The Americans try to reach the Bakhtiari

British intelligence officers in Bagdad, including Gertrude Bell and Sir Arnold Wilson, advised Marguerite Harrison, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack to try filming the Bakhtiari, the same tribe Harry Dwight had suggested a year earlier.

The Bakhtiari, who lived west of the Zagros Mountains, each spring undertook an arduous journey in search of grass for their herds. The trip was filled with the drama pitting man against powerful forces of nature—a raging river, snow-covered mountains, and barren deserts. But the Bakhtiari weren’t just simple, poor herdsmen. They also owned the largest oil fields in Persia.

In 1924 the tribe was locked in a dispute with the central government in Tehran over control of the oil fields, the right to negotiate concessions with foreign governments, and the tribe’s refusal to pay taxes on their oil profits. Any country or company looking to gain access to Persian oil would benefit from getting to know the Bakhtiari.

Schoedsack (left) and Cooper (right) with members of the Bakhtiari tribe.

The interactions the three Americans had with the British officials raise intriguing questions. England, through its Anglo-Persian Oil Company, held a monopoly over Persian oil at the time and had no desire to share that wealth with America. At the same time, Marguerite, Cooper, and Schoedsack relied on British advice and hospitality numerous times. If for no other reason, the film project might have been necessary to deceive the British so the Americans could gather intelligence about the oil fields.

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