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HISTORY

This film opens with a narrated prologue providing the historical background to the meeting between the Sioux Indians and the U.S. Army. An epilogue states that the Sioux continued to live on their lands in peace for thirty years after the burning of the U.S. fort. Rumored to be the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake, the real-life James Bridger (1804--1881) was famous as a frontier guide and the founder of Fort Bridger. Although he surveyed the Bozeman Trail for the U.S. government, he was not involved in the Sioux uprising of 1866. The climax of Tomahawk is based on the Fetterman Massacre of 21 Dec 1866. No one among Col. William J. Fetterman's detachment of eighty men survived after being lured into an ambush carefully planned by Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. The fiasco caused a public furor which ended Col. Henry B. Carrington's military career; however, a number of historians have found Carrington's claim that Fetterman disobeyed orders, as depicted in the film, quite plausible. Red Cloud was a highly respected warrior and the principal planner of the strategy leading to the Fetterman Massacre. In Nov 1868, Red Cloud signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, in which a promise of peace was exchanged for the removal of U.S. forts from the Powder River area.
       According to correspondence dated 30 Jun 1950 contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Universal executives promoted their project as one which would "contribute greatly to the program of the Association on American Indian Affairs." While Tomahawk received mixed reviews, critics ... More Less

This film opens with a narrated prologue providing the historical background to the meeting between the Sioux Indians and the U.S. Army. An epilogue states that the Sioux continued to live on their lands in peace for thirty years after the burning of the U.S. fort. Rumored to be the first white man to see the Great Salt Lake, the real-life James Bridger (1804--1881) was famous as a frontier guide and the founder of Fort Bridger. Although he surveyed the Bozeman Trail for the U.S. government, he was not involved in the Sioux uprising of 1866. The climax of Tomahawk is based on the Fetterman Massacre of 21 Dec 1866. No one among Col. William J. Fetterman's detachment of eighty men survived after being lured into an ambush carefully planned by Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. The fiasco caused a public furor which ended Col. Henry B. Carrington's military career; however, a number of historians have found Carrington's claim that Fetterman disobeyed orders, as depicted in the film, quite plausible. Red Cloud was a highly respected warrior and the principal planner of the strategy leading to the Fetterman Massacre. In Nov 1868, Red Cloud signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie, in which a promise of peace was exchanged for the removal of U.S. forts from the Powder River area.
       According to correspondence dated 30 Jun 1950 contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Universal executives promoted their project as one which would "contribute greatly to the program of the Association on American Indian Affairs." While Tomahawk received mixed reviews, critics did take note of its sympathetic portrayal of the Sioux, with MPD praising the film for "present[ing] the Indian in a mature and intelligent perspective."
       According to HR news items, Charles Drake was originally cast as "Lt. Rob Dancy," but was replaced by Alex Nicol when Drake was cast in the 1950 Universal film Harvey (see the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). In Apr 1951, HR reported that Chill Wills was cast as a "roving philosopher-cowboy," but he did not appear in the final film. Other HR new items add the following actors to the cast: Richard Long, Chuck Robertson, Ben American Horse, James Red Cloud, Joseph High Eagle, Iron Hail, John Sitting Bull, Oglala Handka and Andrew Knife. Long was not in the released film, and the appearance of the other actors has not been confirmed. Location shooting for Tomahawk was done near Rapid City, South Dakota. A modern source adds Chief Bad Bear and Regis Toomey, in the role of "Smith," to the cast. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Jan 1951.
---
Daily Variety
8 Jan 1951.
---
Film Daily
8 Jan 51
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
13 Jan 51
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 50
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Apr 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Apr 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 May 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 50
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 50
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 51
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
8 Jan 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Jan 51
p. 662.
New York Times
16 Feb 51
p. 21.
New York Times
19 Feb 51
p. 19.
The Exhibitor
17 Jan 51
p. 3011.
Variety
10 Jan 51
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Suggested by a story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog
ART DIRECTORS
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Indian tech adv
Tech adv
Unit prod mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
Technicolor tech
Technicolor tech
DETAILS
Release Date:
February 1951
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 17 February 1951
Production Date:
25 May--late June 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co.
Copyright Date:
9 January 1951
Copyright Number:
LP620
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
81-82
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14766
SYNOPSIS

In 1866, in Wyoming, Sioux chiefs and officials of the U.S. Army meet to discuss a treaty that will enable the government to open the Bozeman trail through Sioux territory. Jim Bridger, a frontier scout and fur trader, speaks out passionately against the trail, arguing that it will destroy hunting ground crucial to the Sioux's survival. After Bridger reveals his knowledge that the government is already building a fort along the proposed trail, Chief Red Cloud angrily ends the meeting, but he promises that he will not go to war unless the Sioux are attacked first. Col. Carrington, the commander of Fort Phil Kearny, the Army's new installment, offers Bridger and his partner, Sol Beckworth, positions as scouts, but Bridger at first declines. He changes his mind, however, when Monahseetah, a young Cherokee girl to whom Bridger serves as guardian, points out Lt. Rob Dancy and whispers her suspicion that he participated in the massacre in which her entire tribe was killed. Shortly after, while escorting a wagon carrying vaudeville performers Dan Castello and his niece, Julie Madden, the Indian-hating Dancy shoots a Sioux teenager and keeps the murder a secret. Dan is seriously wounded by an arrow when the Sioux retaliate, but back at the fort, Dancy claims that the attack was unprovoked. Dancy attempts to impress Julie with tales of his Indian fighting days with the infamous Reverend Shivington and his renegade militia, the Colorado Volunteers. However, Julie is attracted to Bridger, who has saved her uncle's life by removing the arrow. Jealous, Dancy denounces Bridger as an Indian spy and "squaw man," claiming that Monahseetah is Bridger's common-law wife. Bridger returns ... +


In 1866, in Wyoming, Sioux chiefs and officials of the U.S. Army meet to discuss a treaty that will enable the government to open the Bozeman trail through Sioux territory. Jim Bridger, a frontier scout and fur trader, speaks out passionately against the trail, arguing that it will destroy hunting ground crucial to the Sioux's survival. After Bridger reveals his knowledge that the government is already building a fort along the proposed trail, Chief Red Cloud angrily ends the meeting, but he promises that he will not go to war unless the Sioux are attacked first. Col. Carrington, the commander of Fort Phil Kearny, the Army's new installment, offers Bridger and his partner, Sol Beckworth, positions as scouts, but Bridger at first declines. He changes his mind, however, when Monahseetah, a young Cherokee girl to whom Bridger serves as guardian, points out Lt. Rob Dancy and whispers her suspicion that he participated in the massacre in which her entire tribe was killed. Shortly after, while escorting a wagon carrying vaudeville performers Dan Castello and his niece, Julie Madden, the Indian-hating Dancy shoots a Sioux teenager and keeps the murder a secret. Dan is seriously wounded by an arrow when the Sioux retaliate, but back at the fort, Dancy claims that the attack was unprovoked. Dancy attempts to impress Julie with tales of his Indian fighting days with the infamous Reverend Shivington and his renegade militia, the Colorado Volunteers. However, Julie is attracted to Bridger, who has saved her uncle's life by removing the arrow. Jealous, Dancy denounces Bridger as an Indian spy and "squaw man," claiming that Monahseetah is Bridger's common-law wife. Bridger returns from a scouting expedition to report that the Sioux are preparing for a full-scale war, and, although Dancy and the like-minded Capt. Fetterman want to go on the offensive, Carrington orders everyone to remain in the fort. Disobeying orders, Julie sneaks out of the fort to go riding and ends up being chased by Sioux warriors, forcing Bridger to kill Red Cloud's favorite son in the effort to rescue her. After Julie expresses her mistaken belief that Monahseetah is Bridger's wife, Bridger explains with great sorrow and anger that Monahseetah is the sister of his beloved Cherokee wife, who was killed along with her infant son in a massacre carried out by the bigoted Shivington and his Colorado Volunteers. Julie then informs Bridger of her knowledge of Dancy's participation in the Volunteers, confirming Monahseetah's and Bridger's suspicions. In the meantime, the soldiers at the fort are becoming more and more anxious to fight after being subjected to the drone of Sioux war drums for four days. After Dancy convinces Fetterman and his men to disobey orders by following a small band of Sioux, the soldiers ride straight into a trap laid by the Sioux. All are killed, save for Dancy, who escapes into the woods where he is tracked down by Bridger. Bridger confronts Dancy as the murderer of his wife and child and they begin to fight. Before he is killed with a Sioux arrow, Dancy admits to the massacre, but claims he was only following orders. Carrington's troops go to battle using the "breechloading" weapons shipped to them by the government. The soldiers quickly prevail over the Sioux, whose methods of battle cannot succeed against the new guns, which can be reloaded with lightning speed. To Bridger's relief, Carrington allows Red Cloud to pick up his dead and leave the battlefield in peace. However, Red Cloud ultimately wins the battle when word arrives from Washington that a new treaty will be signed, closing the trail and the fort. Once Carrington's men are gone, Red Cloud's warriors burn down the fort, erasing all traces of the white man's presence in their land. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.