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The Light in the Forest

The Light in the Forest(1958)

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In 1764, after an outbreak of Indian attacks on white settlers, Col. Henry Bouquet marches the 1,500 soldiers of the Royal American Regiment one hundred miles down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania. Cuyloga, chief of the Delaware Indians, presents a belt to Col. Bouquet, saying it is the will of the Great Spirit that there be peace. When the Col. castigates Cuyloga for murdering settlers, Cuyloga contends that the Paxton Boys, vigilantes from the Paxton township, attacked their village first and murdered helpless Indian women and children, scalping them and committing indecencies. After Bouquet promises that no white man will settle on the Indians' lands and that there will be no further attacks, Cuyloga agrees to return all the white prisoners. When Half Arrow, the chief's son, asks his friend, True Son, a white teenager captured as a child and raised by Cuyloga, if he will leave, True Son defiantly asserts that he is an Indian, not a white. The council of chiefs votes to respect the existing treaty, however, and Cuyloga tells all the white children that they must leave. Along the march to Pennsylvania, True Son attempts to kill himself by eating a mandrake root, but scout Del Hardy, the Col.'s interpreter, who lived among the Delaware himself as a child, makes him spit it out. After Half Arrow brings True Son a message from Cuyloga telling him not to fight back, True Son says he will bear his disgrace like an Indian. When True Son meets his real parents, Harry and Myra Butler, he refuses to speak English. Myra is stern with him, insisting that he realize he is not an Indian and demanding that he speak his English name, Johnny, and he finally gives in. Col. Bouquet, sensing that Johnny's presence in the community may stir up conflicts with the Paxton Boys, asks Del to remain at Fort Pitt. Del learns that the commander of the Paxton Boys, John Elder, is considered to be a fine man, but that he oversees some hotheads. At a party in Johnny's honor, Del meets Elder and his daughter Milly. Wilse Owens, Myra's brother, who is one of the "hotheads," taunts Johnny by calling the Indians "devils." When Johnny denies that Indians have attacked white women and children, Wilse introduces his indentured servant, Shenandoe Hastings, a teenager who testifies that her mother, father and little sister were scalped. Wilse takes pride in the Paxton Boys' massacre of Indians and slaps Johnny when the boy calls him a butcher. Del responds by threatening Wilse. As Myra begins to get to know her son, she asks him to teach her the Delaware language. When Johnny sees that Wilse and his friends are using for target practice a dummy dressed in his Indian clothes, he runs to the dummy. Del stops Wilse from shooting at Johnny by knocking his gun away, and after challenging Wilse to a shooting contest, shoots the weather vane off Wilse's barn. As Del gets to know Milly, he admits he might be willing to leave the army to become a farmer. After Johnny talks to Shenandoe about the deaths of her family, he suspects the perpetrators were Wyandots. At a dance, when Johnny is told to give a ring he finds in a piece of cake to the one he likes most, he presents it to Shenandoe. He is told to kiss her, but he says Indians do not kiss. Outside, Wilse, who earlier tried to grab Shenandoe in a barn, hits Johnny, warning him to keep his "snake eyes" off her. Johnny vows to Shenandoe that he will kill Wilse, but she goes off exasperated, fearing he will grow up to be like Wilse. Del soon leaves to rejoin Col. Bouquet, but promises to stake Johnny's claim of Piney Woods Mountain, a beautiful wooded area by a waterfall, which Johnny and Shenandoe found one day. After Del goes, Johnny proposes to Shenandoe and they kiss. In the midst of their embrace, gunshots are heard, and Johnny finds Half Arrow, who has come with a message that tribesman Little Crane has been killed for trying to visit his "white squaw," who had been returned to the whites because of the treaty. When Wilse finds them together and fights them, Half Arrow is about to take Wilse's scalp, but Johnny stops him. Afraid he will be killed if he stays, Johnny returns to the Delaware. The tribe's council decides that twenty scalps will avenge Little Crane's death. Meanwhile, Del tells Col. Bouquet of his decision to leave the army and become a farmer, but he agrees to help stop settlers from taking lands from the Indian side of the Ohio. After Del and his men find a burned village and signs of the Delaware war party, Little Crane's brother, Niskitoon, reports to Cuyloga with fifteen scalps, including some children's, which saddens the chief. When they see a settlers' boat approach, Niskitoon gives white men's clothes to Johnny so that he can lure them closer. Dressed as a white man, Johnny tells the settlers he is starving. Before they reach him, however, Johnny warns them it is an ambush, and they escape unharmed. In the Indian camp, as Niskitoon is about to burn Johnny, Cuyloga takes the blame for Johnny's treachery and rules that Little Crane's death is avenged. He cuts Johnny loose and sadly tells him to go and that if they meet in battle he must kill him. Del finds Johnny, who disconsolately says that he now has no people. Del compares Niskitoon and Wilse, and says that there are good and bad on both sides. They return to Fort Pitt, and when Wilse calls Johnny a savage beast, Del blames Wilse for the killing that led to the death of the fifteen settlers. As the whole town watches, Johnny and Wilse have a fistfight. With instructions from Del and encouragement from Shenandoe, Milly and Harry, Johnny beats Wilse, who afterward smiles and says Johnny has now become white. As Milly hugs and kisses Del, Shenandoe and Johnny run off to the waterfall.