Red River (1948)





Director:     Howard Hawks in his first Western.

Starring:     John Wayne (Tom Dunson ), Montgomery Clift (Matthew Garth), Joanne Dru (Tess Millay), Walter Brennan (Groot Nadine), Coleen Gray (Fen), John Ireland (Cherry Valance), Noah Beery Jr. (Buster McGee), Harry Carey (Mr. Millville), Harry Carey Jr. (Dan Latimer), Paul Fix (Teeler Yacy).

A western classic, John Wayne heads north on the famous Chisholm Trail to the railhead at Abilene, Kansas.


The movie is the story of the first man successfully to push a herd of cattle up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas.  The movie follows Tom Dunson (John Wayne) who starts out with just a cow and a bull and after 14 years of ranching in Texas has a huge herd of cattle.  His good buddy, Groot Nadine (Walter Brennan), is Dunson's side-kick, while Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift)  is a young man who Wayne considers as his son. 

They start out with some 9,000 cattle.  But things do not go smoothly for the cowboys on the drive.  Here is the classic story of the cowboy up against multiple problems:  Indians, cattle stampedes, heavy rains, desertion of some of the cowboys on the drive, etc.  But perhaps the biggest problem of all is the flawed leadership of the man in charge, Tom Dunson himself.  He is too hard on his men, doesn't encourage them, and worst of all is so stubborn that he fails to follow up on the news that a new, shorter trail, the Chisholm Trail, has recently opened.  In fact, he is so unreasonable that the men mutiny, including his best friend and his "son".   Dunson vows revenge on his "son".  Will this end in tragedy for all or will the dispute be settled amicably?

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

The East wanted Texas beef and they wanted it brought quickly.

1867  --  Joseph G. McCoy built stockyards in Abilene, Kansas.  He then told Texas cattlemen to bring their herds to his stockyards.  As a promoter, McCoy went to the railroads with the idea of a shorter route for Texas cattle, one through Indian Territory.  

McCoy built a new hotel in Abilene.  

1867-1871  --  the cattle trail ended in Abilene.  Later it ended in Newton and Wichita, Kansas.

Within a few years, increasing settlement west of Abilene, pushed the cattle drives onto the Western Trail that led to Dodge City. 

1883-1887  --  the Chisholm Trail  ended in Caldwell, Kansas.

They started building the Chisholm trail south to Texas, heading south first to Wichita; taking the Jesse Chisholm's trade road some 220 miles to his trading post on the north Canadian River; and south to Texas to the Red River at Red River Station.  

Red River Station was a main crossing and the last place on the trail to buy supplies until Abilene, Kansas some 350 miles north.

1885  --  with the coming of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, the number of cattle drives started to dwindle.


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