Saskatchewan (1954)

 

 

Director:     Raoul Walsh. 

Starring:     Alan Ladd (Thomas O'Rourke),  Shelley Winters (Grace Markey),  J. Carrol Naish (Batouche),  Hugh O'Brian (Carl Smith),  Robert Douglas (Benton),  George J. Lewis (Lawson),  Richard Long (Patrick J. Scanlon),  Jay Silverheels (Cajou),  Antonio Moreno (Chief Dark Cloud),  Frank Chase (Keller),  Lowell Gilmore (Banks). 

spring 1877, Canadian Mounted Police deal with the Sioux and the Cree after the Custer massacre

 

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

"The motion picture you are about to see was photographed in the locales where the actual events upon which it is based occurred. . . . events that gravely threatened the peaceful development of western Canada."

Saskatchewan River Country, Spring 1877.  Thomas O'Rourke challenges his pal Cajou to a shooting contest.  O'Rourke throws up a stick for Cajou to shoot in the air.  Cajou hits it on one end.  Cajou now throws a stick up for Tom and he shoots it right through the middle.  Then they decide to race to the falls.  When Cajou comes up on the falls he finds Tom already there.  As they keep riding they find some burned out wagons.  Someone hiding under a tarp starts shooting at them.  Tom works his away around to the tarp and discovers that the shooter is a pretty, young woman.  She tells Tom that she was on her way to Battleford.  She also says that it was the Indians who attacked them.  When she sees Cajou, she screams in fright.  Cajou says that it was not his people because the Cree do not make war.  Tom says he will escort her to the mounted police in Saskatchewan. 

She says she wants to go to Battleford and points her gun at Tom.  Tom takes the pistol away from her.  He says she is going to the mounted police, because she would get lost for sure trying to make it to Battleford.  They move out.  Later the  woman asks them to stop because she is so tired, she can't go on.  When they stop, she climbs on the Indian pony and races away.  Tom decides to just let her go.  But the woman doesn't get far because she runs into a band of Indians.  She quickly turns back as the Indians chase her.

Tom and Cajou kill two of the four Indians giving chase and the other two race away.  The woman turns and comes back to Tom and Cajou.  Cajou says these Indians are American Sioux.  It's very unusual to find the Sioux in Canada. 

The three travelers reach their destination.  The woman starts asking Cajou a lot of questions about Tom, until Cajou tells her she asks too many questions.  Tom changes into the clothes of a mounted policeman and the woman is shocked to see he's a police officer.  Batoche, a scout for the police, comes up to greet Tom and Cajou.  He takes a look at a hatchet Cajou took from one of the dead Sioux and says it's definitely the Sioux.  Batoche says the hatchet is one from the Crazy Horse band.  They have been crossing the border for some time now.  They just recently wiped out the 7th Cavalry under Col. George Armstrong Custer in Montana.   

Policeman Patrick J. Scanlon likes the new woman and tries to impress her.  Soon police officers are all around her and she calls out to Tom for help.  The head of the police Benton comes out and tells the men to get back on detail.  Tom salutes and introduces himself to Benton.  He also introduces Grace Markey to him.  She tells Benton that she must get to Battleford.  Benton tells her two wagons are coming here and they will be heading to Battleford.  Tom advises against her going. 

Benton sees Cajou with his rifle and demands that he turn the rifle in.  Tom tells Benton that neither the Indian nor he understands what he is talking about.  Meanwhile, Cajou decides to get out of there pronto.  He takes off.  Benton tells Tom to get the Indian, but Tom refuses.  Benton says Tom has been too friendly with the Indians, but he will put a stop to that very quickly.  He tells Tom to bring the Indian back. 

Batoche tells Tom that Benton came from England and ever since he heard about the wipeout of Custer and his soldiers, he has been very scared.  He is also afraid of the Sioux getting together with the Cree.  Tom says the Cree won't join the Sioux.  But then Batoche shows him all the weapons Benton confiscated from the Cree.  Such an act does not set well with the Cree.  Tom heads out to visit the Cree. 

Tom speaks to Cajou's father, Chief Dark Cloud.  Cajou comes out of the chief's tent and says his father has becomes like a child.  The soldiers have taken the weapons they need to procure food for their families.  The Sioux tell them that they will give them guns and ammunition.  Tom demands that Cajou give him his rifle.  Cajou throws the rifle on the ground, as he says that there is no friendship left between them.  He then walks away from Tom. 

Tom returns with the rifle.  He asks Benton for permission to keep the rifle and Benton grants him permission.  An American arrives at the fort.  He tells Benton that his name is Carl Smith and he is a U.S. marshal.  He is looking for a woman who is headed for Battleford by the name of Grace Markey.  Benton says she is here at the fort.  Smith explains that he has to take her back to Great Falls, Montana because she is wanted for killing a man.  Benton sends Tom to fetch Miss Markey.  The marshal follows Tom and tells Grace he is taking her back.  Smith tells Tom that the man she killed was his brother. 

Batoche tells Tom that a messenger has just arrived from Fort Walsh and the inspector wants to see him right away.  Fort Walsh is a march of two to three days southeast of Fort Saskatchewan.  Fort Saskatchewan has to be closed and all their forces sent to Fort Walsh immediately. 

Tom gets the mounted police ready to move out.  Grace and the marshal will go with them as far as Fort Walsh.  The column moves out.  The marshal complains about the sullen Indians watching them as they move out.  Batoche says peace is better than war and they have been able to keep the peace in Canada with a force of less than 300 men. because they treat Indians like human beings.  As the column fades into the distance, a band of Sioux ride up to speak to the Cree.  Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse wait to sit in council with the Cree chiefs. 

The column passes by the great falls.  They also pass by the ambush sight of Markey's group.  Five Cree comes to speak with Benton.  They ask for guns and ammunition because they are hungry and need to hunt.  The Indian spokesman grabs a rifle and takes off.  The marshal shoots the man in the back.  Tom hits the marshal in the face and knocks him down.  Benton defends the marshal's action, but Batoche warns Benton that they better get the other four Cree quickly because they will certainly inform the Cree and the Sioux of this offense.   Benton sends a detail to go after the other Cree. 

The column now bivouacs by the stream.  Grace talks with Tom.  The marshal interrupts them.  It is apparent that the marshal has a crush on Grace.  He says he could still change his mind about taking her in, if she would cooperate with him.  Grace says he has nothing to say to her that she wants to hear.  The four horses of the police comes back during the night.  Benton gives the order to move out.  Batoche and Tom try to convince him to leave the wagons behind, because the wagons will force them to stay on the open road and that will provide an excellent opportunity for a Sioux ambush. Benton says he is under orders to bring the wagons. 

The Sioux set up an ambush.  The mounted police will have to cross the Saskatchewan River into a big open area.  Batoche doesn't like the idea.  The horses have a hard time pulling the wagons across the river.  The Sioux open fire on the police while the police are still crossing the river.  Tom releases the horses from one of the wagons and brings the horses to safety.  The Sioux start pulling off the gunpowder from the stranded wagon.  So the police fire on the wagon until it explodes. 

Patrick J. Scanlon is shot and wounded.  Benton orders the march to continue, but again Tom begs him to leave the rest of the wagons behind and head into the mountains because the Sioux will soon have a hundred warriors in the area.  But Benton won't violate his orders.  So Tom tells Benton that in that case, he's not going with his superior officer.   Benton tells the sergeant to place O'Rourke under arrest, but the sergeant says he agrees with O'Rourke.  Batoche also supports O'Rourke.  Benton pulls a gun on O'Rourke, but when he pulls the trigger the weapon just goes click.  Tom takes the gun away from Benton.  (Tom saw the officer take the bullets out of his pistol earlier.)  Benton abandons command and O'Rourke takes over.  The marshal tells O'Rourke to keep himself and his men away from his prisoner. 

O'Rourke is going to take a short cut through the mountains to water and then go by water down to Fort Walsh.  From the mountains they can see a large band of Cree arriving on the plains.  O'Rourke and Batoche figure that the Cree are headed for a powwow with the Sioux.  Patrick screams out in his delusion and one of the Sioux with the Cree heads up the mountains to investigate.  The police know they must get back on the move quickly.  The Sioux spots the police and signals to the Sioux and Cree to come up. 

The police ride their horses along the lake bank to cover their tracks, but the Indians find where they came out of the lake again.  O'Rourke has the men stop and set up camp for the night.  Grace goes to check on Patrick.  The marshal pulls Grace away from Patrick.  Grace slaps the marshal and the marshal throws her down.  O'Rourke hits the marshal three times and knocks him down again.  Grace now talks with Tom.  She says she never killed anybody.  The marshal's brother was in love with her and she thought she was in love with him.  Indian sounds interrupt the conversation.  Luckily, just the scouts are there.  O'Rourke tells his men to get ready to move out.  Batoche climbs up a tree and gives the all clear sound tot he scouts.  A Sioux scout moves up along with others.  O'Rourke fights with two of them, while Batoche takes on another one.  They handle the three Indians, but then two more attack them.  They knock out or kill them too, but one scout gets away. 

Patrick wants to be left behind, but O'Rourke tells him to get on his horse.  He is able to get back into his saddle.  The column moves out.  They reach Bow Lake.  Now they have to get on the water to head for Fort Walsh.  They spot the Sioux who are now only one to two hours away from them.  The police will get to the trapper's cabin and get into the boats.  But as they near the cabin, they see the cabin and boats have been burned.  Now criticism of O'Rourke begins. 

O'Rourke and Batoche follow the sounds of drums to the Sioux camp.  There they see both Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.  Across the lake is the Cree camp.  They are getting ready for the powow and they have boats.  The two men return to the police .  O'Rourke gives the order to take the gun powder and supplies off the horses and let them go.  They won't need them anymore.  While the Sioux and Cree hold their powwow, a group of police steal some of the canoes of the Indians. 

The canoes arrive.  The men start loading up the canoes.  The marshal puts the moves on Grace trying to force her to go alone with him.  She resists and O'Rourke comes to her rescue once again.  The marshal is going to shoot O'Rourke after admitting that Grace is right with her charge that he killed his own brother, when Benton saves the day by killing the marshal.  The shot, however, lets the Sioux and Cree know that the police are nearby. 

The police run for the canoes and take off as the Indians approach.  The whites are already out into the middle of the lake.  The Indians now rush to their other canoes and give chase.  The police pull over to the shore.  O'Rourke gives the order to carry the canoes to the Bow River.  He stops the men and tells them to pile up the gunpowder in one place.  They do so and then O'Rourke pours a gun powder trail and then lights it.  Just as the Indians run past the gunpowder it goes off, killing quite a few of them. 

The police bring the canoes to the Bow River and get in them.  O'Rourke changes out of his uniform and tells Batoche that he will stay and talk to the Cree Chief  Dark Cloud, the father of Cajou.  Batoche tells O'Rourke that won't be easy to do.  O'Rourke responds that he has nothing to lose.  Grace takes exception to this, saying that she is very fond of him and hoping for a relationship with him.  O'Rourke tells Batoche to take her and put her in a canoe.  They leave. 

O'Rourke comes into the Cree village. He talks with Dark Cloud who tells O'Rourke that the Sioux say they will make war on the Cree, if they don't join them.   O'Rourke says as long as the Cree choose the path of peace, he can assure the chief that he will get his weapons and ammunition.  Cajou tells his father not to believe what O'Rourke says.  But the chief tells his son that this is a matter he will decide for himself.  He tells Cajou to get O'Rourke a horse.  O'Rourke gets on the horse and heads out.  He reaches Fort Walsh. 

His  men, however, are all in the guard house.  The guard at the gate takes O'Rourke's weapons and takes him to see Superintendent Banks.  Batoche is happy to see O'Rourke come in.  Grace is not so happy.  She wanted him to get away, because they are talking about court-martialing him.  She says she is leaving for Montana in a little while.  She had hoped to see him there.  The guard breaks off their conservation. 

Speaking to the superintendent, O'Rourke warns him that the Sioux are preparing for war and won't listen to him.  It's too late.  The superintendent doesn't seem to believe him and has O'Rourke put in the guard house.  Benton tells the superintendent that O'Rourke is probably right.  The superintendent reluctantly agrees with this, but says he and Benton can't afford to take orders as lightly as did O'Rourke. 

The mounted police ride out of Fort Walsh headed for the Sioux.  The Sioux, however, are very near the fort and they see the police leave it.  Cajou comes over the wall.  With Grace helping by distracting the guard, Cajou overpowers the man and pushes him into the guard house where the men tie him up. O'Rourke and his men rush out of the guard house.  They get weapons and get into wagons filled with arms and ammunition.   They head out to save Banks.  Grace decides to stay behind, instead of going on to Montana. 

Banks finds himself surrounded by Sioux.  He has to order his men to take cover immediately as the Sioux charge the police.  O'Rourke brings the wagons to Dark Cloud and he arms his Cree warriors.  The police and Cree now head out to counter-attack the Sioux and save Banks. 

The Sioux retreat from the battle with Banks, but now prepare for a full scale attack on the police.  At this time O'Rourke and the Cree arrive to chase off the Sioux.  The Sioux cross over the river. 

O'Rourke and Dark Cloud meet with Banks.  Benton withdraws his charges against O'Rourke and his men.  O'Rourke and Cajou make up.  Now O'Rourke is sent to Montana with Grace.  He is to return after he has established her innocence.  O'Rourke gets into the driver's seat of a wagon and takes off with Grace headed for Montana. 

 

Good mounted policemen and Indians film.  There is a good basic story with a love story between Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters.  Ladd was pretty good in his role, but Winters seemed almost too powerful for the role.   Sitting Bull did go to Canada, but not to make an alliance with the Cree people and attack the Canadians.  His people and he lived in Canada for quite a few years before returning to the United States.  Crazy did not settle in Canada. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

Cree is one of the largest group of Aboriginals in North America.  They are located mainly across Canada, but for awhile lived in Minnesota and Montana. 

1877 (January 8) Crazy Horse fights his last major battle at Wolf Mountain against the US Cavalry in Montana Territory.

1877 (May) Sitting Bull refuses to surrender after the Custer massacre. He leads his people to Saskatchewan, Canada. He remains there for many years near Wood Mountain. He even refuses a pardon and a chance to return home.

1877 (May 5) cold and hunger force Crazy Horse and his people to surrender to US troops at Camp Robinson, Nebraska.

1877 (September 5)  --  Crazy is bayoneted at Camp Robinson, Nebraska while trying to escape.  Later that night he dies. 

1881 (July 19) hunger and cold eventually force Sitting Bull and his people to return to the USA and to surrender.

 

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