The Broken Chain (1993)





Director:     Lamont Johnson; made for cable.

Starring:     Eric Schweig (Joseph Brant / Theyendangea), Wes Studi (Seth / Chief / Speaker for the Tribes), Buffy Sainte-Marie (Gesina 'Grandmother' / Seth's Wife), Pierce Brosnan (Sir William Johnson), Graham Greene (Peacemaker), J. C. White Shirt (Lohaheo), Floyd Red Crow Westerman (tribe elder), Nathan Chasing His Horse (Young Joseph).  

This movies is the second in Ted Turner's "Native Americans" series and is an improvement over the earlier "Geronimo."  It's the story of Sir William Johnson and brother-in-law Joseph Brant from French and Indian Wars through end of  the American Revolution.


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

"When the white man came from Europe to North America they found many different nations of native peoples each with their own fiercely prized identity, their own customs and their own hunting grounds.  Often these nations warred upon one another.  But in the area now known as New York and Pennsylvania, the British and the French fur trappers came upon a unique confederacy of  six different nations who lived together in peace.  These six nations were known as the Iroquois. By 1750 the French and British were headed towards war over control of this new world.  Whoever won the allegiance of the mighty Iroquois would gain a vital advantage in the war to come.  A war in which the prize to be won was nothing less than the whole of North America."

Albany, New York. Summer, 1754.  The six nations were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and the Tuscarora.  The Iroquois trade with the white settlers.  The narrator, the Iroquois Theyendangea/Chief Joseph Brant, says that at first he thought the whites came in friendship, but he was wrong.  What would be decided that night would affect the Iroquois children and their children's children.  That night he was sitting with his best friend Lohaheo as they listened to Chief Seth.  Sir William Johnson, the British Indian agent, was also there.  Chief Seth tells the story of the Peacemaker.  If the nations ever fought against each other, a huge disaster would fall upon all of them. 

Lahaheo falls down a hill.  He has a vision when he gets up.  He sees the Peacemaker. 

King George II welcomes the six nations to a meeting place.  William Johnson is there.  Largely due to the influence of Sir William Johnson, the Iroquois consider Britain a friend of theirs.  With Sir William Johnson is William Penn of Pennsylvania.  The speaker says that together with Britain, the Iroquois and the British will stand against the French. 

A woman named Gesina, wife of Chief Seth and mother of Katherine, is in a lodge with lots of other women.  She tells the women that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by standing with the British.  They must stay neutral between France and Britain let theses two opponents fight it out between themselves.  The chief comes into the tent.  Gesina says take this message to the great Council.  The chief of the council says that the women advise to make treaties with the British to exchange trade goods, but do not make alliances with the British or the French.

Benjamin Franklin urges a uniting of the colonies so they can have a united army to deal with the Indians in the west.  No single colony is strong enough to push the Indians far back from the western boundaries of the colonies. 

Johnson has an Indian wife who is pregnant.  He talks to Gesina 'Grandmother' / Seth's Wife and says he's sorry but the tide is against the Iroquois.  He says the Iroquois and the Irish have had lots of trouble with the British.  He and his wife ride off.  Theyendangea gets his first British musket and takes an English name, Joseph Brant. 

Fort Carillon (later known as Fort Ticonderoga), four years later. The British have Fort Carillon under attack.  Joseph as narrator says here is where he had his first taste of battle and blood.  He knew then he would be a warrior for his people.  Johnson scolds him for getting so far ahead of the other troops.  A French soldier appears on the top of the hill and Joseph shoots him.  But then a whole line of French soldiers arrives and starts firing into the Iroquois. 

Back home Lahaheo practices his oratory to be a speaker for his people.  Three young ladies listen to him as he spouts out his oratory.  They start laughing, Lahaheo hears them and he chases them.  He only catches one of them, Katherine, who he likes, and who soon tells Lahaheo that their warriors have returned from battle at For Carillon.  Lahaheo goes to join the home comers. 

Lahaheo joins with the warriors and he speaks with Joseph as they jog back to the village.  Katherine brings water for Joseph to drink.  It looks like Lahaheo is a bit jealous.

Johnson build his home in a town he founded, namely Johnstown, Fulton County, New York.  The home was both a place of defense against enemies and a meeting place for whites and red men.  Joseph says that his sister Molly lived with Johnson and gave him children.  Inside Johnson offers a toast for Joseph for being such an outstanding warrior in battle.  He says it won't be too many moons before Joseph becomes their chief. 

Joseph goes to speak with Gesina about taking her granddaughter Katherine's hand in marriage.  She says she will have to think about it. 

Lahaheo now speaks with Gesina about the same subject.  Gesina asks why her granddaughter should have him?  He says that with Katherine as a wife he can become a speaker for all the chiefs. 

Out picking berries, Katherine says that she cannot choose yet between Joseph and Lahaheo.  Gesina tells her that if both suitors are still alive after the coming battle with the French, she wants Katherine to tell grandmother which one is her choice before winter. 

The British Encampment at Fort Niagara.  July 20, 1759.  The French land a number of cannon balls into the English siege fortifications and the commanding officer is killed.  Sir William says he is now taking over the command.  He is challenged by the ranking British officer, but Sir William explains that he has the rank of Colonel of the Indian troops. Sir William orders the men to return heavy fire  --  they must keep up the siege of Fort Niagara.

Sir William has been informed that French reinforcements are being sent to help the defenders of the fort.  He sets up an ambush of the reinforcements.  Cannon fire marks the commencement of the ambush.  In the fighting Joseph is wounded in the left shoulder.  Lahaheo saves his life by shooting a French soldier that is about to bayonet Joseph. 

At Fort Niagara, the French flag is brought down and the British flag is run up.  Joseph is brought home on a stretcher.  Katherine accompanies the stretcher.  Gesina tells Lahaheo that he did a great thing saving Joseph's life, but that won't help him with Katherine. 

Sir William tells his wife that a friend of his is starting up a school in Connecticut for the redman and he thinks Joseph ought to go there.  He has shown in battle that he has the abilities to become a great leader.  But with a good Christian education there's no telling how far he could go.  His wife says Joseph wants to marry, but William says that all that can wait. 

Katherine tells Gesina that she has decided on Lahaheo for a husband.  She favors Lahaheo because he will make a good chief and and will concern himself with the Great Peace among the six nations.  Joseph, on the other hand, is a warrior and he won't think much about the Great Peace.  Besides, most of the young women are in love with Joseph. 

Gesina breaks the news to Joseph, who is upset by it.  She tells him to go to the white man's school and when he comes back, things will be more settled in the village.  Joseph doesn't see the sense in going to the school, but Gesina tells him that one day the Iroquois will have to fight a great battle with the whites and the more Joseph understands the white man, the better he will be able to lead his people in the fight. 

Katherine and Lahaheo marry.  Joseph gets on his horse.  He stops to see the marriage ceremony finish and then goes off. 

Johnson hears rifle fire and runs over to the blockhouse to sees what's going on.  It's his nephew, a British soldier, firing at the eagles in the area.  Johnson scolds his nephew because he should know that these birds are sacred to the Iroquois people.  When Johnson is finished yelling, he goes over to his wife to tell her the good news.  He has just received a letter from the teacher of the Indian school and he highly sings the praises of young Joseph.  The man even says that he will miss Joseph.  Joseph is coming home! 

Joseph comes back wearing fine English clothes, but his hair is still very long.  Katherine says hi to him as he comes in.  He says hi to her.  Lohaheo comes over and greets Joseph.  It takes a while for Joseph to respond, but he turns around and gives his old friend a hug.  Now Katherine grabs her son and comes over.  She introduces to Joseph her young son who they named Joseph in his honor. 

Lahaheo asks about the white settlers.  Joseph says they fight amongst themselves.  The colonists oppose British taxes.  Lahaheo wonders if the settlers will fight the British.  Joseph just says who cares what the whites do?  There is news that under Chief Pontiac the whites have been beaten badly in the west.  The other news is that Johnson wants to meet with the Council. 

Johnson says the the Odawa, the Shawnee and the Delaware have all buried their hatchets in the heads of innocent British colonists.  He suggests that the Iroquois declare war on these errant tribes.  He wants more.  He wants them to send war parties to the Valley of the Ohio to punish these upstart chiefs.  Joseph agrees with Johnson, but Lahaheo does not.  He tells Joseph that sometimes he wonders if there is any Iroquois left in him with all his English clothes and his English comforts. 

A Delaware village west of the Ohio River.  The Iroquois attack the Delaware village and burn it to the ground.  Joseph takes one of the young Delaware women even though she spat in his face.  On the canoe ride back to the Iroquois village Joseph tells the woman he wants her to be happy and he will work to make sure she is happy.  When they reach the village Joseph tells Lehaheo that there were no Seneca among the Delaware so there were no Seneca killed.   "The Great Peace has not been broken."

A small band of Iroquois are out hunting.  Seth shoots a deer and the men go to retrieve it.  But then they are fired upon by about four colonists. One of the Iroquois goes down.  The Iroquois return fire and two of the whites go down.  Seth goes after the ring leader and knocks him down, but as he is about to stab the man, another colonist shoots Seth.  Lahahoe arrives and buries his hatchet in the left should of the colonist.  The man who shot Seth runs away and the Iroquois follow after him to see where he goes.  The fellow runs to a settlement the whites are building and he says the redskins have killed three of their men.   

Seth is brought back to the village.  Gesina and her daughter Katherine cry over his body.  Sir William pays a visit to Gesina.  She tells Sir William that the squatters on Iroquois hunting ground shot and killed her husband.  Gesina asks why Britain doesn't secure the borders and stop these inroads by the whites?  Sir William says that the colonists don't know about the boundary lines of the Great Proclamation.  He also says that he has been given the task of putting some teeth into a new proclamation.  Gesina is very skeptical of still another treaty that won't be enforced.  She tells him:  "Just go!  Go!"  Johnson leaves.

Gesina is sick so Katherine speaks out to the women that this new treaty separates them more from their land.

Fort Stanwyx, November 5, 1768.  The Iroquois chiefs and other leaders sign the treaty.  Lahahoe refuses to sign. 

Gesina dies and is buried in the ground.  At the funeral Joseph asks Katherine where is Lahaheo?  She says he was very upset and went into the forest.  Joseph tells his Delaware woman to watch Katherine.  He goes looking for his friend.  In the snow Lahaheo sits before a camp fire with a bare chest with only an animal skin covering him.  He has another vision of the Peace Maker. Joseph finds him and checks on him.  His friend is sleeping and probably would have died without Joseph's intervention. 

Lahaheo tells Joseph that there will be a fight between Britain and the colonists.  They should stay out of it and let the two groups destroy each other.  Joseph says that if there is a fight, the British will win. 

Lahaheo is going through a ceremony.  He is told to make his pledge to his clan mothers and the chiefs of the Confederacy.  He does so pledging himself to follow the laws of the Great Peace and be wise in all things.  He is now a chief and a servant of the people. 

Now Sir William is aging and in poor health. Lahaheo came to see Johnson as an enemy because he could not stop further white incursions onto Iroquois land.  At a meeting on his land, Johnson accuses Lahaheo with dissension, but Lahaheo says that Sir William knew that all this would come to pass.  And yet he still shouts empty words and accusations.  Sir William collapses.  Joseph runs up to him and Sir William tells him he must take charge now and guide his people. 

War comes between the colonists and Great Britain.  Joseph thinks they should side with the powerful British.  But they have to hear what the clan mothers will say.  As he waits for the women, he talks with his wife Peggy, the captured Delaware woman.  Red Wolf of the Oneida wants to fight on the side of the colonists.  Lahaheo says he's in the middle.  The clan mothers say that the colonists invited their representatives to come to Philadelphia and they see no harm in this, but they must not take sides with the colonists without the full consent of the Iroquois people.   Lahaheo goes to Philadelphia.  Before he leaves he tells Joseph he must not go to war against the colonists.

Philadelphia, May 13, 1775.  Lahahoe and the other chiefs have arrived in Philadelphia.  Benjamin Franklin talks with them.  He says the British have invaded Massachusetts.  Franklin also says that they have more in common with the colonists than they know.  He says the colonies want a government that will insure individual freedom.  They want a government more in step with the Iroquois form of government.  

Peggy is having a great deal of difficulty in giving birth.  She dies. Katherine goes to Joseph and just shakes her head.

The new British Indian agent tells Joseph that he is giving him a commission as an officer in His Majesty's army.  The English camp at Three Rivers.  Joseph talks with Lahaheo.  He says that some of the Oneida have been fighting alongside the colonists.  Joseph says that "we" (he and the British) will win the war in six months.  Lahaheo still sticks with his neutrality.  

During the night Joseph awakens Lahaheo and tells him that a relief force of the colonial army is coming up from the south and the Iroquois must stop them.  He says they don't have time to evacuate the women and children, so they must stop the colonists.  The Iroquois watch as a large group of Oneida join the relief force.  Lahaheo says the Great Peace must not be broken, so he holds his weapon over his head and walks toward the Americans and the Oneida.  Lahaheo is hit by two bullets and goes down.  Now a fight between the two forces begins. 

There are lots of dead bodies on the ground and the Great Peace has been broken.  Joseph says that he became consumed by wanting to revenge Lahaheo.  He now starts raiding small colonial settlements and burning them from Oriskany to the Susquehanna, Wyoming Valley, Andrewstown and  German Flats.  He became known as the monster Brant, the best fighting weapon the British had.  But the colonists only grew stronger and burned his people's villages and their sacred long houses.  The fires were turned against the Iroquois fourfold and his beloved British were not to be found. 

Joseph goes to Sir Williams's house to check on his sister Molly.  She is singing a wailing song.  She tells Joseph:  "This is what our love for the British has brought us.  Fire and destruction.  The worst, the worst is just beginning."  The Iroquois now suffered poverty and despair.  Joseph says he bears full responsibility for what has happened.  Katherine tells him that even his broad shoulders are not big enough to bear all the responsibility for what has happened to the Iroquois.  She talks of moving to Canada. Joseph likes the idea and asks how many will join him on the road to Canada?  Most of the people stand up for the idea. 

The Iroquois go to Canada.

"Joseph Brant led his followers to Canada arriving in 1785 and settling in what is now the Province of Ontario. He died on November 24, 1807 at the age of 64.  In modern times the central fire has been rekindled at Onondaga Lake in central New York State where the Six Nations regularly gather to guide the affairs of their people.  The Iroquois have preserved their traditional way of life by passing the customs and ways of the ancestors down through the generations.   To this day the people of the long house remain united in the spirit of the Great Peace." 


Good movie and one that, from a history standpoint, was well-needed.  I like to roam around the area around New York City and have visited the Delaware River above Port Jervis, New York.  One often sees historical signs mentioning Joseph Brant and Sir William Johnson in this area.  Brant was obviously a feared man in the larger area around Port Jervis. There is a battle field sign along the road paralleling the Delaware River where Brant fought some colonists and got away from them after inflicting heavy casualties.  So I always thought there should be a film about Brant and Johnson and their impact on both the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War.  And this is the film I wanted to be made.  It's an enjoyable film dealing with two very important historical figures and the influence of the Iroquois on these conflicts.  The acting was good and they used a lot of faces that are familiar to those who watch a lot of Westerns.  I noticed some of the fight scenes did not have good continuity.  For instance, in one scenee Lahahoe slams his hatchet into a colonist's left shoulder, but the next time we see the colonist's body the hatchet is laying by his side and not at all in his shoulder.  But these things don't really concern me, as long as the film follows along with history.  (I do realize that there are those who are thrilled to point out all the mistakes in films.)

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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