Pony Soldier (1952) 

 

 

 

Director:     Joseph M. Newman.

Starring:     Tyrone Power (Constable Duncan MacDonald), Cameron Mitchell (Konah), Thomas Gomez (Natayo Smith), Penny Edwards (Emerald Neeley), Robert Horton (Jess Calhoun), Anthony Numkena (Comes Running), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (White Moon), Howard Petrie (Insp. Frazer), Stuart Randall (Standing Bear).

1876, a mounted policeman in western Canada is sent to get two white hostages from the Cree Indians

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Southwest corner of Saskatchewan, Canada. Fort Walsh.

"This is a story of the old Northwest Territories of Canada from the earliest days of the Northwest Mounted Police.  The year was 1876.  The force was only three years old.  And in scattered posts from Edmonton to Fort Calgary to Fort Macleod.  From Battleford to Maple Creek to Fort Walsh we were trying to bring the law and keep the peace throughout thousands of square miles of Indian country. "The Great Lone Land" it's been called.  A land of prairies and lakes and mountains.  Beautiful, peaceful.  But in those days it was a powder keg.  The savage tribes of plain and the mountain were ready to explode into bloody war.  To prevent that was our job.  There were only 300 of us then in the Northwest Mounted.  I was a relative newcomer.  Constable Duncan MacDonald at your service.  Enlisted in Toronto; applied for duty in the far west; and was sent to join Troop B at Fort Walsh in Saskatchewan close by the Montana line.  We prepared for trouble.  South of the boundary, the Sioux and the American cavalry, called Long Knives by the Indians because of their sabers, were fighting bloody skirmishes and our own war-like Canadian tribes were restless.  I'm going to tell you the story of a patrol I made.  I will tell it to you exactly as it happened, with the exception that when the Cree Indians speak, they will speak in our language.  Many miles to the south of Fort Walsh Standing Bear's tribe of Canadian Crees had illegally slipped across the boundary line into the United States to hunt Buffalo.  Standing Bear, chief of all the Crees, was pleased.  The lodges were red with meat and his people had forgotten the starvation days of the past winter.  But Standing Bear's joy was short-lived."

Two braves bring in a dead body of a Cree.  Standing Bear asks:  "Who did this?"  The American long knives looking for Sioux.  "They don't know the difference between Cree and Sioux."  Standing Bear says:  "We will teach them the difference."  This seems to bring great joy to the Cree braves.  They all jump on their horses headed toward the American cavalry. 

In the valley come the cavalry.  The Cree descend to the valley and the two groups charge at each other.  There is heavy fighting in the creek area.  Then the next wave of cavalry charges the Cree and they retreat. 

The Cree dance to mourn their dead.  Standing Bear and his chiefs are troubled.  They see smoke signals sent up by their neighbors the Assiniboine.  "Long knives coming with thunder guns."  Standing Bear says the tribe must move north.  One of the braves named Konah says they should fight the long knives.  The chief says there are too many cavalry to fight.  But he does let Konah take a group of braves and take some captives. 

Konah finds a wagon train.  He and his braves get off their horses. 

Coming up on a trail behind the Cree group a half white/half red man stops and tells his family to hide.  The Cree study their prey.  Then when the wagon train start crossing a river, the Cree attack.  The lead man for the wagon train is hit with an arrow in his neck.  The driver of the first wagon grabs his rifle and rushes over to check on the lead man, who he finds dead.  The driver is then shot dead.  His pretty grown daughter becomes hysterical and has to be pushed back into the inner body of the wagon to keep her from getting shot.  The rifle of the fellow that saved the woman now jams.  Konah decides they will takes these two people as hostages.  They set the wagon on fire with their flaming arrows.  The couple try to make a run for it, but are quickly surrounded by the Cree.  The half-breed sees all of this and tells his family he is headed over to Fort Walsh to speak to the commanding officer.  He says this misfortune may turn out to be fortunate for him and his family. 

MacDonald comes into the commander's office with a report on his chase after a horse thief.  Behind him comes the half-breed Natayo Smith.  The commander, named Frazier, tells Natayo that he is busy right now.  Natayo says he has a lot of time, so he is happy to wait for the commander.  Now MacDonald can go on with his report.  He says the suspect shot his mount from under him and got pinned underneath the fallen horse.  By the time he got out, found a ranch and bought another horse, the suspect had a nine hour head start on him.  The commander asks why didn't he pursue the suspect until he caught him?  MacDonald says because the Mounted Police are not permitted to go into the United States.  The commander tells him not to be such a stickler about all the various rules in the book and capture his suspect. 

Natayo now says that he was in the United States and he saw the Cree of Standing Bear.  The commander wants to know everything.  Natayo says that Standing Bear's Cree have left the reservation.  They fought a battle with the Long Knives in Red Rock Canyon.  "They were cut to pieces."  Then seven or eight Cree attacked an American homestead party at Black River.  The two captives are to be used as hostages. 

Commander Frazier wants Natayo to go with MacDonald to get the two hostages away from the Cree.  Natayo doesn't want to go with MacDonald because he is so new to the force.  But the commander makes the prospect of Natayo staying at the fort such a hard task that he finally decides to go with MacDonald. 

MacDonald and Natayo have a hard time finding the Cree, but then they run into them.  The Cree quickly surround the red coats.  MacDonald is a bit perplexed because this party of Cree is larger than the one they were searching for.  As they reach a summit and look down to the valley below, they see a huge Cree village there.  MacDonald says:  "We had ridden full tilt into a trap." 

The two men are brought into the huge village.  Natayo sees a tent with a guard watching over it.  He figures the American hostages are in the tent.   MacDonald says they will probably end up in the tent with the hostages. 

Chief Standing Bear says he has heard of the pony soldiers, but this is the first time he has ever seen one.  He has MacDonald come over to him and the chief tells him to speak.  MacDonald says that the Great White Queen is angry because her children, the Cree, have left their reserve.  Standing Bear says they have owned this land long before there was a queen.  He tells MacDonald to leave and take the half-breed with him.  But MacDonald decides to point out the wrongs the Cree have done.  They wandered over the border into the United States.  They fought the Americans at Red Rock Canyon.  And they took two American hostages.  Now he boldly walks over to the tent with the hostages.  He pushes the guard out of the way and goes inside.  He unties the Americans and tells them to remain silent and let him speak to Standing Bear. 

MacDonald walks with them back over to Standing Bear.  He says this proves that Standing Bear speaks with a forked tongue.  He asks for a council smoke and the chief says he will speak to his chiefs.  Standing Bear tells Konah to take the hostages back to their tent.  Then he says to MacDonald that the Cree will provide the two red coats with a place to stay.   When Natayo gets to speak to MacDonald he balls him out for trying his hardest to get both of them killed.  MacDonald just tells Natayo to go to their tent, while he goes to speak with the hostages. 

The male hostage is very hostile to all Indians and he tells MacDonald that he is full of it if he thinks that just by talking to the Cree, he can get them out of here safely.  MacDonald tells the fellow, Jess Calhoun, to stop being so impatient and keep away from his Enfield rifle.  MacDonald leaves the tent and Calhoun says when he gets the chance, he's busting out of here. 

MacDonald is very suspicious of Calhoun.  He tells Natayo that the fellow is acting very suspiciously.  He says he has never been to Canada, but Calhoun knows all about the Mounted Police and their Enfield rifles.  Natayo does seem to have seen the man before, but he keeps saying he can't remember the details.  MacDonald says if he talks he'll give Natayo a second Enfield rifle.  And he will give Natayo the one unbroken bottle of whiskey.  But Natayo still doesn't tell MacDonald. 

A small orphan boy keeps watching the white men.  MacDonald blows on a whistle and then sets the whistle down on a rock to let the boy come and take it.  Then MacDonald backs up.  The boy takes it and seems thrilled with the whistle.  A little later he comes back with a small whistle made from the wing bone of an eagle for MacDonald.  A little later the boy, named Comes Running, says he wants to be MacDonald's son.  MacDonald seems willing to make him his son. 

Konah is working his mischief and tries to suck MacDonald into a fight with a brave.  Standing Bear tells MacDonald that he and Natayo can go, but the hostages will stay here as they were taken in war and that is their custom.  The Cree see an optical illusion. It looks like a large steam boat on a lake in the far distance.   MacDonald says this is a sign from the Great White Queen.  It's a sign that the council decided wrong.  It's a warning.  So now Standing Bear says they will grant him a council. 

At the council Standing Bear says that the Cree people are starving.  MacDonald says this is why it's important that the Cree return to their reserve.  And the two hostages must be set free.  Konah objects to this second command from the queen, because he says he caught them and the hostages are his.  MacDonald says the queen will have no one be a slave to another.   Konah says MacDonald can have the white man hostage, but his younger brother is going to marry the white woman hostage.  The marriage will take place, he says. 

Standing Bear says the council will decide this matter.  The council agrees to return to the reserve.  Konah is furious about this and he and his small band walk off.  

MacDonald tells Natayo that he wants him to go to the facility at Maple Creek and tell them to fill 25 Red River carts with pemican, beef, tea, flour and potatoes.  Then Natayo will take the carts west to meet the tribe heading north.  Before MacDonald lets him go, he asks him about that white male hostage.  Natayo says he is an escaped prisoner from the Winnipeg jail.  His name is Johnny Pierce and he was a bank robber. 

Shemawgun, the brother of Konah, comes into the tent of the hostages to tell the white woman that he will come for her tomorrow  She will be his bride.  MacDonald is right there to tell Shemawgun that the council has decided differently.  But Shemawgun still says he is coming for her in the morning.  He now leaves the tent.  The bank robber starts making fun of the Mounted Policeman and MacDonald grabs him by his collar and tells him is putting him on warning that he better not even try to spoil the peace agreement he made with Standing Bear and the council. 

Here comes Shemawgun in the morning.  Along with him he has brought five ponies.  Johnny Pierce sees him coming.  He pulls up a large stake with which to hit the Indian. Johnny crawls underneath the tent and gets out.  He sneaks up on Shemawgun and the two men start fighting.  Johnny kills the smaller brave with the brave's own hatchet.  Before dying the man screamed out with pain.  This brings the warriors running toward Johnny, who manages to get on an Indian pony.  That's as far as he gets, however, because he is surrounded by a large number of braves.  They pull him off the horse.

Konah now wants revenge on  the white man.  They tie his bound feet to two different ponies.  They will ride in different directions and pull Johnny apart.  MacDonald comes over and tells Konah that he has no right to punish this bad man.  The queen herself will assign the punishment for the man.  Konah gives the order for the two horsemen to ride in different directions.  But MacDonald spoils the show by cutting the ropes.  It looks like MacDonald may be killed but Standing Bear intervenes again.  The problem is that the people so badly want to kill the white hostage that they give the chief a hard time.  The chief says he has lost the faith of the people and now they can make Konah their chief. 

An old Indian woman comes forward to squash the idea of Konah ever becoming a replacement for Standing Bear.  She says that the pony soldier speaks with straight tongue and Standing Bear speaks with wisdom.  Konah leaves in a huff.  The Cree start to go back to their teepees.  MacDonald now tells the white hostage that he knows he is Johnny Pierce and he will experience great pleasure in taking him back to prison.  Johnny knocks MacDonald down and grabs his Enfield rifle.  He then jumps on the back of an Indian pony.  He tries to get away but MacDonald shoots him with his pistol and Johnny falls off the horse.  MacDonald tells Johnny that he will stay here as a prisoner of the Cree until he comes back to get him.  

MacDonald tells Comes Running and the white woman that they will be leaving in three days.  But Konah is up to no good again.   Konah and his men cut the tent open and grab the woman.  She is placed over Konah's pony and Konah rides out of the village.  Comes Running tried to protect the woman, but he was just pushed away.  Later the boy gets on his pony and rides out to find MacDonald and Standing Bear.  He finds them and tells them what happened.  As luck would have it, they can see Konah and his men just up on a ridge.  Comes Running is told to go back to the camp.  The two men now start chasing the outlaws.

MacDonald runs into Comes Running and tells him he has to obey his father when father tells him what to do.   Comes Running just says that he didn't want to lose his father and be an orphan again. 

Konah is going to burn up the white woman and destroy her bad medicine. 

MacDonald now rejoins Standing Bear and they go after Konah and his men.  They catch up with them and a little skirmish develops.  Konah jumps off a rock and onto MacDonald below.  He then tries to kill the red coat with his knife.  MacDonald punches Konah in the face and then just pushes him over the side of a cliff.   But Konah is not yet dead.  He climbs up the cliff and tries to kill MacDonald with a bow and arrow he took off one of his warriors.  Comes Running shouts a warning and then fires an arrow into Konah.   Both the chief and MacDonald are highly proud of the actions of Comes Running.  So they are all safe, including the former female hostage.

"And so Constable MacDonald single-handed returned Standing Bear and his Cree to their reserve.  It has been this same devotion to duty of many another on many a difficult patrol that through three-quarters of a century has shaped and formed the living tradition and greatness of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

 

Good story for both Canadians and Americans, as well as others.  The Americans chose to deal with the Indians by the use of the army.  In other words, the problem of the Native Americans was a military problem.  The Canadians, by contrast, chose to use the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  In other words, the problem of the Native Canadians was seen as a police matter and not one for the army.  The one approach leads to a lot of killing, where the other leads to the Native Canadians being more likely to live on a reservation without all the killing. 

Canada was always more orderly than the USA.  They sent tough lawmen out west to make sure that there was law in the western provinces.  The USA has always took a very laissez-faire approach which ended in a great number of deaths by violence in the American west.  The USA approach was one of everyone start moving out west with no real protection and no law.  The Americans belatedly send out police forces.  Everything was handled by the army but while the Army can kill a lot of Indians they can't really bring daily law and order to an area.  But, of course, there were many times where the army had to be invited in.  It's a contrast with planning things as compared to letting things happen as they happen without any or little planning. 

The film is enjoyable to watch with lots of action and danger in it.  I thought the film could have used a love story, as there was basically one woman and she only had a role of a hostage. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

Fort Walsh was located in the Cypress Hills in the southwest corner of Saskatchewan, Canada. Cypress Hills was a meeting place and crossroads for many different peoples: Mounties, First Nations, Metis, fur traders and whiskey traders.

since 1869 -- American adventurers had been trading rot-gut whiskey on Canadian territory.

1873 (Sunday, June 1) -- in the Cypress Hills there were at least four trading posts. Between them they employed at least thirteen whiskey traders. The scene of the Cypress Hills massacre was near two of them. Moses Solomon operated one whiskey-fort, and a short distance away across the stream which would become known as Battle Creek, the other was owned by Abel Farwell. Both of these men, and most of their hired help, were Americans based out of Fort Benton, Montana; a boomtown and hide depot 150 miles south-southwest of the Cypress Hills. In the massacre more than twenty Nakota, including some women and children, were killed. One of the wolfers was also killed.

1873 (mid-August) -- news of the Cypress Hills Massacre reached Ottawa. The Massacre made it apparent that Canada must do something quickly to police its vast North West Territory. Reports of increasing violence and illegal whiskey-trading had been filtering in for some time, but the government was moving slowly to deal with the problems. News of the massacre hastened recruitment and organization of the new police force.

1874 -- the N.W.M.P. were dispatched to the West the following year. One of the first duties of the North West Mounted Police when they arrived in the West the following year was to investigate the events of the Cypress Hills Massacre.

1875 (spring) -- the investigations led to the arrest of eight of the participants by United States authorities. The violence of that day in June, 1873 would go unpunished.

1875 --establishment of Fort Walsh. The for was named for its builder, inspector James Morrow Walsh It became the most important, largest and most heavily armed fort the North West Mounted Police garrisoned during their early years in the West. The internationally recognized image of the RCMP mounted on black horses was born at Fort Walsh. It was located in the heart of Cypress Hills.

1875-1883 -- the North West Mounted Police and the fort played a key role: in imposing Canadian law and in implementing Canada's Indian policy. Through diplomacy and conciliation, the North-West Mounted Police avoided much of the violence that often characterized other frontiers. The garrison had at times been as high as 150 men. The story of Fort Walsh includes such historical figures as: Jerry Potts; Sitting Bull; James Walsh; Big Bear; James Macleod; Alfred Terry; White Bird; Little Pine; Sam Steele; Spotted Eagle; Rain-in-the-Face; Gall; Nelson Miles; Chief Joseph; Lief Crozier; John A. Macdonald; and George Armstrong Custer.

1876 -- following the Battle of the Little Big Horn (Custer's defeat) Fort Walsh supervised the Lakota who fled to Canada under Tantanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull). After the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876 groups of American Natives began to move increasingly towards the Canadian border, as they contemplated Canada as a possible refuge from the American Army which pursued them. The Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 would drive almost five thousand of these people into the vicinity of Wood Mountain, near the present-day Grasslands National Park. This produced what came to be called the Lakota Refugee Crisis.

1877 (October)  --  The Nez Perce people, under chiefs Joseph, Ollicot, Looking Glass and others, had just finished fighting a running fight with the U.S. military all the way from Idaho, across Montana, to the Bear Paw Mountains just southeast of Fort Walsh, on the American side of the border. On Snake Creek, just to the north of the Bears Paw, Colonel Nelson Miles finally caught up to the 700 or so Nez Perce. He surrounded the camp, brought in artillery, and, after a battle that lasted several days, forced Chief Joseph to surrender. By this time many people had been killed, including most of the other chiefs. About two hundred Nez Perce under chief White Bird escaped. They made it into Canada, where the Nez Perce had been heading, and they rode into Sitting Bull's camp about ten days prior to the date of the Terry Commission.

late 1877 -- the American government sent a delegation under General Alfred Terry to Fort Walsh to speak to the Lakota leaders, but this delegation, known as the Terry Commission, failed to produce results.

1878-1882 -- Fort Walsh served as headquarters for the North West Mounted Police.

late 1879 -- Walsh and his American counterparts were able to convince most of the refugees to return to the U.S. Sitting Bull, however, remained in Canada with about one thousand of his people.

by 1881 (July) -- Sitting Bull's following only numbered a few hundred people.

1881 (July 17) -- accompanied by a few mounties, Sitting Bull's small band was delivered to American authorities at the border.

by 1881 -- with Canadian Natives moving to reserves, it was no longer necessary to have so many men patrolling the border, and Fort Walsh's importance declined.

 

From:  Fort Walsh National Historic Site of Canada;  http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/sk/walsh/natcul/histo.aspx

 

 

 

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