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The film's working title was Chief Red Sleeves. The Apache Chief Mangas Colorado, along with Cochise, led much of the warfare against U.S. outposts during a twenty-five year period of Apache unrest beginning in the early 1860s. Colorado was also the father of one of Cochise's wives. The scene in the film in which "Riva" and the warriors force the white doctor to tend to "Mangas'" wounds was based on a true incident, in which his warriors brought their chief, who had been shot in the chest, to a doctor in Janos, Mexico, and forced the man at gunpoint to remove the bullet.
War Drums was shot on location in Kanab, UT. According to July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news items, the set was beset by several accidents, including a fire that destroyed a wardrobe trailer and a lightning storm that destroyed a generator, which delayed production for a few days. The Motion Picture Herald review incorrectly included Mona Freeman's name at the end of the cast list. A July 25, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Victor Millan to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to an August 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was edited at American National Studios. Although in the film Riva states that she is half Mexican, half Comanche, ads for the film describe her as a "White Warrior Woman." "Mangas" was also a character in the 1955 film Fort Yuma.