’. It was the southern coast of California. In 1572 Sir Francis Drake saw it . . . . lazing ‘neath a golden sun – perhaps at Monterey. Two centuries later Franciscan Friars built missions . . . at San Diego, San Gabriel and at San Fernando. Under these Holy teachings the Don and Grandee came . . . . and life moved on through years of peace and contentment."

The wealthy rancheros are getting out of church. And down the street comes a nice coach with a father and daughter all dressed up sitting in it. The peasants remove their hats and make little bowing moves with their heads. One peasant says to another: "Don Jose Guerrero and his daughter. You could ride a half day’s journey, my friend, and never leave their land!"

Don Guerrero arrives back at his ranch. The daughter hands out little trinkets to the Indians working for them. They stop to congratulate a young married Indian couple on their new baby. It’s all a bit noblesse oblige.

The daughter sees her brother and scolds him: "In trouble again, Romauldo .. . so you come to your sister, eh? And what is it this time?"   Brother Romauldo confesses: "I sold father’s sheep for him . . . . and I lost the money on a cockfight." He adds: "You must help me, Josephita! Just this once more!"

Josephita shakes her head no and says no, but Romauldo is insistent that he must somehow repay his father. Lightly, he hits his sister with his rolled-up whip. Josephita retaliates with a kick to his leg and a light slap on the face. Romauldo now starts chasing his sister all over the courtyard. He picks her up and shakes her until she gives in to him.

Josephita goes over to her father while he is "sleeping" but he is just pretending not to notice that his daughter is taking his coin bag out of the sash around his mid-section. She gives the money to Romauldo and then Romauldo shakes his father and tells him: "The money for the sheep, Father! It was difficult to get . . . . but I got it!’ He hands over the coins to his dad. But while dad laughs over the entire affair, Romauldo steals dad’s coin bag.

"So life under the Dons drifted on . . . . one long siesta in the kindly sun." That is: "Until . . . . in January 1848 . . . the industry of a ‘foreigner’ from the United States shattered the peace and quiet of Spanish rule."

The man was John Sutter. He discovered the presence of gold in Sutter’s Creek owned by James Marshall. He tells the other men around the creek. "Across valley and mountain the news echoed . . . . to San Francisco village!"

A successful gold seeker rides into town with a small bag of gold yelling: "Gold up Caloma way! The creeks are lined with it!" Soon the news became known around the world. More and more immigrants arrived in Alta California. And ". . . with that gold-mad horde rode thievery and lawlessness."

The lawlessness becomes so brazen that the thieves come right up to the Guerrero rancho and start taking the live stalk off the ranch. Ramauldo confronts the thieves: "Do you know what you are doing? This is the Rancho Chico . . . . And this stock is ours!"

One of the thieves hits Ramauldo in the face with his bull whip. Sister runs to his aide, which just tickles some of the other thieves.

Gold fever becomes so strong that in San Francisco the cry for gold leaves deserted the ships, trains, stores and city streets. A man known as Dermod D'Arcy wants to go prospecting for gold but there are no shovels left that he can purchase.

Dermod wanders over to an old man who tells Dermod his name is B. Jabez Harmon and that he’s the jailer in town. Dermod introduces himself and says he has had no luck in finding any mining supplies for sale. The jailer says he wants to go prospecting too, but ". . . thar’s nobody left in town to resign to!"

Dermod has an idea. He tells the jailer that he will tell him how to get away from his job in exchange for a pick and shovel. The jailer is very interested in hearing the idea. So he takes Dermod inside and shows him all kinds of shovels and other tools. The jailer says: "But what’s keepin’ me here is my prisoners . . . . two hoss thieves and a bigamist!" Dermod now says that they can build a cage and take the prisoners along mining with them.

"While the newcomers stampeded toward the gold field . . . . the Dons were observing the great fiesta of St. Francis."

There is going to be a horse race and many of the people are rooting for El Capitan to win the race. The horse belongs to Romauldo. The whole procession is stopped, however, by the big prison cage which has gotten stuck in the mud.

Josephita sees Dermod and yells to him: "This is our rancho, Senor! It is not right you come here!" Dermod is very taken by the young lady. He goes over to her coach to tell her: "I humbly apologize."

Dermod goes back to the cage and with renewed vigor he and the other men are able to push the prison cage out of the rut. So now everyone can proceed. Josephita’s carriage falls into the hole made by the rut and she is thrown almost out of the carriage. Dermod comes to the rescue but she is still mad at him and calls him a rabbit. The American just keeps on smiling.

Dermod finds on the ground the fan Josephita was using to keep herself cool. He picks it up, rushes over to his horse Pathfinder and chases after the carriage. He catches up to the carriage and Josphita grabs the fan all the while keeping her eyes looking forward and not at Dermod.

A Spanish Don rides up to talk to Dermod about his horse. He has been really impressed by the speed of the horse. He tells Dermod that the two fastest horses in this area are racing and he wants to know if Dermod would let him enter Pathfinder into the contest? Dermod only wants to know if that’s where the pretty woman is going. Yes, she is.

There’s lots of dancing at the fiesta and a frog racing contest. The men asks Josephita to dance for the crowd. She gets up and starts dancing. The Spanish Don sees how interested Dermod is in the young woman. He tells him that her father owns the Rancho Chico. The rancho is a fine place and makes the owner rich, that is, until lately. He admits that at one time he was very much attracted to the woman, but she rejected him, a Montalvo. Now he only wishes to humble her like she humbled him.

Three Indian boys will race the three horses. The riders and horses are lined up for the race. Josephita wonders why there are three horses in the race? Montalvo says that he entered the third horse since he wants his rancho to be represented. He then tells the other racer Don Emilio. The bet will be five thousand cattle for each of the ranchers. Montalvo wants to know was the bet set so low to go easy on Don Jose? This offends Jose and he says make the bet for 20,000 cattle each. His son tells him that they don’t even have 10,000 cattle. So Jose bets his entire Rancho Chico.

And off go the horses and riders. Along the way, the rider is thrown off Pathfinder, but the rider quickly gets back up onto the horse and takes over first place. Pathfinder is the winner. Dermod is thrilled and Josephita is crushed.

Montalvo offers Rancho Chico to Dermod and he is absolutely thrilled about that. Josephita and her brother are walking past the two men and Montalvo introduces them to Dermod. The pretty woman says: "It is the same like meeting the devil when I am meeting you, senor!" Dermod is not discouraged and tells her: "And it’s like meeting an angel to meet you, senorita. Only angels are not quite so mean." Disgusted with Dermod she turns and leaves.

Romauldo tells Dermod if he wants satisfaction, he will fight Dermod. The fellow who always has a smile on his face now says: "A lady as lovely as your sister cannot offend, senor." At that Romauldo leaves.

Back at Rancho Chico Romauldo is very discouraged by the lose of the family's home and land. His sister tries to cheer him up, but Romauldo goes riding off on his horse. Out by himself he runs into a huge outlaw gang. The gang leader says that he is going to swap horses with Romauldo. The young man tells the leader that this horse is all that the Americans have left him. The leader now wants Romauldo to join the gang and the gang will show him how to get what’s coming to him.

Back at Rancho Chico, father is very depressed. Dermod comes riding up to the ranch house. He takes out the letter from Carlos Montalvo turning the ranch over to him. Josephita is informed of Dermod’s arrival and she gets mad all over again, but father tells her that his family has never turned any visitor away from their house.

Dermod is now their dinner guest. Don Jose offers a toast to Dermod’s gallant horse. Josephita will not toast to that, but with some encouragement she does take a slight sip of her wine. Don Jose doesn’t understand English, so his daughter calls Dermod a "peeg!" Dermod has a hearty laugh over this, which leaves father wandering what his daughter said to him to make their guest laugh so loudly. The dinner guest now covers up nicely for the rude daughter.

Dermod offers a toast ". . . to the most beautiful girl I have ever seen!" He then tries to cheer up Don Jose by saying that the Americans coming to California are pretty rough characters, but that’s usually true of any newcomers to an area. Don Jose answers: "What you say may be true . . . . but it will become their California, not ours."

When alone with Josephita, Dermod asks her to meet him outside the gates so he can talk to her in private. Now Dermod leaves the ranch house. A little later Josephita comes out and he tells her he would like to speak to her about the new owner of Rancho Chico. But first he has other things to tell her about. He grabs her and kisses her. She slaps him and says: "I hate you! I wish never to see you again!" She leaves in a huff.

Dermod writes a note on the back of Montalvo’s piece of paper. He gives the note to a ranch worker who takes it to the main servant who delivers the note to Josephita. The note says: "I hereby transfer all said rights to Don Jose and his daughter Josephita." Signed by Dermod Dermod D'Arcy.

Still mad at D’Arcy she starts to tear the note up, but she stops herself. She goes over to her father to tell him the good news, but finds him already dead. She calls out for Romauldo, but he is out riding with the outlaw gang.

"Onward swept the Tide of Empire! 80,000 in 3 months! Across mountains! Through valleys! By land! By sea!"

Dermod and the jailer are still out swishing the pans to find gold. They find a gold nugget and start whooping it up. Other men rush over to the two discoverers to see what’s all the excitement about?

"Boom towns of ‘49! Built in a day! Some to become derelicts of a wastelands . . . . others to be foundations for great cities to come." The one-time prospectors are now building new structures for the boom towns.

Dermod looks over his gold nuggets. He calls for his horse who comes to the window. He tells Pathfinder they are going back to Josephita.

Dermod splits up the gold between him and the jailer and goes over to the assay office. Everybody is excited to see the men when they come into a saloon where the assay office is located.

There’s a sign up saying that two fellows, named Wells and Fargo, have formed an express company to take the gold to Sacramento and then by ship to the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia.

The two saloon owners happily serve drinks to Dermod and the jailer. The Wells Fargo stage coach arrives in town and one of the passengers is Josephita. She goes into the saloon and the men there  are very happy to see her.  They all stand up for her and strain to get a good look. She asks one of the owners of the saloon and he tells her to take number 9 room. She then says that Mr. D’Arcy has written her that he lives above the saloon and would the owners please tell him that she has arrived in town.

She goes up to her room and the owners tell the jailer to go tell his partner that the Spanish woman is here to see him. The jailer hurries out to deliver the message. He starts dancing like a flamenco dancer in front of Dermod and tells him to go see Josephita in room number 9.

Dermod rushes over to room 9 and is very happy to see Josephita. But she is still very formal with him. She hands him the note he wrote her and says thanks, but it arrived too late. Her father died of a broken heart. Dermod says he is very sorry for what happened. But the Mexican spitfire is still angry. She yells at him: "You come to our California for gold . . . and for it you give only unhappiness and make hate! You! You have taken our lands! You have killed my father! Is this not enough?"

This makes Dermod sad and he starts to leave. She goes after him and apologizes for her outburst. Dermod asks if she will go back to Rancho Chico?  She says no because she is to go live with relatives in San Diego. Then she will go to Spain. ‘  Dermod asks about her brother, but Josephita says he just left and she does not know where he is. He kisses Josephita’s hand and then leaves.

Wells Fargo is coming into town and everybody is thrilled . Dermod and the jailer are there to welcome the two businessmen to their town. The mostly men of the town give three hurrahs for the visitors.

Dermod climbs up the side of the saloon to the balcony to speak to Josephita, saying: "This express company is going to make the west and east neighbors . . . . one great empire!" He adds: "Don’t you see . . . . It isn’t hate that gold is bringing, it’s happiness, and, if you will only understand, it will bring happiness, to you , too, Josephita.."  And for the first time we see a bit of romance in the behavior of Josephita toward Dermod.

The outlaw gang is preparing to attack the town and steal all the gold ready to be taken by Wells and Fargo. The leader says they will start afire a cabin on the outskirts of town and that will draw the crowd away from the stage coach. Then they will move in on the stage and grab the gold. So two of the bandits head for the outskirts of town.

Romauldo now asks the leader to release him for his heart is not in this robbery. But the leader fears that Romauldo might rat on them, so he says the man has to stay with them.

The fire is started in the cabin. The alarm goes out and the men start heading to the outskirts of town. And now the gang starts for the town. Dermod overhears two henchmen laugh at how easily the gullible townspeople took the bait. He immediately goes into the saloon to tell everyone that bandits are headed to town to steal their gold.

The townspeople prepare for the bandit onslaught. A big fire fight breaks out with both bandits and town residents dropping like flies. Romauldo gets shot and falls to the ground. The bandit leader is captured by the townsmen.

People in the saloon see Dermod carry Romauldo upstairs to Josephita’s room. The bandits are defeated and rounded up. Josephita hugs her brother as he lays on the bed in the room.

The jailer now tries the gang leader and one of his buddies. The men in the saloon want the men hanged and their wish is granted. They start taking the bad guys out to hang them. One of the men tells some others that they saw Dermod take a bandit upstairs with him. So a group of men go to check out the story. The men can follow a trail of blood to room 9.

Dermod puts Romauldo out on the balcony, but the men soon find him quick enough. Dermod tries to explain the situation to the men, but they are in no mood to listen. Josephita begs the men for mercy, but they will not be deterred in their mission to hang Romauldo too.

Dermod gets on his horse and rides to save Romauldo. He rides right next to Romauldo waiting to be hanged. He unties the man’s ropes and tells Romauldo to hit him hard in the face. Romauldo complies, knocks Dermod from his saddle and rides out. Dermod shoots at the fleeing bandit, but, of course, misses him.

Other men race after Romauldo, but he gets away when Pathfinder out runs the other horses and jumps a huge gap between two cliffs.

And now it’s Josephita who embraces Dermod.



The film focuses on the transition from a period of time dominated by the Mexican rancheros to a time where the American influence overwhelms most of that old way of life. There is considerable tension between the Americans and the old Mexican ranchero families. This is illustrated in the refusal of the rancho’s daughter to have anything to do with the American who has taken a real fancy to her.  The American keeps working on her until she starts to change her opinion of him. 

My wife and I both liked the film.  It's not fully silent because they put a lot of sound effects in the film.  And, of course, they have music. 

Renée Adorée (as Josephita) and Tom Keene (as Dermod D'Arcy) were both very good.  Keene virtually always had a smile on his face and I thought he looked very bright and sunny.   Renée Adorée is pretty and can sure act mad in a film.  I loved watching the eyes of the different actors and how they used them to express various emotions.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


Before Alta California became a part of the Mexican state, about 30 Spanish land grants had already been deeded in all of Alta California to a few friends and family of the Alta California Governors.

around 1814 – the Franciscans Missionaries and soldiers in Alta California stop being paid. The capital of the Mexican government in Alta California was Monterey, California.

1816 – the first American, English, and Russian trading ships began showing up in California.

1821 – Mexico becomes independent from Spain. Along with Texas and New Mexico, Alta California became one of the three interior provinces in the First Mexican Empire north of the Rio Grande.

1821 to 1848 – Mexico was politically unstable with about 40 changes of government, in the 27 years to 1848. That worked out to be an average government duration of 7.9 months.

Alta California is still a small, poor, nearly isolated province.

The Mexican government abolished the no trade with foreign ships policy and soon regular trading trips were being made. The Californios sold hides and tallow to the Mexicans.

1825 to 1848 – the average number of ships travelling to California increased to about 25 ships per year.

1834 – the California Missions are abolished. Mexico, in response to demands that the Catholic Church give up much of the Mission property, started the process of secularizing the Franciscan run missions.

Gradually, the Franciscans abandoned most of the missions, taking with them almost everything of value they could.

After the secularizing of the Missions, many of the surviving Mission Indians switched from being unpaid workers for the missions to unpaid laborers and vaqueros (cowboys) of the about 500 large Californio owned ranchos. Nearly all Mission property and livestock were taken over by the about 455 large ranchos of Californios granted by the Californio governors—mostly to friends and family at low or no cost. The boundaries of each rancho were almost never surveyed, and marked, and often depended on local landmarks that often changed over time.

The rancho owners tried to live in a grand manner, and the result was similar to a European feudal aristocracy. For these few rancho owners and families, this was Californio's Golden Age.

The new Ranchos and slowly increasing Pueblos mostly only grew enough food to eat and to trade with the occasional trading ship or whaler that put in to a California port to trade, get fresh water, replenish their firewood and obtain fresh vegetables.

1839 – a large non-coastal land grant was given to John Sutter and he settled a large land grant close to the future city of Sacramento, California.  He built an extensive fort equipped with much of the armament from Fort Ross—bought from the Russians on credit when they abandoned that fort.  Sutter's Fort was the first non-Native American community in the California Central Valley.

1839-1848 – Sutter's Fort was a major agricultural and trade colony in California, often welcoming and assisting California Trail travellers to California. It also started becoming home for new immigrants from the United States.

By 1845 – the province of Alta California had a non-native population of about 1,500 Californio adult men along with about 6,500 women and children, who lived mostly in the southern half of the state around Los Angeles.

Most immigrants (nearly all of whom were adult males) lived in the northern half of California.

But all this would change with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Fort.




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