Tonka


1h 37m 1958

Brief Synopsis

In Dakota territory in the 1870s, White Bull, a young Sioux, proves his manhood by catching and training a wild colt he names Tonka. When a cruel cousin claims the horse as the privilege of rank, White Bull lets Tonka go. The horse ends up in the hands of a captain in the US cavalry about the time that Sitting Bull gathers the tribes to confront the growing US presence, epitomized by the bigoted General Custer. All paths, including those of White Bull and Tonka, lead to the confluence of the Little and Big Horn rivers.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Horse Called Comanche, Comanche
Release Date
Dec 25, 1958
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Walt Disney Productions
Distribution Company
Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bend, Oregon, United States; Deschutes River, Oregon, United States; Madras, Oregon, United States; Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Comanche by David Appel (Cleveland, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Film Length
8,746ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

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.

Cast

Sal Mineo

White Bull

Philip Carey

Capt. Myles Keogh

Jerome Courtland

Lt. Henry Nowlan

H. M. Wynant

Yellow Bull

Joy Page

Prairie Flower

Britt Lomond

George Armstrong Custer

Rafael Campos

Strong Bear

Herbert Rudley

Capt. Benteen

Sydney Smith

Gen. Terry

John War Eagle

Sitting Bull

Gregg Martell

Corp. Korn

Slim Pickens

Ace

Robert Buzz Henry

Lt. Crittenden

Eddie Little Sky

Spotted Tail

Johnny Guerin

Indian

Harold Green

Indian

Chester Von Pelt

Indian

Leland Thompson

Indian boy

Al Wyatt

Trooper

Pat Castor

Officer

Claude Brennan

Officer

Alvin Grimes

Officer

Stan Frank

Indian scout

Ed Saluskin

Scout

Conrad Well

Orderly

W. C. Yeomans

Kellogg

George Bernier

Ace's man

Hugh Porter

Ace's man

Tom Bride

Ace's man

Rod Rosebrook

Ace's man

Walt Smead

Ace's man

Monroe Carlson

Maj. Marcus A. Reno

Alba Shawaway

Scout for Custer/War dance drummer/Indian

Chuck Fite

Cavalryman

Wayne Houston

Cavalryman

Harry Welch

Cavalryman

Charles Biles

Cavalryman

Bob Patterson

Cavalryman

C. R. Yount

Cavalryman

Leroy Ditmore

Cavalryman

Jim Alderman

Cavalryman

Karl Kleint

Cavalryman

Red Reynolds

Cavalryman

Frank Stoul

Cavalryman

Jim Smith

Cavalryman

Larry Baxter

Cavalryman

Gard Safley

Cavalryman

Dallas Quick

Dignitary

Clem Klink

Dignitary

Peggy Jaques

Pioneer

Renee Jaques

Pioneer

Wallace Lee Hug

Child

Levi Von Pelt

Child

Morton Remmels

Nettie Shawaway

Harry Miller

Myrtle Brashear

Lynn Burke

Alma Armstrong

Walter Schenck

Armand Delmar

Jack Dusick

Bob Marx

Gus Norin

Roland Ray

Glen Wright

Jack Muhs

O. Hensel

Cliff Burdette

Leroy Johnson

Crew

L. E. Ballard

Wrangler

Elmer Balogh

Grip

Dominic Battaglia

Stretchout driver

Ivan Bauerle

Lamp op

John C. Bella

Gaffer

Roy Benson

Driver

Junior Bernard

Stand-in for Sal Mineo

Harry Bogart

Painter

Stuart Brown

Propmaker

George Bruns

Composer

Clarence Burke

Special Effects

Marty Buryan

Carpenter foreman

Gertrude Casey

Costumes

Charles Chrisman

Props

Ellis Coleman

Constr

Henry Convertino

Grip

Robert O. Cook

Sound Supervisor

Joe Craigmaile

Wrangler

Pat Cummings

Costumes

Judd Curtis

Camera Operator

Landis Davis

Laborer

Ted De Moss

Driver

Ted Deardorf

Swing gang

Joe Didier

Driver

Walt Disney

Presented By

Ed Duarte

Wrangler

Peter Ellenshaw

Matte artist

Oliver Emert

Set Decoration

Bob Finn

Stunt double for Sal Mineo

Robert Fleming

Grip

Lewis R. Foster

Screenwriter

Wilber Freese

Driver

Chuck Gabbert

Loc auditor

Alton Galbreith

Wrangler

Gil George

Composer

Ken Gillmore

First aid man

Thomas Goldrick

Boom man

Ed Goodman

Driver

Elmer Grether

Lead man

Loyal Griggs

Director of Photography

John Grubbs

Production Manager

Eldon Hall

Painter

Russ Haverick

Unit Manager

Lillie Hayward

Screenwriter

Harold Hazelbush

Lamp op

Les Hilton

Horse trainer

Herb Hirst

2d Assistant Director

H. Ellsworth Hoagland

Film Editor

Horace Hough

Assistant Director

Ace Clyde Hudkins

Stunts

Bill Jones

Ramrod

Eddie Jones

Stills

Erwin Jones

Grip

Frank Kauffman

Grip

Chuck Keehne

Costumes

Dick Kelly

Assistant Camera

Knox K. Kelly

Best Boy

Pat Kelly

Costumes

Evelyn Kennedy

Music Editor

Leroy Kennedy

Wrangler

Robert Kent

Driver

Emile Kuri

Set Decoration

Garrett Lambrecht

Key grip

Charles Leist

Timekeeper

Harry M. Lindgren

Sound Mixer

Joe Lomax

Wrangler

George Lucas

Driver

Max Luttenberg

Special Effects

Willard Marty

Propmaker

Mickey Mccardle

2d Assistant Director

Bob Mcgowan

Assistant Camera

Pat Mcnalley

Makeup

Ed Meece

Craft service

Stanley Miller

Grip

Hedvig Mjorud

Hairstylist

Cecil Moon

Driver

Red Morgan

Stunts

Robert Morrison

Assistant Camera

James H. Murray

Lamp op

Roy Nelson

Driver

John Ormonde

Pub

Nick Potskoff

Driver

William Powky

Painter

James Pratt

Producer

Fred Price

Drapery

Mal Rennings

Cable man

Paul Ridge

American Humane Association man

Jess Salais

Generator op

Pete Saldutti

Costumes

Frank Sanders

Wrangler

Jack Sanders

Horse trainer

Ruth Sandifer

Hairstylist

C. E. Sheehan Jr.

Craft service

Clifford Shoir

Greensman

Abe Siegal

Greensman

Art Smith

Sound Recording

Norman Smith

Drapery

Robert E. Smith

Art Director

Clarence Soper

Craft service

Chuck Spurgeon

Special Effects

Richard Sutton

Grip

Henry Thornsberry

Driver capt.

Lois Thurman

Script Supervisor

Edwin Tillman

Special Effects

Jim Treanor

Props

Harry Underwood

Camera Operator

Clifford Vaughan

Orchestration

Oliver Wallace

Music

Gene White

Stunt rider for Sal Mineo

Samuel A. Wierman

Lamp op

Lou Wildey

Props Master

John Williams

Driver

Bill Wood

Makeup Artist

Cecil Wynn

Driver

Albert Zarro

Driver

Film Details

Also Known As
A Horse Called Comanche, Comanche
Release Date
Dec 25, 1958
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Walt Disney Productions
Distribution Company
Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Bend, Oregon, United States; Deschutes River, Oregon, United States; Madras, Oregon, United States; Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Comanche by David Appel (Cleveland, 1951).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Film Length
8,746ft (10 reels)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were A Horse Called Comanche and Comanche. The pressbook for the film stated that this was "the first full-scale movie attempt to tell the battle story [of Custer's Last Stand] from the Indian viewpoint." For more information about Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, please see the entry for They Died With Their Boots On in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50. David Appel's novel was purchased by Walt Disney in October 1956, according to news items, and in April 1958, as production was being planned, it had still not been decided whether it would be a feature-length theatrical film, or a two-part feature for the ABC television series Disneyland.
       Fess Parker was originally scheduled for the role of "Captain Myles Keogh" and tested for the part on May 27, 1958, according to production reports at the Walt Disney Archives. Parker subsequently refused the second-billed role, however, and was placed on suspension, according to Variety. Studio publicity states that over five hundred Indians were used as warriors in Sitting Bull's army, and two hundred and fifty residents of Bend and Madras, OR, were used as cavalry soldiers. According to the San Francisco News, the role of Sitting Bull was originally to have been played by an Indian actor named Blue Eagle, but after receiving the news that he had won the role, Blue Eagle died from a heart attack.
       According to an article in the Rapid City Daily Journal included in a studio scrapbook, Disney chose Northern and Central Oregon locations for filming over locations scouted in South Dakota. Studio publicity adds the following information about Oregon location sites: the re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn was shot at the Warm Springs Reservation; Custer's command headquarters was built near the town of Bend; and an Indian village was constructed at the Deschutes River. Shooting also took place at Madras, OR, according to production reports, and process shots were completed at M-G-M Studios.
       Reviews generally praised the film, and a few applauded the studio for its concern with historical accuracy. The film was criticized, however, for evading issues concerning the causes of the Little Big Horn conflict and for romanticizing the Sioux. However, Christian Science Monitor criticized the film for making "no attempt to explore the rights and wrongs of the situation between the redskins and whites in the 1870's." New York Times noted that the film "rarely suggests the basic causes of Indian-white friction." The film was telecast as Comanche in two parts, on 18 February and February 25, 1962, on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. In 1977, the film was retitled A Horse Called Comanche, according to Los Angeles Times.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter December 1958

Released in United States Winter December 1958