Hey Ranger! Pocohontas Meets Hollywood

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September 5, 2008

Statue of Pocahantas at JamestownHave you ever visited a location because it was featured in a movie or TV show? Almost any Chamber of Commerce would be thrilled at the potential tourism traffic that can result from their town’s “stardom,” but fame can sometimes be a mixed blessing. A good example occurred a few years ago when Hollywood decided to bring Pocahontas to the big screen.

Just in case it’s been a year or two since your last American History class, here’s a quick review to set the stage for this story. Jamestown, located in what we now call Virginia, was the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. In May 1607, three shiploads of adventurers landed at Jamestown. Virginians like to point out that was thirteen years before passengers aboard the Mayflower arrived at a place named Plymouth.

Jamestown is now part of Colonial National Historical Park. Among the key players in the early history of the site were some names we all studied in school, including Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. When Hollywood came calling in the 1990s with plans for a movie about Pocahontas, the park staff had hopes that the resulting film would help tell this story in a way that would capture the interest of a new generation.

Well, capture interest it did, but artistic license was alive and well when the film began showing all across the country. For the next year or so, the beleaguered staff at Jamestown had their patience sorely tested by zany, movie-inspired inquiries. After all, if people saw it on the Big Screen, it must be true!

Jamestown is located on a flat, swampy island barely above sea level in southeastern Virginia. The mix of tidal marshes and wooded areas give the island a special beauty of its own, but the terrain has about as much elevation variation as a slightly warped tabletop. As a result, the film’s depiction of dramatic cliffs and waterfalls resulted in some rather confused visitors to the actual site, who understandably just couldn’t seem to find those scenic features they’d seen in the movie.

Perhaps some of you have felt a tinge of envy for those who get to spend their working years at a historic icon such as Jamestown. If that’s the case, put on your imaginary ranger uniform and take a stroll with me right on the same island where Pocahontas herself once walked.

It’s a warm and steamy summer afternoon and you’re tempted to take off that traditional, flat-brimmed Stetson hat and fan your damp brow, but that would be bad form, because here comes a nice family with a question for the ranger. A quick glance at their red, sweaty faces confirms that mom, dad and their 6-year-old have spent quite a while roaming the grounds, and it’s obvious that they have a question. Well, probably several questions.

Dad is clearly frustrated and glances down at his young daughter. “Hey, there’s a park ranger! Why don’t you ask her your question, because she’ll certainly know the answer.”

Well, smile and brace yourself, because you can make a pretty good guess about what’s coming next.

“Ms. Ranger,” implores the little girl, “we’ve been looking all over, and we can’t find the talking tree anywhere!”

It’s true that the real Jamestown does have a lot of trees, but none of them are the movie version of a centuries-old mystical spirit who lived in a very ancient tree. When the Hollywood Pocahontas needed some advice or a little encouragement, she’d head for this talking tree.

While you’re pondering an appropriate answer, your little visitor tosses in a follow-up: “And by the way, we also haven’t seen the talking raccoon.”

There’s probably a logical answer to that one, but not one you could use with a first-grader. I’ll have to confess that I didn’t see the movie, but according to reliable sources, in one scene this talented raccoon hides atop a moose.

With the possible exception of a few residents of zoos, moose are not found in southeastern Virginia, preferring instead more northerly locales. That probably explains why this particular raccoon is now missing in action.

As soon as filming of the movie was finished, the movie moose undoubtedly headed back for a place with a climate that was much more moose-friendly than the Mid-Atlantic coast, and the talking raccoon must have gone along for the ride. Uh-oh, here comes another group, so I’ll just leave you with this family to answer their daughter’s questions. As an aspiring ranger, I’m sure you’re up to the task.

Meanwhile, I suspect the latest arrivals will have a question or two about the mystery of the missing waterfall. Maybe it’s hiding behind the talking tree.

Jim Burnett


Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.

Leave a Reply


  1. Gary – thanks for sharing a good story about the battlefield question – and the cat.

    Thanks, too, for the clarification that the Pocahontas movie was animated vs. live actors. With advances in computer-aided graphics since this movie was released, even a “real” talking tree and raccoon probably wouldn’t be a stretch for Hollywood!

  2. Gary Hauck

    Jim, forgot to mention in case the readers do not know, Pocohontas was a animated movie.

  3. Gary Hauck

    When I first read the story in Jim’s book, I laughed for a long time. But I can understand that the rangers get alot of (I will say) idealistic questions. I seen it first hand. It was at the civil war battlefield at Bentonville North Carolina. The tour group was in the house used by the North as a field hospital. The tour guide said that this one room was used for amutations and that the legs, arms etc were thrown out the window and that in the records, the the bones were as high as the window thats about 5 ft from the ground to the bottom of the window seal. Well one of the people in the tour walked over to the window looked out and said where are the bones. You have to understand this is the same family that the tour guide said at the begining of the tour do not pick up the cat that was at her feet as the cat will scratch you. Well at the end of the tour this 11 year old boy started screaming, he picked up the cat.