Cast & Crew
Lon Chaney [jr.]
In the late 1700s, after British troops have driven the French out of the northern American territory, the British hire Hessian soldiers as reinforcements in their war against the Indians. Notoriously brutal Hessian commander von Weber launches surprise raids against Indian villages, ruthlessly killing men, women and children. Near Fort Detroit, Chief Pontiac, a spiritual and tribal leader, declares war against the whites because of the harsh new British rule. British general Jeffrey Amherst, meanwhile, congratulates von Weber on his successful campaign against the Indians. Amherst instructs von Weber, who hates all Indians because he was once captured and tortured by a tribe, to continue until the British can gain control of the Great Lakes region. While they are talking, Ranger Lieutenant Kent McIntire comes in and demands that Amherst put a halt to the butchery. Amherst, however, refuses to rein in von Weber and orders him to take command of Ft. Detroit away from Maj. Gladwin, who is sympathetic to the Indians. While returning to Ft. Detroit through the wilderness, Kent secretly speaks with Winifred Lancaster, the daughter of a British officer recently killed by the Indians, who is among a group of women taken hostage by Pontiac's warrior Hawkbill. Hawkbill captures Kent and takes him to Pontiac, who is Kent's "blood brother." Kent tells Pontiac about the British campaign against his tribe and warns him that Hessian reinforcements are being brought to the fort. Although Pontiac is committed to fighting the whites, he agrees to meet with Gladwin to discuss the possibility of peace. When Hawkbill starts to court Winifred, Kent claims her as his wife, pointing out a gold ring he had secretly given her as proof, and after a makeshift tribal wedding ceremony insisted upon by Pontiac, Winifred is accepted as family. Hawkbill, however, holds a grudge against Kent. Kent reports to Gladwin about his progress with Pontiac, but when von Weber takes over, he refuses to confer with Pontiac and threatens to arrest Gladwin when he insists that von Weber maintain the truce. Instead, von Weber sends a "gift" of clothing and blankets infested with smallpox to Pontiac's tribe, and plans to attack as soon as they are stricken by the illness. Kent revolts against von Weber and is arrested, but Gladwin helps him escape unharmed. At Pontiac's village, Winifred, who previously hated the Indians, has developed a newfound respect for them, and is distraught when her new friends become mortally ill with smallpox. Kent tells Pontiac that the disease is von Weber's doing, and Pontiac suggests that he and Winifred flee before the warriors find out. Kent and Winifred leave after they help boil the blankets and clothing to rid them of the disease. That night, they declare their love for each other and return to the fort after seeing von Weber march out with his troops. When Kent tells Gladwin that Pontiac is massing for war, Gladwin orders him to warn von Weber, who expects to ambush the Indians. Kent does not catch up to von Weber and his troops until after the Indians have made their initial attack. During a pause in the battle, Kent warns von Weber and his men to retreat, but von Weber shoots him. Pontiac and his men slaughter the soldiers and capture von Weber alive. At the Indian village, von Weber is tied to a post and covered in pestilence-ridden blankets, and in time, he becomes ill and dies. Gladwin and Winifred ride to the village bearing a white flag, and Pontiac agrees to consider peace, although the Great Spirit has advised him that all Indians will soon be overwhelmed by the whites. As Gladwin and Pontiac smoke a peace pipe, Winifred runs to embrace the wounded Kent.
Lon Chaney [jr.]
Charles Van Enger
The Indians are played by members of a Sioux tribe from a reservation near Rapid City, South Dakota, where this was filmed. The British and Hessian troops were played by U.S. Air Force soldiers from a local airbase.
Most of the extras playing the Indians and British soldiers in the battle scenes were military personnel from an Air Force base near Rapid City, South Dakota, where the film was shot.
This film opens with the following spoken foreword: "This is the city of Detroit. Where this teeming industrial metropolis now stands, there was some two hundred years back, a small guarded fort, protecting a handful of white settlers. Fort Detroit was surrounded by many Indian tribes. The most prominent of these was the Ottawas, a proud people who in the period from 1763 to 1769, was ruled over by Chief Pontiac. Pontiac was a great warrior, a man of faith, who believed the Indian and white man could live together. The English who controlled his territory, hired professional German soldiers known as Hessians, to help patrol the area. One of the Hessian officers, a Colonel von Weber, did not share Pontiac's point of view. He was ambitious, ruthless and greedy for power."
As depicted in the film, during the French and Indian War, after the French surrendered the northern territories to the British, Hessian troops were hired as reinforcements. Modern historical sources also recount that the British instituted more regulations to control the Native Americans than the French and planned to take over the territories completely. Chief Pontiac waged several attacks against Fort Detroit, which was under the command of Major Henry Gladwin, but Gladwin forestalled the attacks after being forewarned by informers. At Fort Pitt, Captain Simeon Ecuyer was also under attack by local tribes, and followed orders from Lord Jeffrey Amherst, then British commander-in-chief of the Americas, to send smallpox-ridden blankets to the tribes. Many Native Americans died from the resulting smallpox epidemic. After the French were compelled to withdraw their support of the Native Americans when the Treaty of Paris was signed, Pontiac called a truce.
A 1950 Variety news item noted that an original story titled "Chief Pontiac," written by Jack DeWitt and Woodruff Smith, was purchased by Jack Schwarz Productions. DeWitt receives sole writing credit onscreen and Smith's contribution to the final screenplay has not been confirmed. Schwarz's connection to the final film is also unknown. A July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Roy Engel to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to July and August 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items, some scenes were shot on location in Colorado and South Dakota.