Howard Hawk's movie is the story of the early pioneers who took a keelboat up the unexplored Missouri River "through 2000 miles of hostile Indian country to the hills of Montana and opened a new land for the future -- The Great Northwest."
"It all started in the year 1832 back in old Kentucky on the road to Louisville." Jim Deakins (Kirk Douglas) is a Kentucky farmer who meets a mountain man Boone Caudell. They decide to head out West to find Boone's trapper uncle Zeb Calloway (Arthur Hunnicutt). The boys wander in to St. Louis, get thrown in to jail for fighting and find Uncle Zed in the same cell as them. Zed hooks them up river boat captain 'Frenchy' Jourdonnais and they join an expedition up the Missouri to trade furs with the Blackfeet.
Frenchy is bringing back Teal Eye, a daughter of a Blackfoot chief who had been kidnapped by the Crows. She is the key to opening up trade with the tribe.
Zeb: "But the prettiest part of it all belongs to her people, the Blackfeet. Proud Indians. Ain't going to let no white men spoil their country. The only thing their feared of is the white man's sickness.
Boone: "What's that"
Zeb: "Grabs. White men don't see nothing pretty unless they want to grab it. The more they grab, the more they want to grab. It's like a fever and they can't get cured. The only thing for them to do is to keep on grabbin' until everything belongs to white men and then start grabbin' from each other. I reckon injuns got no reason to love nothing white."
Boone has a scalp that Zeb had given him of an Indian that killed his brother. When Teal Eye sees the scalp she grabs it.
Boone Cardell: Why did she want to grab this?
Zeb Calloway: That's a Blackfoot scalp you got, and she knows it. Ain't you ever thought of why an injun takes a scalp?
Jim Deakins: Why?
Zeb Calloway: To shame an enemy. The way she figures it, there's a Blackfoot brave somewhere who can't show his face to the hereafter until that thing is buried under the ground.
A friendly Blackfoot named Poordevil stops in camp. A Sioux party attack and Jim, Zeb, Boone and Poordevil wipe them out, and Poordevil scalps them.
The big fur company, McMasters, wants a monopoly so they kidnap Teal Eye and try to burn the boat but Zeb and Jim get her back.
Things were going well and the guys were dancing on deck, but then one of them took an arrow in the neck. Crows on horseback with war paint soon line the river. They follow along as the boat goes down river. They followed for three days but then one day they were gone. But then as the men were pulling the boat, the Indians attacked. They fight the attack off but Jim gets stuck on land and Boone goes after him, and Teal Eye follows. They find Jim, wounded and nurse him back to health in a cave.
When she got a chance teal Eye took off on a horse. She sent back with members of her tribe. Back at the Blackfeet camp the trading begins.Both Jim and Boone are interested in Teal Eye. Three days later she showed up. She tells Jim she loves him like a brother and Boone goes to see teal Eye in her tent. The dancing then begins.
Boone Cardell: What's the noise about?
Zeb Calloway: They're (Indians) celebrating your wedding.
Boone Cardell: Wedding?
Zeb Calloway: You maybe don't know it, but you're a married man now.
Boone Cardell: Married? And I don't got nothing to say about it?
Zeb Calloway: Wouldn't do you no good to say it.
Zeb Calloway: Boone, this is Teal's father, Chief Red Horse. Chief Red Horse wants to see you on account he wants to know how much you're gonna pay for his daughter.
Boone Cardell: Pay for Teal?
Zeb Calloway: You married her, didn't ya? He gets paid.
Boone Cardell: Well, I reckon that's the custom.
Zeb Calloway: Well, yes and no. In this here particular case, it's yes.
When the boat pulls out Boone goes with it and leaves Teal Eye behind.
Zeb Calloway: [narrating] Ain't it funny. Two men is friends. Then a girl comes along an... an pretty soon they ain't friends no more. And now with one of 'em walking out on what the other'n would give his right arm for, I kept wondering what they would do to settle it.
After a day trip down the river Boone heads back for Teal Eye.
Not one of Hawk's best movies but still pretty good. A little disappointing that the beautiful Indian princess decides to marry the white invader, but it was made in 1952.