"Among the men who thrust forward America's frontier were Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody.
The story that follow compresses many years, many lives, and widely seperated events into one narrative ... in an attempt to do justice to the courage of the plainsman of our West"
At the end of the Civil War President Lincoln and his cabinet plan what they are going to do with all the returning soldiers. President Lincoln thinks that the West would be the best place and says the lands must be made safe. Then President Lincoln and his wife head off to Ford's Theater to see a play.
Businessmen sitting around a table then wonder what they are going to do, now that the war is over, with all the surplus guns that they now have on their hands. One of the men says that they can sell them to the Indians for hunting. He said they will get the Indians to promise not to use them against the white men. John Lattimer (Charles Bickford) is the man selected to head their operation.
We then meet Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) returning from the war. He meets his old girl, Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) and his old friend Buffalo Bill Cody, along with Cody's new wife Louisa. Bill has promised his wife to give up his old lifestyle.
They set off on a stagecoach and come upon army scout Breezy (Gabby Hayes), who has an arrow sticking out of him. He tells them that there are two or three thousand Sioux Indians around Fort Piney with war paint on. General Custer sees Hickok and he tells him about Fort Piney. Custer orders Cody to guide an ammunition supplies to relive Fort Piney. Cody doesn't want to go, and his wife really doesn't want him to go, but Cody feels he has to go (and you get the feeling that Cody is kind of happy).
Custer wants Hickok to go after Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hand, to see what is going on. Back at the Cody's house a Cheyenne raiding party break in while Calamity and Louisa are talking. Jane sees them and sneaks Louisa out the back. The Cheyenne destroy the house and take Jane. Hickok sees the raiding party and Jane and rides up to meet them and they both get taken to the Cheyenne camp.
Yellow Hand tells that Hickok that the white man keeps taking their land so the Cheyenne are buying the white mna;s "thunder stick". Yellow Hand says all the tribes will unite to drive the white man away. Yellow Hand wants Hickok to tell him which way the soldiers are going. The Cheyenne take Hickok and are going to burn him alive. They tie him to a pole, start a fire below him and dance around him. Yellow Hand says to Calamity: "Yellow Hand no want to kill Hickok, but must know which way soldier go with bullet. When we know Hickok go free, You go free." "If you no tell which way soldier go with bullet, Hickok soon be dead." As Hickok starts to burn he shouts to Calamity not to talk, bit Calamity loves him so she tells Yellow Hand and Yellow Hand orders his men to let Hickok down.
When Yellow Hand sees that the soldiers sre where Calamity told him he says: "Aquaw no lie. Yellow Hand no lie. You free. Go." Bill is not happy but they watch as the Cheyenne ambush Cody and the troops. Hickok takes a horse from a Cheyenne, and gives it to Calamity so she can go get Custer to help. He tells her not to tell Custer that she betrayed his men.
Hickok rides down and joins Cody and the troops. The Cheyenne with their repeating rifles hold the troops down. Calamity makes it through and tells Custer what she has done and he tells her her ought to have her shot. The troops, with Cody and Hickok, are gathered together hungry and beat up. The Cheyenne charge and with the music cleverly switching between 'Dixie' and 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic', the troops hold them off one last time. Hickok crawls out and gets his watch back from a dead warrior.
Then to the music of the 'Gary Owen' Custer and his troops arrive. Hickok goes after Lattimer for selling the rifles to the Cheyenne. He tells Lattimer: "You're not leaving town unless dead men can walk." Lattimer hires some disgruntled soldiers to kill Hickok and Hickok shoots down all three. Hickok then sets out to find Lattimer and Custer sends Cody out to bring in Hickok, dead or alive.
Cody and Hickok then run in to a lone Cheyenne warrior (Anthony Quinn) who has flag from the 7th Calvary and an officer's coat with a bullet whole through it. Hickok questions the warrior in Cheyenne and then translates for Cody. The warrior describes a battle scene which we then see as Custer and his troops wiped out. He says "Yellow Hand is coming up from the South to join Sitting Bull. He said there will be no more white men."
Hickok meets up with Lattimer in town and shoots him down in self defense. Hickok then holds Lattimer's five men while waiting for Cody and the cavalry to arrive. Hickok, with his back to the door, gets a hand of black aces and eights. He is then shot in the back and killed by the weasely Jack McCall (Porter Hall).
We then see the words: "It shall be as it was in the past ... Not with dream, but with strength and with courage, Shall a nation be molded to last", with Hickok and Cody riding in the background.
A Cecil B. DeMille movie that had great production values. The Cheyenne talked to broken English, but they were also allowed to speak in their own language. Yellow Hand was presented as a noble person who kept his word, even though he was willing to torture Hickok to help his people (sound familiar?). The bad guys in the film were the gun runners, but the movie did use the reputation and fictional(?) words of Lincoln to justify the westward expansion at the expense of the Indian tribes. A movie that shamelessly wasn't going to let the facts get in the way of entertainment, but Cecil DeMille knew how to make big movies and he made an entertaining one here.