Tomahawk


1h 22m 1951

Brief Synopsis

In 1866, a new gold discovery and an inconclusive conference force the U.S. Army to build a road and fort in territory ceded by previous treaty to the Sioux...to the disgust of frontier scout Jim Bridger, whose Cheyenne wife led him to see the conflict from both sides. The powder-keg situation needs only a spark to bring war, and violent bigots like Lieut. Rob Dancy are all too likely to provide this. Meanwhile, Bridger's chance of preventing catastrophe is dimmed by equally wrenching personal conflicts. Unusually accurate historically.

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Feb 1951
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Rapid City, South Dakota, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In 1866, in Wyoming, Sioux chiefs and officials of the U.S. Army meet to discuss a treaty that will enable the government to open the Bozeman trail through Sioux territory. Jim Bridger, a frontier scout and fur trader, speaks out passionately against the trail, arguing that it will destroy hunting ground crucial to the Sioux's survival. After Bridger reveals his knowledge that the government is already building a fort along the proposed trail, Chief Red Cloud angrily ends the meeting, but he promises that he will not go to war unless the Sioux are attacked first. Col. Carrington, the commander of Fort Phil Kearny, the Army's new installment, offers Bridger and his partner, Sol Beckworth, positions as scouts, but Bridger at first declines. He changes his mind, however, when Monahseetah, a young Cherokee girl to whom Bridger serves as guardian, points out Lt. Rob Dancy and whispers her suspicion that he participated in the massacre in which her entire tribe was killed. Shortly after, while escorting a wagon carrying vaudeville performers Dan Castello and his niece, Julie Madden, the Indian-hating Dancy shoots a Sioux teenager and keeps the murder a secret. Dan is seriously wounded by an arrow when the Sioux retaliate, but back at the fort, Dancy claims that the attack was unprovoked. Dancy attempts to impress Julie with tales of his Indian fighting days with the infamous Reverend Shivington and his renegade militia, the Colorado Volunteers. However, Julie is attracted to Bridger, who has saved her uncle's life by removing the arrow. Jealous, Dancy denounces Bridger as an Indian spy and "squaw man," claiming that Monahseetah is Bridger's common-law wife. Bridger returns from a scouting expedition to report that the Sioux are preparing for a full-scale war, and, although Dancy and the like-minded Capt. Fetterman want to go on the offensive, Carrington orders everyone to remain in the fort. Disobeying orders, Julie sneaks out of the fort to go riding and ends up being chased by Sioux warriors, forcing Bridger to kill Red Cloud's favorite son in the effort to rescue her. After Julie expresses her mistaken belief that Monahseetah is Bridger's wife, Bridger explains with great sorrow and anger that Monahseetah is the sister of his beloved Cherokee wife, who was killed along with her infant son in a massacre carried out by the bigoted Shivington and his Colorado Volunteers. Julie then informs Bridger of her knowledge of Dancy's participation in the Volunteers, confirming Monahseetah's and Bridger's suspicions. In the meantime, the soldiers at the fort are becoming more and more anxious to fight after being subjected to the drone of Sioux war drums for four days. After Dancy convinces Fetterman and his men to disobey orders by following a small band of Sioux, the soldiers ride straight into a trap laid by the Sioux. All are killed, save for Dancy, who escapes into the woods where he is tracked down by Bridger. Bridger confronts Dancy as the murderer of his wife and child and they begin to fight. Before he is killed with a Sioux arrow, Dancy admits to the massacre, but claims he was only following orders. Carrington's troops go to battle using the "breechloading" weapons shipped to them by the government. The soldiers quickly prevail over the Sioux, whose methods of battle cannot succeed against the new guns, which can be reloaded with lightning speed. To Bridger's relief, Carrington allows Red Cloud to pick up his dead and leave the battlefield in peace. However, Red Cloud ultimately wins the battle when word arrives from Washington that a new treaty will be signed, closing the trail and the fort. Once Carrington's men are gone, Red Cloud's warriors burn down the fort, erasing all traces of the white man's presence in their land.

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1951
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Feb 1951
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Rapid City, South Dakota, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Quotes

I have to keep moving. Got iron in my blood. If I sit still, I rust.
- Dan Castello

Trivia

Notes

This film opens with a narrated prologue providing the historical background to the meeting between the Sioux Indians and the U.S. Army. An epilogue states that the Sioux continued to live on their lands in peace for thirty years after the burning of the U.S. fort. Rumored to be the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake, the real-life James Bridger (1804-1881) was famous as a frontier guide and the founder of Fort Bridger. Although he surveyed the Bozeman Trail for the U.S. government, he was not involved in the Sioux uprising of 1866. The climax of Tomahawk is based on the Fetterman Massacre of December 21, 1866. No one among Col. William J. Fetterman's detachment of eighty men survived after being lured into an ambush carefully planned by Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. The fiasco caused a public furor which ended Col. Henry B. Carrington's military career; however, a number of historians have found Carrington's claim that Fetterman disobeyed orders, as depicted in the film, quite plausible. Red Cloud was a highly respected warrior and the principal planner of the strategy leading to the Fetterman Massacre. In November 1868, Red Cloud signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, in which a promise of peace was exchanged for the removal of U.S. forts from the Powder River area.
       According to correspondence dated June 30, 1950 contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Universal executives promoted their project as one which would "contribute greatly to the program of the Association on American Indian Affairs." While Tomahawk received mixed reviews, critics did take note of its sympathetic portrayal of the Sioux, with Motion Picture Daily praising the film for "present[ing] the Indian in a mature and intelligent perspective."
       According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Charles Drake was originally cast as "Lt. Rob Dancy," but was replaced by Alex Nicol when Drake was cast in the 1950 Universal film Harvey (see the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In April 1951, Hollywood Reporter reported that Chill Wills was cast as a "roving philosopher-cowboy," but he did not appear in the final film. Other Hollywood Reporter new items add the following actors to the cast: Richard Long, Chuck Robertson, Ben American Horse, James Red Cloud, Joseph High Eagle, Iron Hail, John Sitting Bull, Oglala Handka and Andrew Knife. Long was not in the released film, and the appearance of the other actors has not been confirmed. Location shooting for Tomahawk was done near Rapid City, South Dakota. A modern source adds Chief Bad Bear and Regis Toomey, in the role of "Smith," to the cast.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video June 9, 1998

Released in United States Winter February 1951

Released in United States Winter February 1951

Released in United States on Video June 9, 1998