The movie starts in 1877 with Indians chasing a carriage, until our hero, Buffalo Bill (Joel McCrea) appears and single-handedly chases them off. One of the passengers, Louisa, played by Maureen O'Hara, is soon to become Bill's wife.
Bill says early in the movie : "Indians are good people if you leave them alone." But, of course, you know that is not going to happen. A beautiful Sioux girl, played by Linda Darnell, hangs around pining after Bill. She tries on one of Louisa's dresses because she wants to find out "if I could be as beautiful as a white girl, in a white girl's way." When Luisa says" "I wish your Indian brave could see you now, the love struck Dawn Starlight stalks off angry.
When Bill asks a railroad man "Why can't you build your railroad around the Cheyenne land instead of across them?", the business man responds that it would delay the project and increase the cost. A Cheyenne chief, a friend of Cody, Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) is then brought in and told his people must move within thirty days. Yellow Hand says his people will fight if they need to.
The Cheyenne then began attacking the country side. The Cheyenne then kidnap a Senator, Louisa's father from the fort. Bill goes after him but is captured by the Cheyenne. Yellow Hand comes back to camp and frees him just as he is about to be tortured. Yellow Hand's father says if they can keep their land between the two rivers, they will stop fighting. There is a meeting and the Cheyenne sign another treaty.
The Buffalo Bill got involved in a new venture, killing buffalo. Buffalo robes were selling back east and people were paying to come hunt them. People came from all over to kill buffalo. Bill then gets to beginning to worry about how many buffalo were being killed. Imagine, other people were doing it too. What was wrong with them!
Then Yellow Hand gives a speech: "Men of the Nation. There's a black cloud coming from the east to cover us all. We, the Cheyenne, have called our brothers of the Sioux so we can hear the words about this thing. Yesterday, the buffalo was many as the blades of grass upon the prairie. Today, the buffalo is few as the leaves on an oak tree in winter. The white man has done this thing so the red man will starve. When the buffalo is done, we starve. We'll have no meat to eat, no hide to make tepees, no robes to make beds. Brothers, it's not good for man to hear his woman and children crying. It's a bad thing for a man to starve. There are better ways to die." The Crazy Horse agrees with the Yellow Hand and the war is on.
Bill and Louisa have a baby boy. The Indians start the war dance and then head off, ready for battle. Custer gets wiped out (he should have been wiped out in the previous year) and Bill decides he must leave Louisa and join the troops. Louisa tells Bill she will leave him if he goes, but off Bill goes.
The Indians trap a patrol led by Buffalo Bill. Bill then challenges Yellow Hand to a duel so he could buy time for the cavalry will arrive. They charge at each other and Bill kills Yellow Hand, and he then the cavalry arrives and a great battle takes place. Bill carries Dawn Starlight's body from the battle field.
When Bill is given a dinner, a railroad man, introducing Bill, says that he has made a lot of "good Indians". Bill responds :
"Mr. President. Ladies and Gentlemen. I was afraid I was going to make a fool of myself in front of you tonight. But that would have been all right, because a man can make a fool of himself when he's off his own stamping grounds. But when a man makes a fool of himself on his own stamping grounds, there's no excuse for him. I don't hold with General Sherman that a good Indian is a dead Indian. From what I've seen, the Indian is a free-born American who'll fight for his folks, for his land and for his living... just like any other American."
A very early movie that showed Indians in a positive light. Fort Apache (1948) was four years away and Broken Arrow (1950) was six. Joel McCrea makes a good Buffalo Bill, but the really wasn'y too good of a guy. He abandoned his wife and baby and then blamed his wife when their boy died. He destroyed the Indian's food supply, when he should have known better. He killed Yellow Hand even though he knew the Indians were in the right. He then, after having helped destroy their way of life, used the Indians in his Wild West show so he could make a buck. The movie makes it seem that he was helping the Indians, but we know he just using them.
Overall, a pretty decent movie. Bill may have been a hypocrite but he did give lip service to the plight of the Indian in the end.