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In the 1870's, the Cheyenne Indians are taken from their Wyoming homelands and moved to a barren Oklahoma reservation. After a year of waiting for Federal aid that never arrives, the original band of 1,000 has been reduced by disease and starvation to a mere 286. Desperate, the survivors decide to make a 1,500-mile trek to their former Yellowstone hunting grounds. Accompanying them is Deborah Wright, a Quaker schoolteacher sympathetic to their plight. And pursuing them is a cavalry troop headed by Captain Thomas Archer, Deborah's betrothed, who hopes to resolve the dilemma without bloodshed. But a young hotheaded Cheyenne brave named Red Shirt precipitates several skirmishes in which U. S. soldiers are killed. When the newspapers play up the incidents by depicting the Cheyennes as "marauding savages," Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are pressured into organizing a war party. Earp, however, deliberately leads his drunken posse in the wrong direction and remains on the trail until public panic subsides. With the coming of winter, the Cheyennes split into two groups: half continue their journey; half surrender to the brutal Captain Wessels at Fort Robinson. Upon learning that Wessels intends to march the Indians back to Oklahoma, Captain Archer goes to Washington to seek the help of the Secretary of the Interior. Before he can do so, the Indians revolt, kill Wessels, and flee into the snow. As they are trapped by troops prepared to massacre them, Archer arrives with the Secretary, who negotiates a treaty which permits the Cheyennes to return to their homeland. Once there, Red Shirt and Chief Little Wolf face each other with pistols to settle their dispute over the latter's wife. Red Shirt is killed, and Little Wolf, having broken his vow never to kill another Cheyenne, goes into self-imposed exile. As peace is restored, Archer and Deborah decide to remain with the Indians who have survived the historic ordeal.