Sitting Bull (1954)

 

 

 

Director:     Sidney Salkow.

Starring:     Dale Robertson (Major Robert 'Bob' Parrish),  Mary Murphy (Kathy Howell),  J. Carrol Naish (Sitting Bull),  John Litel (Gen. Wilford Howell),  Joel Fluellen (Sam),  Iron Eyes Cody (Crazy Horse),  John Hamilton (President Ulysses S. Grant),  Douglas Kennedy (Col. Custer),  William Tannen (O'Connor),  William Hopper (Charles Wentworth),  Thomas Browne Henry (Indian Agent Webber).

Events around Custer's last stand at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Dale Robertson as a major in the cavalry who urges his superiors to be more humane to their Indian charges and gets in serious trouble.  .

 

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

Black Hills, South Dakota.  Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux watches the coming of the white man with a sad heart.  The Chief and the Sioux warriors need the food of the wagon train of the miners.  They attack the wagon train and the miners head for the hills abandoning the wagons.  The Sioux will need the food for their journey to the Rosebud. 

The miners run into Major Bob Parrish and the cavalry.  They tell him what happened and demand that the cavalry act against the Sioux.  Major Parrish points out that the miners are in the Black Hills illegally  -- this is Indian territory.  But this does not stop the miners from continuing to demand that the cavalry attack the Indians.  One of the miners threatens Parrish with reporting him to his superiors.  Parrish tells the miners to head for the fort and the cavalry will proceed behind them. 

Major Parrish reports to General Howell.  Colonel Custer is with the General.  They have already received the complaints from the miners.  Custer censors Parrish and his actions.  He admits that it is illegal for the miners to be in the Black Hills, but his rules are "not set in concrete"; he should have done something.  Parrish is punished by being sent to the Red Rock Indian Agency for one year.  His job will be to police the Sioux there.  The General wants to talk to his daughter Kathy about her fiancÚ's behavior. 

When Parrish speaks with Kathy she tells him that their engagement is over: "We're finished."  She says that he could be commanding a regiment now if he only did the best he could:  "You have to want to be the best.  A woman wants to be proud of her husband. . . . Good-bye, Bob."  She returns the engagement ring to him. 

Parrish takes his unit and starts for the Red Rock Agency.  The cavalry comes upon a Sioux warrior stumbling across a field.  Parish stops for him and finds out that he is Young Buffalo, the son of Sitting Bull.  They give him some water and then let him leave. 

Young Buffalo makes it back to his village.  His wife White Cloud rushes to him.  Young Buffalo tells his village that they are starving at the Red Rock Agency.  Crazy Horse councils war.  Young Buffalo decides that he will go back to the Agency.  Sitting Bull only says:  "I will try to make peace with the white man." 

Parrish and his men arrive at Red Rock. The first thing Parrish does is examine the stockade.  He is disgusted at the way the Sioux are being treated there.  The head of the Agency, Webber, says that they are all "renegades" and don't deserve better."  Parrish says that Webber is trying to starve the Sioux into obedience.  Parrish relieves Captain Swain and his cavalry unit.  He then goes to see Webber.  Parrish lists his complaints, but Webber only tells him:  "You are not running the Agency, Major." 

In the stockade the inmates are making weapons.  Young Buffalo arrives at the stockade.  He climbs the fence and gets inside.  The Sioux are planning a break out.  They are only being fed once a day.  Parrish tastes the food and finds it disgusting.  The stuff "would sicken a hog", he says.  He forces Webber's face into a bowl of the stuff to get him to try some. 

The prisoners start their break out.  The nearby horses stampede.  The Sioux set buildings and other structures afire.  Parrish refuses to have his men fire on the Sioux.  In fact, the cavalry opens the main gate to let the Sioux escape.  Webber is furious.  He shoots Young Buffalo as he tries to help a woman and child. 

Kathy arrives at the Agency and Bob greets her.  They kiss.  She has had a change of heart.  Webber places Parish under arrest to await a court-martial.  This gets Kathy upset at Bob once again. 

Young Buffalo makes it back to his village, but dies.  Sitting Bull grieves over his son.  They lay Young Buffalo to rest.

Parrish gets a chance to speak with President Ulysses S. Grant.  He starts raising his voice when talking to Grant, who responds:  "Explain your actions and don't yell at me."  Grant says that he may have gotten the medal of honor but discipline seems to be the thorn in Parrish's side.     Parrish tells Grant that Sitting Bull is the only one keeping the peace in the area and urges him to talk personally with Sitting Bull.  Grant says that the Major's punishment is to be busted down to the rank of captain.  Parrish learns that gold has been discovered in the Black Hills and the rush is on. 

As more white people rush into the Black Hills illegally, Sitting Bull becomes angry.  He decides to get together all of the seven Sioux nations, including the Cheyenne and the Crow and "all our cousins".  Runners are send out to the various villages. 

Captain Parrish returns.  He runs into Kathy and they talk briefly.  She says that she has a new boyfriend.  Kathy then introduces Parrish to Charles Wentworth, a war correspondent who Parrish has heard of because of his reports.  There is obviously some friction between Wentworth and Parrish.  Some new Indian prisoners are brought in.  Parrish goes to the stockade to speak with them.  There is a former black slave with them named Sam who can speak Sioux and English.  Parrish says he wants the small group to take him to Sitting Bull.  Parrish reports to General Howell and requests the release of the five prisoners.  The General objects but Parrish pulls out a letter from President Grant giving him the authority to handle the negotiations with the Sioux.  The General is impressed. 

Parrish shows up at Kathy's place.  Charles leaves saying:  "You two owe each other a talk."  Parrish warns Kathy:  "Marry in haste, repent in leisure."  He kisses her.  Parrish then places the engagement ring on a serving platter on the dining table and leaves.  Kathy and Charles go out for a ride.  He asks her if she is worrying about Bob.  She denies that and wants to leave with him for Boston.  But Charles thinks there might be some important news breaking any minute and wants to wait for a few days. 

When Parrish arrives with the five former captives, he is taken prisoner.  Sam speaks up in defense of Parrish.  Parrish defends himself by saying:  "I come for the big chief of all white men."  In order to prove himself, he will have to fight Crazy Horse.  He does so and defeats Crazy Horse.  Sitting Bull agrees to listen to the words from the big chief of the white men.  The captain urges Sitting Bull to move his braves across the river and the cavalry will stay on this side of the river.  Parrish also promises to bring the president out to speak with the chief.  Sitting Bull gives Parrish up to the time when the moon is full.  Parrish and Sam return to the fort.  The Captain speaks with the General, who tells him:  "It doesn't make sense.  Grant won't do it!" 

The various Indian tribes gather together.  Crazy Horse wants to start fighting right away, but Sitting Bull says he gave his word to Captain Parrish to wait until the moon is full. 

Sam talks with the Captain about his future plans.  Parrish tells him that Sam is free to leave at any time, but Sam says he will stay.  Kathy talks with Charles telling him:  "I want you to take me away from here."  They kiss.  Charles tells her to be ready at sun-up.  Sam tells Parrish:  You fight Indians, but you're scared of a woman.  Charles talks with Parrish telling him good-bye.  Parrish goes to see Kathy and tells her that she doesn't love Charles and promises that he is going to stop her from leaving one way or the other. 

A telegraph arrives saying that Grant is coming out to the fort.  Sam heads out to tell Sitting Bull the news.  Parrish says he is going forward with Custer.  He then goes to see Charles to tell him that Grant is coming and that he can't afford to leave without getting the story.  At the Sioux village, Sitting Bull says that the war paint is ready.  He marks his face with two large red stripes.  Custer and his troops (including Parrish's unit) moves out of the fort.  Charles accompanies Parrish.  Kathy looks sad to see them go.  Sam arrives at the village and tells Sitting Bull that the president is coming.  The Chief then tells his braves that there will be no war. 

In the field Custer splits up into three groups.  One under Reno who will proceed to the Little Big Horn River; one under Benteen who will be the rearguard; and himself.  Parrish is given the assignment of clearing the area of miners.  Charles receives a letter from Kathy.  He tells Parrish that Kathy has had another change of hard.  He gives him back the engagement ring.  Charles then speaks with Custer.  He tells him that Captain Parrish thinks there is no Indian plan for war.  Charles adds that Parrish says there are thousands of Indians.  Custer dismisses the ideas. 

Parrish travels to the area where the miners are working.  He tells them:  "Strike your tents!"  His unit then proceeds to another miner encampment.  One of the cavalry units spot two Indian scouts.  They kill one of them and mortally wound another, but the latter is at least able to get back to his village with the news.  Sitting Bull tells the others:  "Go, make your war!"  The Indians attack Captain Parrish.  There are so many attackers that Parrish orders a retreat.  The Indians then descend on Custer and his men.  There is a running battle as Custer heads for a high spot on the plain.  Custer and a small group of cavalry form a circle and fight the Indians from there. 

Sam helps get Parrish out of a deadly situation.  Bob then fights to save the white women and children.   He is hit with an arrow.  Sam is able to pull it out. 

Custer is completely surrounded as man after man is killed.  Custer is the last one to be killed.  Captain Parrish is the first one on the scene following the massacre of Custer and his men.  Charles Wentworth is among the dead.  The Indians celebrate their victory.  But General Terry and his men are only a day's ride away.  Parrish goes to see Sitting Bull who tells him that he speaks with a forked tongue.  To prove that he has been sincere with the Chief, Parrish says he knows a way out of the area for the Indians.  Sitting Bull says Parrish will go with them to make sure it is not a trap.  Parrish keeps his word and leads the Sioux out of the area.  Now Sitting Bull is wondering if the whites will punish Parrish for helping them.  Parrish says that the white chiefs will understand. 

General Terry arrives to attack the Indian village, but only finds Captain Parrish there.  He is absolutely stunned when Parrish tells him that he led the Indians out of the area.  Terry puts Parrish under arrest.  Back at the fort, Bob receives the death penalty.  Kathy speaks with President Grant in an attempt to save Parrish.  The President says that his hands are tied. Sam tells Kathy that the Indians are going to lose all faith in the white man's word if they execute Parrish.  Kathy tells Sam that only one man can make that clear to the men in charge:  Sitting Bull.  She sends Sam to get Sitting Bull to come. 

Parrish is stripped of his rank insignia and put up against a wall to face the firing squad.  Just as the execution is about to take place, the guards shout that the Indians are coming.  And with them now is not only Sam, but Kathy too.  Sitting Bull and Grant are introduced to each other.  The Chief explains that he has been working for many years for peace.  He asks:  "Why kill this man?"  Parrish has worked for peace on both sides of the conflict.  He adds:  "For all time Indians will respect this man."  Furthermore, Parrish had told him that the great white chief would understand what he did. 

Parrish is saved from execution.  Kathy is reunited with the Captain. Sitting Bull leaves. 

 

Pretty good movie, but not very accurate historically speaking,  (Being sarcastic:  I never knew there were four, not three, groups fighting the Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn:  Custer, Reno and Benteen plus this Captain Parrish fellow.)  Custer had been involved in the Black Hills, but this is separate from his assignment to find and catch the Indians and then fight them.  Custer split his forces because he was certain he could defeat the Indians if he could just find them.  He did not know where they were and, certainly, did not know that a vast number of Indians had all gathered together along the Little Big Horn River.  What he saw as the Indian village was only a part of the vast number of tepees.  When he and his men charged the village they ran into a hornet's nest.  Custer and his men had to run for their lives and lost many men along their way to the little rise on the plain where Custer and his men were killed.  The Indians also gave Reno's group a beating, but they were able to get a better defensive position and hold on until the Indians left and help arrived.  The Battle of Little Big Horn was an Indian victory, but it was ultimately self-defeating.  It was the nation's centennial celebration and the people regarded Custer as a hero (a legitimate one from the Civil War actually).  They wanted revenge.  Except for the Apaches, this proved the end of the last big resistance of the Indians to the incursions of the whites. 

The love story was flawed because they at first made the woman character, Kathy, into a spoiled little brat who kept changing her mind.  I wanted to see her punished for her selfishness before Captain Parrish reunited with her.   Dale Robertson was good as Major/Captain Parrish.  The Custer character was a mere caricature of the real man. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. d.

 

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