The movie starts with the voice-over : "This story began when the first white man set foot on the American continent and found it occupied by the people he would call Indians." For the next four centuries; seeking gold, land, or freedom, the white men spread relentlessly Westward, subjugating tribe after tribe. The Indian became an exile in his own land. Finally there remained in Idaho and Oregon's Wallowa Valley but one last citadel of Indians' independence, the small free bands of the Nez Perce tribes. This is a dramatization of that historic story. Now at the crossroads of history stands thirty seven year old, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt,known as Chief Joseph. Untested, schooled in the white man's ways, he now struggles to preserve his Indian heritage. Like all the great chiefs before him, he too will have to face a last disparaging choice, submit or fight."
The Nez Perce who had signed a treaty with the government to inhabit the Oregon River Valley. After living there for twenty years the US government in 1877 voided that treaty (because gold was discovered in the valley) and wanted the Nez Perce to move to a reservation. General Howard (James Whitmore) knew this was wrong but he had to follow orders. After some shooting takes place between the Nez Perce and the army, Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce decide to make a break for Canada, where Sitting Bull and his Sioux have already gone, and are followed closely by General Howard and the cavalry.
The film is very favorable to the Nez Perce and their plight. General Howard, who founded Howard University said :
I've fought two great men in my lifetime. General Robert E. Lee and Chief Joseph. Lee was fighting for the wrong cause, slavery. Joseph is fighting for freedom. Well I guess I'm in Lee's spot now. I'm the general that's fighting for the wrong cause."
On 5 October 1877 Joseph and his surviving people were surrounded about thirty miles from the Canadian border. Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce surrendered and Chief Joseph made his famous speech :
Our chiefs are killed. The old men are all dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.
The move had an interesting story that was based on facts. The movie was authentic and tried to be real. It avoided the temptation of putting in drama for drama's sake. The was very sympathetic to the Indians cause and showed in microcosm what happened to the over five hundred Indian nations.
This was a TV movie, and the production values were just fair. This is a movie that really needs to be redone; with Native actors, Native language, and better production values. As it is, it is still a very good movie.