Chisum (1970) 




Director:     Andrew V. McLaglen. 

Starring:    John Wayne (John Simpson Chisum),  Forrest Tucker (Lawrence Murphy),  Christopher George (Dan Nodeen),  Ben Johnson (James Pepper),  Glenn Corbett (Pat Garrett),  Bruce Cabot (Sheriff Brady),  Andrew Prine (Alex McSween),  Patric Knowles (J. Henry Tunstall),  Richard Jaeckel (Jess Evans),  Lynda Day George (Sue McSween),  Geoffrey Deuel (Billy 'The Kid' Bonney),  Pamela McMyler (Sallie Chisum),  John Agar (Amos Patton),  Lloyd Battista (Neemo),  Robert Donner (Bradley Morton - Deputy sheriff).

the Lincoln County War in what became New Mexico


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

John Chisum is up on the hill and has been there for an hour.  His right-hand man Pepper speaks with John. He says things are so much quieter now than when they first came out from Texas.  The Comanche are all penned up.  The Buscaderos are staying on their side of the Rio Grande.

Sheriff Brady and another man wait for the arrival of cattle rustler Neemo.  They pay him for his and his men's doing a job for them.  Neemo says that he is going to take a bonus from John Chisum.   He and his men descend on Chisum ranch hands on a horse drive.  They start shooting the horse drivers to get the horses. 

In the town most of the businesses have been take over by Lawrence G. Murphy.  Chisum and Pepper notice that the General Store is the latest victim of Mr. Murphy.  The old owner and his family are now heading out for Yuma.  Chisum and Pepper are sad to see them leave.  Just then one of Chisum's ranch hand arrives to tell him that horse thieves got their herd and are heading south with it.  There are about a dozen of the thieves.

William Bonney is out working as a ranch hand with his boss Henry Tunstall.  Tunstall is a very sweet, older fellow who acts like a father to William.  Chisum and a group of his ranch hands come out to tell Tunstall about the horse thieves.  William wants to volunteer to help, but Chisum says they can handle it.  Chisum and his men ride off.  William says to Tunstall that Chisum didn't say no.  He heads out after Chisum with some of the other ranch hands. 

Chisum catches up with Neemo.  William rides down to be beside Chisum.  Neemo says he will sell the horses to them.  Of course, that is not acceptable.  So Nemmo says he will just have to kill Chisum.  He draws his pistol, but is too slow and is shot dead by Chisum.  Then the fire fight begins.  William is really good with a pistol and he kills quite a few of the thieves.  He is so effective that Chisum has to stop him from killing them all.   

Chisum tells Bonney that he is quite the marksman.  He asks his full name and when the men hear it someone recognizes the name   Isn't he the fellow known as Billy the Kid?  Yes.  Chisum says he has to go to town to pick up his niece Sallie who is coming in on the stage.  He and the men leave. 

Sheriff Brady has two new deputies: Baker and  Bradley Morton.  The deputies are Murphy men, like the sheriff is.   Chisum goes to the bar with Pepper.  Dolan, a manager who works for Murphy, is telling Mr. Delgado that the water that used to be open is now private water.  Delgado explains that small herders like himself can't afford to have that water source cut off from them.  Delgado and Murphy don't care.  Chisum cuts in on the conversation and tells Delgado he can water his herd along the Jicarilla on Chisum land.  Delgado is grateful for this.

Murphy introduces himself to Chisum, but Chisum already knows all about him.  Chisum tells Murphy:  "I don't like you."  He leaves the bar.  He runs into Sheriff Brady and asks him isn't he on the wrong side of that badge?  Brady says he was duly appointed. 

Sallie has arrived.  Passengers Alex McSween and his wife run into Chisum first. They tell him that Sallie is down at the stables.  Chisum and Pepper go over there and, as soon as she spots her uncle, she asks him for $50.00 dollars.  He gets the money from Pepper.  Sallie takes it and goes back into the stables.  She comes out with a horse.  Chisum can't believe it.  He tells her they've got quite a few horses on the Chisum ranch.  She says she knows that, but those are Uncle's horses, while this horse is hers.  Chisum tells her the $50 dollars she paid was way too much.  Sallie says she didn't pay $50.  She paid $100 dollars.  McSween tells Chisum that he will be working for L.G. Murphy.   

At the ranch house Sallie looks out at the open land.  She is from Baltimore and is very impressed at the beauty of the land.  Uncle talks about his first coming out to New Mexico.  He became friends with the Comanche Chief White Buffalo.  He became virtual brothers with him. 

Tunstall tells Billy that he will be the new line foreman.  Billy is very grateful to Tunstall. 

There are a bunch of new guys in town and they are not good guys.  Their leader seems to be a guy named Jessans who is familiar with Billy.  Billy sees Jess and it is apparent that he doesn't want to be associated with guys like Jess anymore.  Sallie is in town with her uncle.  She invites Billy to come out to the big party that is being given in her honor. 

At the party Sallie asks Billy to dance.  The McSweens are there too.  Axel McSween tells Chisum that he is a lawyer and will be working in that capacity for Murphy. 

At night some Chisum ranch hands are on the job.  A stranger approaches them.  He tells the men his name is Pat Garrett.  Garrett tells the men that around 12 riders are very slowly coming up on them.  Jess Evans and the gang reach the herd in the early morning.  Chisum's men are ready for them.  A fire fight breaks out.  Garrett kills one of the thieves.  And they capture a thief called Riker.  The thieves have to ride away.

The ranch hands introduce Garrett to Chisum.  Then Chisum introduces Pat to Sallie.  Billy Bonney is there and he also is introduced to Pat.  Pat has already heard the name and not in a favorable light either.    

One of Chisum's men was killed.  Chisum is going to send for Judge Wilson over in Mesilla to conduct a murder trial for Riker. 

Pat and Chisum have a drink together.  Meanwhile, Lawrence plots out his strategy that he hopes will make him the king of the Pecos.  The Pecos River runs right through the middle of Chisum's land.  Sheriff Brady says that Riker has been arrested.  Lawrence says that his prisoner is going to escape.  Then have Riker wait in the line shack on Bony Ridge. 

Delgado is very upset.  He comes out of the General Store and tells Chisum and Tunstall that they have just doubled the prices on all the goods in the General Store.  Chisum and Tunstall speak about setting up their own bank in the down and then their own General Store. 

Chisum goes to the fort to set up the sale of his cattle to the U.S. Army.  But the Colonel there says he's not buying beef form Chisum.   He is going elsewhere.  The Colonel and the sergeant don't seem to like Indians.  White Buffalo is there and the sergeant tells him to get on the wagon or else.  Chisum says to the sergeant to lay off White Buffalo.  He tells him:  "You touch White Buffalo again and I'll kill you."

Alex McSween talks to Tunstall and Chisum.  He says he is thinking about going back to Kansas.  He says the Murphy crowd are all in it together.  They are all a bunch of crooks.  But Tunstall and Chisum work on McSween telling him they are opening a store and a bank.  They finally win him over and get him to agree to stay. 

Tunstall and Co. General Store opens up for business. 

Sheriff Brady is playing cards inside the bar,  instead of looking for the escaped prisoner Riker.  Chisum mentions this fact to the sheriff. 

Billy is going to Santa Fe.  He is going to pick up a lot of supplies for the General Store.  Sallie will miss him.  But Sallie is bothered by the talk that William Bonney ha already killed over twelve men. 

A bounty hunter known as Dan Nodeen brings in a dead Riker for the $200 dollar award.  The man has a limp because he was shot by Billy the Kid one day.  Murphy says he wants to hire him. 

Billy and Pat Garrett are coming back from Santa Fe with a lot of supplies and a lot of men.  An ambush led by Jess Evans and his crew awaits the returning wagon crew.  As they descend on the small wagon train Jess and company get a big surprise.  Three of the wagons contain not supplies but riflemen.  When the fight starts the sides of the Conestoga like wagons go up exposing the riflemen.  Jess and his men start getting a beating.  They have to head for the hills.   Before he leaves, Jess is able to shoot Billy in the side. 

Back at the Chisum Ranch Billy lays in bed all bandaged up.  Sallie serves as his nurse.  Tunstall says he is going to see Governor Axtell.  Chisum says that Axtell is just a gutless wonder.  Tunstall and Alex talk Chisum out of going after Murphy.  Tunstall is leaving to see the governor tomorrow.  Billy wants to get Murphy and Jess Evans. 

Tunstall starts his journey to see the governor.  Deputies Morton and Baker catch up with him.  The plan is to frame Tunstall for being a cattle thief and then arrest him.  Their orders are to hold Tunstall in jail until Murphy gets back from seeing the governor.  One of the deputies becomes abusive to Tunstall and when the older man talks back, the deputy shoots him dead.  Then the killer plants a gun on Tunstall. 

The town holds a funeral for Tunstall.  The Judge finally arrives.  Billy stays behind at the graveyard.  The deputies were the murderers.  The Judge empowers Chisum and his men to get the killers, dead or alive.  Billy watches as Chisum captures the deputies.  Chisum tells his prisoners that they are both going to hang.  Then Chisum breaks off and leaves the prisoners with Pat Garrett and two men.  Billy comes down to talk with Pat.  He acts normal until he draws his gun and knocks out Pat Garrett.  He then kills the two deputies and rides off.  Garrett brings the two dead bodies of the deputies into Sheriff Brady.  Sheriff Brady comes out to look at the bodies.  Billy on horseback comes out of hiding and shoots the sheriff dead. 

Murphy pays a visit to the Governor.  He lies to him about the real situation.  Murphy tells the governor to revoke the judge's powers.  The governor agrees to do what Murphy wants. 

Dan Nodeen becomes the new sheriff.  There now is a $1,200 dollar reward out for Billy the Kid.  Dan forms a posse to go get Billy.  Jess Evans and his men form part of the posse that looks like a small army. 

Alex McSween says he is writing to President Hayes to ask for an impartial investigation.  Murphy comes to speak to Chisum who wants nothing to do with Murphy.  Chisum socks Murphy in the face knocking him down.

Billy speaks with Sallie.  Pat Garrett gets the drop on Billy.  Chisum arrives and tells Billy to come with him.  He wants to talk to Billy.  Chisum does not want Billy to see Sallie anymore.  In fact, he tells him to never show up on his land again.  Billy says okay, Mr. Chisum. 

Sheriff Nodeen returns to town without Billy in tow. 

Pat Garret speaks with Sallie back at the ranch house.  She says that Chisum is a lot like Billy and vice-versa.  But Pat disagrees with her.  He says Billy wants revenge, while Chisum wants justice.  There's a big difference between revenge and justice. 

At night Billy and his men go to Tunstall's General Store to get some supplies for the robbery.  He is looking for some dynamite.  McSween comes downstairs to find Billy and the guys.  He lights a lantern to see exactly what's going on.  Sheriff Nodeen sees the light through his window and tells Jess and the others to come with him.  They set up across the street from the General Store.  When daylight arrives, the posse starts pouring lead into the building.  Alex is worried about his wife, so he negotiates to have the posse let her come out of the store.  Nodeen says no, but Murphy says it wouldn't look good if they killed a woman.  He lets her comes out safely.  Then the firing starts again.  To save her husband, Mrs. McSween grabs a horse and rides to the Chisum ranch.  There she delivers her message.  Sallie takes her into the ranch house and Chisum gives orders to get the men together. 

Meanwhile Murphy's men throw up a barricade across the main street.  Delgado sees what's going on and rides out to tell his men and Chisum's men if he can get to them.  Chisum and his men approach the town. 

Alex tells the men inside and outside that he is coming out unarmed.  Billy tells him not to do it.  He will be killed.  Sheriff Nodeen already told him if he came out, he would kill him.  But Alex is too stubborn and comes out anyway.  Nodeen shoots him down, killing him in the middle of the street.  Delgado comes with some of his men.  Chisum and Delgado push the cattle out of the town pens  and push them right down main street.  The cattle push right through the barricade.  In the mass confusion Chisum goes after Murphy.  They have a good fight, but Chisum wins.  He and Murphy fall from the roof, but Murphy lands on a pair of cattle horns used as a decorative display, while Chisum just lands on the street. 

Billy runs across the street during the confusion and shoots Jess Evans dead.  Nodeen has had it.  He throws his badge in the street and says he resigns.  He takes off.

After it's all over, Billy says he knows.  It's all his fault. 

General Lew Wallace (author of Ben Hur) becomes the new Governor. Pat Garrett becomes the new sheriff of Lincoln County.  A general amnesty is declared.  The war is over in Lincoln County.  Sallie and Pat Garrett becomes a couple  On his horse Chisum goes up the hill to think. 


Good movie.  I enjoyed it.  Simple plot of good guys versus bad guy with Billy the Kid leaning partly to the bad side.  This version is closer to the truth than most of the Billy the Kid films.  Of course, there are many additions that aren't true, but at least the film is in the neighborhood of the truth.   Geoffrey Deuel as Billy 'The Kid' Bonney did a good job, but the character should have looked younger and more immature. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See Billy the Kid (1941).



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