Broken Arrow (1950)





Director:    Delmer Daves.

Starring:    James Stewart (Tom Jeffords), Jeff Chandler (Cochise), Debra Paget (Sonseeahray), Basil Ruysdael (Gen. Howard), Will Geer (Ben Slade), Joyce MacKenzie (Terry), Arthur Hunnicutt (Duffield), Raymond Bramley (Col. Bernall), Jay Silverheels (Goklia), Argentina Brunetti (Nalikadeya), Jack Lee (Boucher), Robert Adler (Lonergan).

A story only loosely based on the life of the feared Apache leader, Cochise.  The setting is Arizona in the 1870s.  Jimmy Steward negotiates a peace with Cochise as well as marrying Indian maiden Debra Paget, only to see his dreams of peace mangled by the actions of renegades and crooked traders.  The movie was filmed at the site where the events actually occurred.

(Blacklisted screenwriter Albert Maltz was kept off the credits in favor of front, Michael Blankfort; credit restored in 1996 by the Writer's Guild of America.)


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

"This is the story of a land, of the people who lived on it in the year 1870 and of a man whose name was Cochise.  He was an Indian, leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.  I was involved in the story and what I have to tell happened exactly as you'll see it."

Tom Jeffords rides across a desert in Arizona.  He fought in the Civil War and when it was over he prospected for gold off and on.  He then gets a message that a new colonel has come to Tucson and wants to see him.  He sees a lot of buzzards flying around.  He sees that an Apache boy struggles along a path below him.  A savage war with the Apache has been going on for ten years.  He goes down and gives the boy some water.  Of course, the boy is afraid of Tom because of the constant battles, but he does drink from Tom's canteen.  He then tries to stab Tom, but Tom is able to make the boy drop the knife.  The young fellow is wounded and his wounds are badly infected.  Moreover, he has a high fever.  Tom plays doctor and removes the eight pieces of buckshot from the lad's back. 

Jeffords stays in the area.  While prospecting for gold, he keeps an eye on the Apache, who gets stronger and stronger.  The boy tells Tom that although he is not completely well, he has to continue his journey because this is his "novice time".   He is 14 so he has to prove he is a man by going alone on trips.  The fellow says that his brother and sister were both killed at Big Creek and he is now his parents' only child.  The Apache says:  "Apaches pray for all white men to die.  But now, I pray to keep you safe." 

All of a sudden three arrows hit a tree just behind Jeffords, who pulls out his revolver.  The lad tells him to put away his pistol, because the three arrows are only a warning.  Jeffords thinks about it, trying still to locate the Apache around him.  Two more arrows hit the tree and the boy again tells Jeffords to put the weapon away.  If they wanted to kill him, they would already have done so.  The Indian holds out his hand and Jeffords slowly and a bit reluctantly hands over his weapon.  Now the boys calls out to his people that this man is his friend.

Now the Apache group comes riding fast up to the boy and Jeffords, who is a might nervous.  The Apache are in the mood to hurt Jeffords, but the boy keeps verbally defending the white man.  The boy's father is with the group and he is disappointed that his son has become a "tame Apache".   One of the braves Goklia demands to know why Jeffords didn't kill the boy and take his scalp?  Jeffords says that's not the way he fights.  The brave tells Jeffords that this time they won't kill him, but next time they will.  He tells the boy to give the pistol back to Jeffords.  Jeffords makes preparations to leave.

The Apache see ten white men on horses.  From the burros they have, they look like prospectors.  The Indians tie Jeffords to a tree and put a gag around his mouth up so he can't interfere in what comes next.  As the white men ride by, the Indians shoot arrows into the last three of the group.  The others start trying to escape.  In all the Apache kill two of the group and they hang two wounded men.  On the third wounded man, they find a pouch of Apache scalps.  So they bury him up to his neck in sand and rub the juice of the mescal plant over his face so the ants will bite the man.    Now they tell Jeffords to learn from what he has seen, because no white men are allowed on the land of Cochise. 

Jeffords rides into Tuscon and gets a room in an inn.  In the morning Col. Bernall, who is in charge of Fort Grant, comes to speak with him.  He says his orders are to push Cochise and his Apaches out from the Graham Mountain area.  The colonel tells Jeffords that they can wipe out the Apache from the area in six months.  Jeffords tells him that this is not possible.  The Apache have their own intelligence service and know how many men the colonel has and when he leaves and comes back to Fort Grant.  Cochise stopped the Butterfield stage coach from running and for the first time in history he has all the Apache people fighting under one united command.  Jeffords tells the colonel to get someone else to scout for him.  A ranch owner named Ben Slade says basically that Jeffords is an Apache lover.  Jeffords wants to sock the fellow, but the guy says that last month the Apaches burned his house down with his wife inside.  Jeffords says he won't scout because he is sick of all this killing. 

Jeffords goes to talk to a fellow named Milt who runs the stage coach office.  Tom asks Milt if he could make use of his office every afternoon for awhile?  He wants to have a friendly Apache named Juan teach him the Apache language and the Apache customs, because he wants to be able to talk to Cochise.  Milt says Tom is crazy to even consider such a thing.  Juan agrees to teach Jeffords, but he too thinks that Cochise will kill Tom. 

Tom has learned the Apache language and now is ready to go speak to Cochise.   Juan and he send smoke signals out to say that Tom comes in peace.  Juan warns Tom again not to go, but Tom is determined to go. 

Tom rides into Cochise country.  He says that he feels very scared and on edge.  At night he makes a fire.  He can tell that an Apache is on the rock above him, but the night passes without incident.  In the morning he sets out again.  On the afternoon of the third day he is getting close to the stronghold.  Below him he sees an Apache village.  He goes down and into the village.  At the village he is surrounded by the Apache.  He slowly gets off his horse and takes off his gun belt.  He hands it to an old Apache man, but tells him in Apache that he wants them back when he leaves.  Cochise suddenly says:  "How do you know you will leave here alive?"  Tom stays absolutely quiet.  The chief says:  "I am Cochise.  Speak." 

Tom tells Cochise the importance of civilian mail to the white man and asks that Cochise let the mail carriers pass through his territory safely.  Cochise is worried that the mail carries war messages against the Apache, but Tom tells him that military dispatches are carried separately from the civilian mail.  When Cochise asks he admits that he carried military dispatches when he was a scout for the army and he says he did fight the Chiricahua at Apache Pass.   

Cochise says that Tom has not given him any reason not to kill him   Tom tells the chief that he respects him and knows he's a man that does not just think of today, but thinks about the future too.  He wants Cochise to think about the future of his people.  Cochise listens to him.  He has Tom walk with him around camp to let others know that he may pass in peace. 

A young woman is preparing to go through the sunrise ceremony for normally a young girl.  This woman has only recently come back to the tribe.  For tonight she has become the White Painted Lady, mother of life.  He says it's good luck to visit the woman at this time because she is especially holy.  Cochise speaks to her first and then Tom.  She looks at his arm with its old army wound.  She says the wound will never hurt him again and the sunshine will shine for him.  When Tom is back with Cochise he asks the name of the woman and Cochise says:  Sonseeahray, which means "morning star"". 

The next morning Tom shaves his face by the river.  Sonseeahray comes up behind him and Tom sees her in the mirror.  She is fascinated by this shaving thing because she thinks he is peeling his skin off.  Tom explains shaving to her and she remembers that as a single woman she is only allowed to talk to old men, not young ones.  Tom asks how do boys and girls meet then?  In secret when their paths cross where they cannot be seen by others.  She excuses herself saying she must go pick juniper berries.  He asks her where she will be picking berries?  She tells him and Tom tells her he'll bump into her there "by accident". 

The two meet and Tom says he used to be content with being alone, but after he saw how beautiful she was and how tender and caring, he felt bad about being alone.  Cochise comes along the path and Sonseeahray quickly leaves Tom.  Cochise says that he will let the mail carriers go through, but only they will go through.  Tom says he will go tell his people.

There is a big gathering on the street in Tucson to listen to Captain Jeffords tell about his meeting with Cochise.  Some men don't believe him, some believe him but don't trust him or don't trust Cochise.  Some deprecate Tom by calling him Cochise's pal.  Another man wants to set up a test of five riders out and five riders back carrying mail to see if they will be unharmed.  At first no one volunteers to be a rider, but Milt finally speaks up and says he'll go. 

In the morning Milt takes off with the mail.  He passes Apaches, but they let him go through.  The whole town is excited and come running when the yelling starts about Milt being back.  Other riders go out and come back. 

The whites start a wagon train from Mesilla Park in today's s.w. New Mexico head wes to Tucson with Col. Bernall in charge.  Bernall is deliberately inviting an ambush, because he is well prepared for an attack with 50 riflemen hidden under blankets in the wagons.  Cochise looks at the wagon train.  He gives the signal for one group of warriors to pass by the wagon train to make the cavalry chase them.  Then he gives the signal for a larger group to cut off the cavalry from the wagon train. 

When the trap is set the fleeing Indians stop.  One warriors shoots Col. Bernall from his horse while others open up on the other cavalry men.  Cochise sends in a third group of Indians to attack the wagon train.  And, finally, Cochise himself and a small group go to grab the wagons themselves.  They ride away with the wagons intact.  

A soldier goes to a saloon in Tucson at night and tells the men there that the army lost 50 dead and over 100 wounded.  Col. Bernall is among the dead.  And Cochise got away with all the wagons and the mules.  He declares that there is a spy among the civilians and he is providing information to Cochise.  Ben Slade points the finger at Jeffords.  Jeffords goes over to him and socks him in the face.  Lowrie says he won't call Jeffords a renegade but he does want to know why Tom believes in Cochise so much?  Tom says it's because Cochise gave him his word and he is a man of honor.  The whites in the saloon say that no Indian is a man of honor.  Tom gets angry and yells:  "The first peace move in ten years, and you're blind to it, all of ya!"  The men are going to hang Tom.  They grab him and pull him out onto the street.  They would have hanged him, but the new commander of the army in the area tells the men to release that man. 

The new commander wants Tom to take him to see Cochise.  Tom doesn't trust the general and wants to know more of what he wants.  The general is none other than Gen. Howard (after whom Howard University in Washington, D.C. is named).  Tom asks Gen. Howard if he is the general the men call the Christian General?  Yes.   Howard tells Tom that President Grant picked him to come out and try to make a lasting peace with the Chiricahua.  Tom likes all the answers the general gives him and agrees to take the general with him to see Cochise. 

After sending smoke signals Tom rides to the Chiricahua village. Cochise and his war party are still out, but will be back soon.  There he sees Sonseeahray again, who has a big smile on her face. They meet "by accident" again.  Tom asks her:  "Has anything changed with you?"  No. She trembles in his presence. He kisses her lips, she calls him Tom and goes in for another kiss. Cochise and his warriors arrive at their village. Later he and Tom talk about peace.  At a ceremony later, Cochise tells Tom that Sonseeahray has already been asked for and will be married soon. 

At the ceremony, however, Sonseeahray chooses Tom.   And later they meet alone and kiss.  This time Cochise follows Sonseeahray and catches the couple together.  He says how disappointed he is in Tom, but Tom tells him that he wants to marry Sonseeahray and will do all that is required of him.  Sonseeahray says she has rejected her Apache suitor once and will do it again.  Seeing how serious the two are, Cochise tells them how hard it will be for them to marry.  Tom will never be fully accepted in the village and Sonseeahray will never be fully accepted in Tucson.  Tom, however, will not be be talked out of the marriage.  So Cochise says he will serve as the go-between for Tom with Sonseeahray's parents. 

Cochise arranges the marriage.  Tom will give three horses and three saddles to the family.  Cochise then says he himself will give the gifts to the family, because the horses and saddles come from the whites anyway.  The marriage won't happen immediately and in the meantime Cochise urges Tom to study this general of his and make sure he is trustworthy. 

At night Sonseeahray's suitor tries to kill Tom, but Tom knocks him out.  Cochise is mad at the fellow for violating the safety granted to their visitor.  He takes the man outside and shoots him.  Cochise tells Tom to return in ten days with the general. 

Tom returns with the general.  At night he pays a brief visit to Sonseeahray, as per the Apache custom. 

Jeffords and Howard confer with others for four days, before they are allowed to meet the many other leaders of the Apache tribes that will decide if there will be peace.  They came from Arizona and New Mexico. The leaders ask the white men about the peace treaty.  When the questions are finished, the white men are sent back to the village.  Goklia doesn't like the fact that they will no longer be able to raid into Mexico for their supplies.  He says Cochise has lost his taste for battle and will give up what they have fought so hard for.  T\Goklia calls for a new chief to replace Cochise.  Cochise responds that he will try peace for three moons and for now he breaks the arrow and decides for peace. 

They take a vote.  Eight of the leaders "walk away" but most of the leaders stay.  Cochise now tells the renegades to take their women, children, horses and weapons and leave this territory.  Goklia says now he takes the name that the Mexicans gave him: Geronimo. 

Cochise tells Jeffords and Howard that he will try an armistice of three months and if at the end of this period there is still peace, they will agree to a full peace. 

So the armistice begins.  Apaches and cavalry would pass each other without anyone firing a weapon.  The Butterfield Stage starts up again.  Jeffords rides with the stage coach and it comes under fire from some renegade Indians.  Jeffords ask some of the men to cover him.  He is going to go send a smoke signal to Cochise for help. 

The men are still pinned down by the renegades when Jeffords returns with the warriors of Cochise's tribe.  The renegades run away with the other Apaches right behind them. 

It's been twelve days of peace and Tom and Sonseeahray are getting married.  The man's right hand is bound together with the woman's left hand. They kneel and are declared married.  They ride on two white horses to their private wikiup.   

It's been sixteen days pf peace.  The newlyweds are enjoying their lives together. 

Ben Slade's boy is caught by the Chiricahua for being in their territory.  They bring him to Cochise and Tom.  The young lad says that the Apaches stole two of his horses.  He tracked them up into Apache territory.  So Tom and Cochise, as well as Sonseeahray, will go see the tracks that the boy says he followed. 

The young boy is leading them into an ambush.  The whites open up on the group.  Jeffords tells Cochise to run for it. He does so.  Jeffords stays and shoots at the whites.  He is hit once and then again and goes down.  Sonseeahray grabs his knife to kill the whites but she is also shot.  Cochise kills a couple of the men, including Ben Slade and his boy. 

Cochise comes back with his braves.  Jeffords holds the body of Sonseeahray and tells Cochise that she is dead.  When Jeffords hears that one of the white men is still alive, he wants them to bring him to him so he can inflict more pain on the man.  Cochise says no.  Cochise will not permit anyone to break the peace in his territory. 

When Jeffords returns to his wikiup, he is met with a delegation from Tucson, including Milt and Gen. Howard.  They express their condolences over his loss.  Milt tells him that they have rounded up every man who had anything to do with the ambush.  Howard says:  "What your friends here are trying to tell you is that your very loss has brought our people together in the will to peace.  Without that will, treaties are worth little or nothing."

As narrator Jeffords says that the death of Sonseeahray put a seal upon the peace.  He adds that wherever he goes his wife is with him. 


There is a lot of prejudice expressed in this film portraying whites who dislike or hate Indians, in this case, the Chiricahua Apache of Arizona and New Mexico.  This makes the job of the peacemaker much more difficult.  Whites would reject ideas that were very good, as well as rejecting actual progress made toward a peace settlement with the Chiricahua Apache. And it certainly doesn't help, if the whites call the peace negotiator an "Indian lover".  This, however, never completely discouraged Tom Jeffords from pursuing his relationships between the whites and the Chiricahua Apache. Tom performed a valuable service for his state and country and for his efforts he mostly was criticized, condemned and rejected.  In a less prejudiced era, we can give Jeffords the credit he deserved when he was alive. 

The fact that Jeffords married a Chiricahua Apache says that people are people and they can relate to each other very easily if given a chance.  Of course, in those days of extreme prejudice, the couple would have been caught in the middle between the two communities and most likely rejected by both (or certainly given a hard time).  The film also reiterates that prejudice is often a method used by one group to fight another group.  It helps reach the goal of dominance, if that is the goal of the aggressive group.  Prejudice helps get people riled up against the members of another group and that makes it easier to get the prejudiced ones to do what has to be done to win dominance war. 

This film could probably be used in a course teaching tolerance to people. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See Conquest of Cochise (1953).



Camp Grant (later Fort Grant) established at Aravaipa Canyon.



February 16.  Deadline for the Apaches to appear on the reservations.

President Grant re-emphasizes a peaceful strategy again. He sends in Brigadier General Oliver Otis Howard. The General contacts Chochise’s white friend Tom Jeffords who then arranges a meeting between the General and Cochise. Howard visits Fort Bowie with the nephew of Cochise. The General grants the Chiricahua Apaches a large reservation around Apache Pass.

1872 – following the Camp Grant Massacre, in which a total of 144 Aravaipas and Pinals in a village were killed, the United States Army fort is relocated to the southwestern slope of Graham Mountain (in today’s Graham County). The troops from the fort are assigned to protect settlers from Apache warriors.



March.  John Culm is ordered to Apache territory to take over from the dismissed Jeffords. Culm is told to consolidate the Chiricahua into the San Carlos Reservation. The Chiricahua Apaches came to the San Carlos Reservation, but the whole party of 700 just slipped away one night.

Henry McCarty (aka William Antrim, William Bonney and Billy the Kid), settles in the vicinity of Fort Grant. He is a ranch hand.



McCarty kills a local blacksmith at a saloon a few miles from Fort Grant. McCarty is arrested at the Fort Grant stockade. (He escapes to New Mexico.)



Fort Grant plays a prominent role in the Apache Wars.



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