On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col George Armstrong Custer, of the 7th Calvary was soundly defeated by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Not one to pay attention to the timing of historic events, I didn't realize how uncanny my timing was in just happening to add "The Legend of Custer" and "Sitting Bull" to the bill last week. In all sincerity, I didn't realize that we were approaching the 131st anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Not that the movies are true to history, the accounts that I've read about The Battle of Little Bighorn and Sitting Bull all describe Chief Sitting Bull as being an all out warrior, not willing to make peace with the white man. And why the heck should he have, with officers like Custer leading men into needless battle against the Sioux and others?
From what I've read about Custer, he comes across as having been a highly prejudicial and arrogant bigot, quick to wreak his nastiness on whom he deemed as "savages", and
the movies seem to have no problem portraying Custer in such a light.
I thoroughly enjoyed both movies, myself, despite that they weren't completely accurate. Then again, they don't have to be, they're entertainment with a historical twist, weaving a fantasy into reality.
Sitting Bull (1954)
What if there was this tall, good looking and well meaning yet often demoted Army officer, Major Robert 'Bob' Parrish (played by Dale Robertson), who not only follows his orders, but stands up for the Indians and the US and Indian treaties against a lying, conniving renegade Lt Col. Custer (Douglas Kennedy), who has been demoted a time or two himself? Would Major Parrish face a firing squad for doing the right thing?
Since no good movie is without it's romantic sub-plot, let's add Kathy Howell (Mary Murphy), the General's spoiled daughter who seems more concerned about a man's rank and what he can give her than she is about the heart and soul of the man himself. In light of her fiance's repeated demotions, she does make one good point to him about her future's possibilities, though, when she tells him, "A woman want's to be proud of her husband. The way you've been going, why I'd be a barracks hag all my life!"
Will she discover true love by the end of the movie? (Do zebras change their stripes?)
And, since no romantic sub-plot is good without it's love triangle, let's introduce the handsome and famous Charles Wentworth (William Hopper), a reporter/war correspondant who happens to have the social status that Kathy is attracted to.
It's apparent in some scenes that Kathy is trying to bait her ex-fiance by being overtly affectionate with Charles in front of him, knowing that he's watching. (I guess she's trying to make him jealous, but she's the one who broke up with him because he wasn't good enough for her, so what's her problem?! If he's not good enough for, why is she trying to rub his face in her new relationship?)
I like the interaction between the ex fiance and the current fiance, and I liked the gentlemanly attitudes they both presented. I can't help but wonder if these scenes were written with the help of a woman, since their gentlemanly behavior was unreal, even for the time period in which this movie was written. (I'd love to see men act like that in real life! I'd be like melted butter all over the floor!)
As the movie gets down to business, Custer is ordered to accompany Major Parrish, who has orders directly from President Ulysses S. Grant (John Hamilton) to meet with Chief Sitting Bull concerning issues surrounding a peace treaty. Chief Sitting Bull is expecting a visit from the President, and Lt. Col Custer is supposed to be paving the President's way so that the meeting can take place, but Custer has plans of his own to attack and kill off the Indians.
As Sitting Bull awaits the arrival of the President, the nation he presides over grows restless for war against the white man for the ill treatment of their people. The only thing holding them back is the word of Sitting Bull, who wants to maintain peace at least until after his meeting with the President. When some of Custer's men shoot down a couple of Indian Scouts on order from Custer, Sitting Bull goes ahead and declares war against Custer and his men, killing off every one of them.
Meanwhile, in an effort to maintain a standard of peace and uphold the treaties, Major Parrish finds his way to Sitting Bull and advises him that Custer's actions were not of the President's intentions and leads them to safety because he knew another Army troop would soon avenge the deaths of Custer and his men by attacking the Indians. Major Parrish is later found guilty of Treason and placed before a firing squad for having done so.
Historically, the only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn was a horse named Comanche, who was owned by Captain Myles Walter Keogh. In the scene where Major Parrish and his "sidekick" Sam ride into the area where Custer and his men lie dead, you see a lone horse standing there among the dead. There is no mention of the horse nor credence given, but I think it's safe to assume that the horse in the scene represents Comanche, who was never ridden again after the battle and was retired to a stable in Ft Riley, Kansas. When the horse died a natural death, it's body was mounted and put on display at the University of Kansas.
I thought Sitting Bull was a good movie, despite some of it's apparent historical inaccuracies. It was entertaining enough to watch and enjoy, yet raised questions that made me want to look into history and learn a few things. It's a story, and while based on an actual historic event, it is fictional yet still serves to honor the history of the Battle of Little Big Horn.