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In the Montana Territory of 1876, two young braves, White Bull and his friend, Strong Bear, watch as their elders chase after a herd of wild horses. One horse in particular, a strong and swift stallion, catches their attention. White Bull, in an abortive attempt to capture this horse, loses his cousin Yellow Bull's prized rope. Back at the Indian village, White Bull's uncle, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, is angry with him for not only losing the rope, but also for losing the quiver, bow and arrows that the chief gave him. He forbids White Bull from hunting until he has proven himself worthy of trust. The next morning when White Bull goes searching for the missing items, he captures the horse and names it Tonka Wakan, meaning "The Great One." After weeks of working with Tonka and gradually gaining his trust, White Bull returns to his people, who have fled to a new village to escape certain destruction by the U.S. Cavalry. When Sitting Bull rewards White Bull for his courage, ingenuity and tenacity, Yellow Bull becomes envious and demands that Tonka be given to him. Regretfully, the chief concedes that it is Yellow Bull's right to have Tonka, given his senior status in the tribe. One night, White Bull, appalled at the way Yellow Bull has been treating Tonka, sets the horse free. Tonka is soon captured by some horse traders, who sell him to Captain Myles Keogh of the Cavalry. Appreciative of Tonka's speed, strength and beauty, Keogh takes pride in the horse and treats him with great care. Meanwhile, White Bull is sent on a mission with some other braves to find out how many soldiers threaten the Indians. While scouting Fort Lincoln, White Bull is relieved to discover Tonka safely residing in the fort's stable. When Keogh finds that White Bull was Tonka's owner, he praises him for training Tonka so gently and so well. After White Bull is questioned by General George Armstrong Custer, he is allowed to ride Tonka once before he is set free. Custer, expressing a great desire to massacre the Indians, begins to lay plans for the big attack. He does not realize that a legion of Indians, Sioux as well as many other tribes, are planning their own war against him. When the day of the assault arrives, Custer and his men are completely surprised as they are surrounded by continuing waves of Indians. As the bloody battle ensues, White Bull is beaten unconscious, while Strong Bear is killed during an attempt to save him. Custer, raging and defiant until the end, is shot through the head. After killing Keogh, Yellow Bull is trampled to death by Tonka before he can claim Keogh's scalp. White Bull eventually revives and is tending to Tonka when a group of soldiers appear. One of the soldiers, upon recognizing White Bull from Fort Lincoln, prevents his man from shooting the Indian. He takes both White Bull and Tonka back to the fort. On 10 April 1878, a proclamation is made recognizing Tonka as the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand and retiring him from further duty. Tonka is to reside at Fort Lincoln, living the remainder of his days in comfort and with the only person who will ever be able to ride him again, his exercise boy, White Bull.