Bless the Beasts and Children (novel)
Bless the Beasts and Children is a 1970 novel by Glendon Swarthout that tells the story of several emotionally disturbed boys away at summer camp who unite to stop a buffalo hunt. The 151-page (192 pages in paperback, first edition) book covers some social issues of the 1960s and 1970s. It was published by Doubleday and Co.
Six emotionally disturbed teenage boys are sent from their homes throughout the United States by their affluent parents to Box Canyon Boys Camp near Prescott, Arizona, as the camp's slogan was "Send us a boy - we'll send you a cowboy", and the parents hoped that the camp would mature the boys. Each having originally been assigned to one of the six cabins, they are quickly outcast by the other campers, and find themselves together in one cabin. After a contest between the six cabins sorts out the pecking order, their cabin naturally lands in last place. The boys, in accordance with the camp rules, do manage to raid all of the superior cabins and conquer the trophies of the higher ranking cabins in order to advance in rank, but they use badly executed subterfuge that is looked down upon by the other campers.
Five of the six cabins were named after various Native American tribes and awarded mounted animal heads corresponding to each of the cabins' ranks, which are, from highest to lowest ranks:
- Apache - bull buffalo
- Sioux - mountain lion
- Comanches - black bear
- Cheyenne - bobcat
- Navajo - pronghorn
- Bedwetters - chamberpot
All of the Bedwetters refer to each other by last names in the book and movie, including the two Lally brothers, who are referred to as Lally 1 and Lally 2, although their first names are mentioned in the book.
An unpleasant confrontation between the boys and their counselor ends with Teft breaking into their counselor's footlocker, and because of the whiskey, beer, cigarettes and pornography found in the footlocker, they blackmail the counselor, who is called "Wheaties", into taking them to a ranch where they witness a canned hunt of surplus bison that had been rounded up from the surrounding area. The hunters (who won their spots at that hunt via lottery) sat or stood along a fence, while shooting at the fenced-in, nearly tame bison.
When the boys return, disgusted at the slaughter, they decide to break out of camp that night to stop the canned hunt. They ride horses into town, where Teft hotwires an old truck. After a ride into Flagstaff, Arizona on U.S. Route 66, they enter an all-night eatery to get food, but are accosted by two "redneck" types, who follow the boys away from the restaurant and force them over, where they discover that the truck is hotwired. Teft pulls a .22 caliber rifle from the back of the truck and shoots out a tire on the car driven by the men harassing the boys, then orders the men to start walking or they can "wear earrings."
Cotton and the other boys climb back into the truck and continue their journey to the ranch, but run out of gas just before reaching their destination. They walk the rest of the way and make their way through the fence maze on the ranch until they get the exit gate open so the bison can escape. However, the bison are content and have no intention of escaping, until Teft hotwires a state-owned truck and Cotton drives into the herd of buffalo while blowing the truck's horn, which alerts the hunters that are camped out nearby. Cotton drives the truck through the herd of buffalo and over the edge of the Mogollon Rim to his death, which ends the book as the hunters surround the other boys.
A bidding war occurred later that year over the film rights, eventually won by Stanley Kramer. Kramer negotiated with Columbia Pictures for the right to produce and direct the film, which made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival during August, 1971, as the United States' entry in the international competition.
- "Kramer outbids all," The Dallas Morning News, March 27, 1970, The Dallas Morning News, page 10A.
- "'Beasts' picked as Kramer next," The Dallas Morning News, June 28, 1970, page 4.
- Associated Press. "U.S. film entry will premiere," The Dallas Morning News, July 27, 1971, page 14.
- Bob Thomas, Associated Press. "Kramer slaps festival boycott," The Dallas Morning News, August 14, 1971, page 4A.