A film by director Delmar Davies, who four years earlier had directed Broken Arrow. The movie is based on a true incident that took place in Oregon. The movie starts in 1872 in Washington, D.C., with President Grant appointing Indian expert Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd) as Peace Commissioner to the Modoc Indians of the Oregon-California border region.
Johnny MacKay doesn't think much of Captain Jack (Charles Bronson), the leader of the Modocs.
President Ulysses S. Grant: "What kind of man is he?"
Johnny MacKay: "Well, some people say he's got a little white blood in him because of his white eye... but I think it's mostly bad blood."
President Grant would like Johnny to help get the Modocs back on the reservation.
When Johnny gets out West again he meets childhood friend Toby and her brother Manok, who are the son and daughter of the old chief. Toby and Manok want peace, and try to convince Captain Jack (Kintpuashto) make peace with the whites. The beautiful Toby is in love with Johnny and doesn't like Captain Jack. She says "He is a bad Mordoc. .. I think it is best that you kill him." She later asks Johnny to "Take me for your woman. .. I have much love for you" and "I will do all those things you wish me to do as your woman." Later Toby tells her tribe that Johnny is not crazy, "he speaks with a white heart."
Johnny, Toby and Manok travel out to Captain Jack's village to try convince him to take the peace initiative.
Captain Jack : "I say this is my country. You're people liars and cheats."
Johnny : "In 1864, Jack, you signed a treaty. You agreed to take your people back to the resrvation and live in peace."
Captain Jack :"You are lying."
Johnny : "You signed the treaty"
Captain Jack : "You lie."
Johnny : "I'm not lying. I was there, I saw it. You took government money and goods."
Captain Jack : "Maybe I don't like where they put me and my people."
Johnny : "Most of your people like it. You've got much better land now than you had before the treaty."
What the movie doesn't address is that the government moved the Modocs from northern California to a reservation in Oregon to share with the Klamath, a tribe that they had never got along with. The Klamath tribe harassed the Modocs so much that Captain Jack took his followers back to their old lands.
Johnny tells Capatin Jack that "War is no good. In war only one side wins. In peace both sides win." But Captain Jack and his Modocs are not willing to give back their lands. When one of his warriors gets shot by an Indian hating settler, the drums start beating, the Indians dance and the Modocs are on the warpath. When the calvary attacks the Modocs drive them off.
The Modocs pressure Captain Jack to kill the coming peace commissioners. On April 11, 1873, General Canby, with other peace commissioners, including in the movie Johnny, were sitting in council with Captain Jack and some members of his tribe, when Captain Jack suddenly fired and killed General Canby. For the first and only time in history an American general was killed during the wars against the Indian tribes. Johnny was also wounded.
Johnny goes hunting for Captain Jack and he finds him. They start fighting hand to hand. Johnny subdues Captain Jack and brings him back to the fort to be hanged.
Director Selmar Daves presents us with a movie much like his Broken Arrow. There are good Indians and bad Indians and the good Indians are the ones who are willing to leave their lands, go on to the reservation and make peace with the whites. These Indians are presented in a positive light. The ones like Geronimo and Captain Jack, who may by viewed by some as patriots, willing to fight for their lands and their people, are the bad Indians and are portrayed in a very negative light.
The story ends with :
Johnny MacKay : [narrating] "And thus ended the killing in the Modoc country, and the peace began among our people that lives to this day. A peace that wasn't won by just wanting it, but costs plenty - but left scars. But it showed the country something we had to learn and remember - that among the Indians, as amongst our people, the good in heart outnumber the bad, and they will offer their lives to prove it."
I know that Broken Arrow and Drum Beat are considered movies that were in the forefront of portraying Native Americans in a positive light, but I wonder if portraying only the Indians who cooperate with the whites in a positive light is even more racist than the older stereotypical views. If you cooperate with the whites, agree to move to the reservation and give up your old lifestyle, you are a good Indian. If you dare to fight to defend lands that have always been yours, you are a bad Indian and a savage. I think if I was a Native American I would rather be portrayed as one of the Indians chasing the stagecoach, rather than one of those who betrayed their people and cooperated with the white invaders.