Photographed in the Black Hills of South Dakota,the film opens in 1868 in Sioux country, with a wagon train train from Virginia being attacked by Crow Indians. All are massacred except eleven year old Jim Aherne. Sioux warriors chase off the Crows and Miniconju Sioux chief Yellow Eagle gives the brave young boy the name of War Bonnet and adapts him.
As War Bonnet grows into manhood he becomes the best "Indian" in the tribe. He is brave, noble and loyal. The beautiful Indian squaw, Luta, falls in love with War Bonnet, but he sees her as his "little sister". With war about to break out between the Sioux nation and the whites, War Bonnet has to decide whose side he is on.
Yellow Eagle has only one request for his adapted son : "My son. I ask only one thing. Do not bring disgrace to my name." At a meeting of the tribes Indians discuss how their treaties have been trampled on. They discuss how their way of life is being taken away by the white man. The Oglala chief says that his people will fight to try to keep their ways. Yellow Eagle urges a more cautious approach but he is questioned because of his white son.
When his loyalty is questioned at the meeting, War Bonnet says "Is it the pigment of a man's skin which makes him a Miniconju, a member of the mighty Sioux? Is it the color of his eyes? No, neither of these things. It is the beating inside his body." War Bonnet also goes on to council caution. He does not want to spill the blood of his brothers unless he knows the treaty has really been broken.
It is decided that War Bonnet will go to the fort and see what the whites are up to. On his way War Bonnet meets up with a group of Crows ambushing some white troops. "Super Indian" War Bonnet immediately takes out five Crows by himself, and saves the troops.
War Bonnet gets taken to the fort and meets with the Col. Ellis, who is a fair man. In the background is Lt. Hathersall, who wouldn't shake his hand. The movie's aim is to show that there are good and bad Indians and white men. There we meet Tally Hathersall, Hathersall sister, who we know is going to fall for Jim.
When Luta gets captured by the Crows, War Bonnet sees the smoke signals and leads a small party of Sioux to the rescue. Two Indians, who never liked War Bonnet abandon them when they go into the Crow camp.
Capt. Vaugant, retrieving the dead from the Crow raiding party, says "Washington will keep on pussyfooting with these savages until we are all wiped out. There's one one solution : exterminate them. Burn out their villages. It's the only way to bring civilization to these parts." War Bonnet rides in with Luta and two others into the cavalry camp but the troops open fire and Luta is killed. War Bonnet says "From this day forth, let no man call me white! Let no man say to me the white man is his friend."
War Bonnet then deals with the deserters. When one cowardly turns and tries to shoot him, War Bonnet finishes him off with a spear. Yellow Eagle shoots the other as we runs away. War Bonnet then says the Sioux must fight the troops and White Eagle agrees. Yellow Eagle wants War Bonnet to lead the troops into an ambush.
War Bonnet / Jim has mixed emotions when he sees Tally. Then the troops then gets an order from Washington about the forceful removal of all Indians to reservations.
The movie made in 1952, talks of removal to camps and a final solution : extermination. Contemporary audiences had to get the message of the comparing the Nazi's treatment of the Jews with the American's treatment of the American Indians. This brave and intelligent comparison, made at this early time, makes the film much more interesting to me.
War Bonnet leads the troops to an Indian camp and the Captain begins firing cannon into it. The Captain is not happy when he finds out it is a Crow camp, and not Sioux. When the cavalry rides into a Crow ambush, War Bonnet and a few of his cavalry friends save the day. When the wounded Captain tries to shoot War Bonnet, who had just saved him, one of the soldiers interferes and the Captain dies.
War Bonnet frees the captive Crows, who promise to return to their homeland. The Crows had threatened to tell the whites about the smoke signals being sent to War Bonnet by the Sioux, waiting for the ambush. War Bonnet then returns to his father's camp and they plan for the attack the next day. War Bonnet insists, "Because we are not Crows", that the women and children be taken prisoner and not killed. White Eagle says they will not be able to take any prisoners.
War Bonnet / Jim now is beginning to have misgivings. He is friends with some of the cavalry men, and then there is Tally. When a woman from the wagon train gives him cookies you know he will not be able to go through with it. The sergeant tells him : "Even this kind of campaign don't make no sense."
Jim : "You mean the army's wrong?"
Sergeant : "Well about half and half, my way of figuring. We ain't got the right to push these Indians on the reservation, but they ain't got the right to claim all this land either. They've got to move over and give the next fellow a little room."
Jim : "They won't move over."
Sergeant : "That's the general trouble with people, they won't give elbow room. We won't budge and they won't either, so the armys got to do some pushing with bullets and bayonets. No matter how many forts the Sioux attack and burn they can't win and all out shoving contest. We have the most men, the most ammunition, the most know how, we're bound to win in the long run, it's simple arithmetic.
Jim warns the wagon train and they get back to the safety of the fort. Jim then heads back to the Sioux. Jim tries to convince that the Sioux that the white are not all bad. He tells them that for every soldier they kill ten more will come.
The movie is flawed by the use of all English, the choice of white actors to portray Indians and the familiar storyline of the super white man among the indigenous people. It also uses the familiar good Indians and bad Indians story line. The movie was also naive in preaching the naive point of view that all the Indians had to do was share their lands and the whites would have been happy.
But the movie did have the Indians speaking intelligently instead of in broken English. It also made veiled references to Indian internment and extermination at a time when the world was really just beginning to understand the horror of the Holocaust. Overall, an interesting, well made movie.