Soldier Blue (1970) 

 

 

 

Director:     Ralph Nelson. 

Starring:     Candice Bergen (Kathy Maribel Lee, 'Cresta'),  Peter Strauss (Honus Gant),  Donald Pleasence (Isaac Q. Cumber),  John Anderson (Col. Iverson),  Jorge Rivero (Spotted Wolf),  Dana Elcar (Capt. Battles),  Bob Carraway (Lt. McNair),  Martin West (Lt. Spingarn),  James Hampton (Pvt. Menzies),  Mort Mills (Sgt. O'Hearn),  Jorge Russek (Running Fox),  Aurora Clavel (Indian woman), Ralph Nelson (Agent Long).

fictionalized account of the Chivington 1864 Sand Creek Massacre

 

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

At a small village, the Colorado 11th cavalry escorting the pay wagon waits for someone in the outhouse.  The fellow finally comes out.  He is a Captain, the pay master.  The people running the general store tell the captain that she is all his now.  They are taking Kathy Maribel "Cresta" Lee, a white woman held captive by the Cheyenne for two years, to Fort Reunion where she is to be reunited with her fiancÚ.  The Captain tells his officers to send two flankers out to the side to watch for Cheyenne.  The two chosen as flankers are Willie, who was telling his comrades that he wanted a piece of the white woman, and his friend Private Honus Gant.  While they sit on their horses discussing their bad luck to be picked, Willie is shot through the cheeks and then is dragged by his horse for a short way.  Honus's horse is shot from under him and Honus goes down hard along with the horse. 

Meanwhile, the main body of Cheyenne descend on the pay master wagon train.  The order is given for the cavalry to take cover and fire at will.  They get some cover in a clump of bushes.  Cresta also hides in the bushes.  The fighting becomes hand to hand as the Indians approach the clump of bushes.  The Chief kills the soldier who jumped on his back.  Cresta climbs up to the top of the ridge.  The Captain puts up a white flag to talk with the Cheyenne, but he is immediately killed by a rifle shot to the chest.  Cresta sees Honus coming and shouts to him to get up to the top of the ridge with her.  She tells Honus that the big chief is Spotted Wolf.  Honus asks how could she knew it was Spotted Wolf.  She knows him alright; she was his wife. 

The 21 soldiers are massacred.  Following the battle, Cresta and Honus head down to the battlefield.  The soldiers have been scalped and some mutilated.  Honus is shocked when he sees Cresta "robbing" the dead.  She explains that they need supplies because they are going to have to walk the long distance to Fort Reunion.  Honus then tells her that Chief Spotted Wolf came at them because he wanted her back.  She tells him "bullshit".  (She is very profane in speech, which upsets Honus.)  Cresta says that the Cheyenne wanted the pay chest to pay for rifles.  Honus, who has a bit of survivor guilt, says that he should have been dead with the rest of the unit.  Cresta definitely disagrees.  Honus wants to say something over the bodies.  He decides to recite from Tennyson's poem about the English light calvary badly beaten in a suicide cavalry attack against artillery in the Crimean War. 

Honus and Cresta get themselves cleaned up at a pond.  She calls him "soldier blue".  Honus tells her about some of the terrible things the Indians have done to the whites, while Cresta tells him of the terrible things the soldiers have done to the Cheyenne.  Honus tells her that his father was killed in Custer's Battle of the Little Big Horn.  The two take different paths to the fort but run into each other again.  He comes down from the high ground to the stream valley below.  They take a break at a place overlooking the stream.  Honus has lost one of his socks and decides to backtrack to find it.  As he gets to the stream he finds a Kiowa Indian holding his sock out by his side.  Honus turns around and runs back to Cresta., but the Kiowa have already found Cresta.  Cresta tells the five Indians that they are all a bunch of women and that Honus can beat any one of them.  So Honus is challenged to a knife fight.  Honus is able to knock out the Indian, but refuses to kill him.  So one of the remaining four Indians kills the defeated Indian.  Then the Kiowa leave.

At night Cresta sleeps next to Honus.  She even puts her arm around him.  Honus is not used to such a forward woman. 

One night they lose their weapons when a flash flood descends on them.  After the waters subside, the two survivors move on.  They come upon the wagon of the post trader.  They examine the wagon as its owner Issac Q. Cumber approaches them with his rifle in hand.  Honus gets a suspicion that the man is selling rifles to the Cheyenne.  And that is why the Cheyenne attacked the convoy:; they wanted the cavalry's pay chests.  When Issac steps away from the area, Honus snoops around until he finds the false bottom and the stored rifles.  He wants to stop Isaac, but Cresta wants nothing to do with stopping Isaac.  Then it dawns on Honus. who says to Cresta:  "You've known it all along."  And sure enough Cresta actually met Isaac twice when she was with the Cheyenne.  Honus tells her:  "You're a traitor, Miss Lee." 

Isaac returns, knocks out Cresta and then gets the drop on Honus.  He ties up both of them and puts them in his wagon.  He leaves the two alone for awhile to go on an errand.  Cresta and Honus free themselves, but Cresta will not remove the rope binding Honus's hands behind his back.  Honus wants to destroy the rifles, but again Cresta won't allow this.  She says:  "I'm giving the Cheyenne something to keep them alive."  When he finds himself alone for a while,  Honus starts a fire under the wagon by using the burning wood from the cooking fire. Isaac returns to the burned wagon as Honus and Cresta ride away on one of Isaac's horses.  He chases after them.  From a distance Isaac fires his rifle and hits Honus in the thigh.  To slow Isaac's pursuit, Cresta runs a rope over the trail between a tree and a rock.  When Isaac's horse hits the rope he trips throwing both of them onto the ground.  Isaac slowly gets up with a sore leg.  Not being able to shake off Isaac, Cresta puts Honus in a cave, covers up their tracks and puts bushes in front of the cave opening to prevent the cave from being seen.  Isaac looks around the area of the cave but spots nothing suspicious.  He turns around to retrace his steps hoping to pick up their trail again.  

Cresta nurses and feeds Honus and brings him back to health.  Honus tells her she looks better than he has ever seen her before.  He kisses her. 

Cresta leaves the cave.  She had earlier told Honus that she could make more progress by traveling to Fort Reunion without him.  Honus goes to look for her without any luck.  Indian scouts for the cavalry spot Cresta and bring her into the camp of the 11th Cavalry.  Her fiancÚ Johnny sees her and rushes to her.  They hug each other.  Colonel Iverson refuses to send anyone back to get Honus.  This, of course, upsets Cresta.  She finds out from her fiance that the militia knows where the Cheyenne encampment is:  over by twin rock pass to Julesburg.  The cavalry will be there by tomorrow.  After finding out what she needed to know, Cresta gets a horse and rides off.  Meanwhile, Honus finds a horse. Cresta proceeds to the Cheyenne camp where she is warmly welcomed.  She is also greeted by her husband Spotted Wolf. 

Colonel Iverson speaks to his troops not far from the Cheyenne encampment.  He refers to the Cheyenne as godless barbarians.  While he talks two men on horseback ride up accompanying Private Gant also on horseback.  He describes what happened to him. 

Cresta tells Spotted Wolf that he must leave the area because the cavalry are coming their way.  But Spotted Wolf tells her he is friends with the Americans.  They gave him a US flag and a medal of friendship that he wears around his neck.  He then asks Cresta where is the love necklace he gave her.  Why isn't she wearing it?  She gave the necklace to Private Gant. 

Jonus wants a chance to speak with Cresta before the cavalry attack, but this idea is refused by the Colonel.  The Cheyenne start to approach the troops under a white flag to ask for a truce.  The Colonel ignores them and demands that the cannon open fire.  Honus tries to stop the firing, but is arrested.  The Cheyenne attack the troops as the cannon are firing on the Indian village.  The cavalry gets the upper hand in the fighting and then starts the attack on the village on both flanks.  The village looks as though it was abandoned.  But some of the women and children are hiding in the tepees.  The Chief shows up and attacks the whole cavalry by himself giving the Colonel a flesh wound.  The Chief receives a more serious wound.  Both men go down.  The Chief crawls into one of the teepees helped by a young boy.  The young boy is shot in the head and dies. 

Colonel Iverson gives the order to burn the village.  All hell breaks out as the women and children scream while trying to run for cover.  A cavalry man cuts off the head of a squaw with one blow of his sword.  Cresta is grabbed by a cavalryman and she ends up killing him with a sharp object from one of the tepees.  Honus comes looking for Cresta.  The Chief sees him and tries to kill Honus.  But just as the Chief is about to strike the killing blow, he sees his love necklace around the neck of Honus.  He hesitates and four cavalrymen jump on him.  They knife him to death.  Some of the cavalrymen rape some of the women they find.  (Then they have a bloody scene I won't describe.)  

Cresta hides with a large group of women and children.  The order is given to get the white woman out of there.  She is removed and then the cavalry starts shooting the women and children.  Colonel Iverson shoots a young Indian girl to death.  Following their great "victory" the militia celebrates wildly.  Honus finds the place of the massacre of the large number of women and children.  Cresta holds a dead Indian girl.  She asks Honus sarcastically:  "Got a prayer, Soldier Blue? . . .Say something pretty."  Honus just throws up.

Colonel Iverson congratulates his men.  "We have given the Indian a lesson he will not soon forget."  As the cavalry leaves, Cresta sees Honus and another captive in chains being pulled along tied to a moving wagon.  Honus shows Cresta that he still has her love necklace. 

On November 29, 1864 a unit of Colorado cavalry numbering over 700 men attacked a peaceful Cheyenne village at Sand Creek, Colorado.  The Indians raised the American flag and a white flag of surrender.  Nevertheless, the cavalry attacked massacring 500 Indians, more than half of whom were women and children.   Over 100 scalps were taken, bodies dismembered plus numerous reports of rape.  General Nelson A. Miles, army chief of staff, termed the massacre the foulest and most unjust crime in the annals of America. 

 

Pretty good movie since it keeps one's attention throughout.  But as far as history is concerned the story only bears a superficial resemblance to the truth.  (See below.)  The TV movie Centennial did a better job of portraying the massacre.  Both Candace Bergen and Peter Strauss performed well, including the man comical confrontations between the two main characters in the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See the review for the Centennial.

 

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