Rio Grande (1950)





Director:    John Ford.

Starring:     John Wayne (Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke), Maureen O'Hara (Mrs. Kathleen Yorke), Ben Johnson (Trooper Travis Tyree), Claude Jarman Jr. (Trooper Jefferson 'Jeff' Yorke), Harry Carey Jr. (Trooper Daniel 'Sandy' Boone), Chill Wills (Dr. Wilkins, regimental surgeon), J. Carrol Naish (Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan), Victor McLaglen (Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon), Grant Withers (U.S. Deputy Marshal), Sons of the Pioneers (Regimental Musicians), Peter Ortiz (Capt. St. Jacques), Steve Pendleton (Capt. Prescott), Karolyn Grimes (Margaret Mary), Alberto Morin (Lieutenant), Stan Jones (Sergeant).

Col. Ranald Mackenzie's 1873 raid against the Comanche and Kiowa hiding in Mexico




Spoiler Warning:

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke leads his men back into Fort Starke.  With them comes the wounded troopers and Indian prisoners of war.  After dismissing his men, Yorke goes into see Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan.  Both men were together in the Shenandoah Campaign during the Civil War.  Yorke reports that they had a running fight for some 30 miles and caught Nachez before the Apache reached the Rio Grande and crossed over into Mexico.  The general has some news for Yorke.  His son Jeff Yorke failed mathematics and was dropped from West Point.  Yorke says he hasn't seen his son for 15 years.

A new group of recruits comes into the fort.  They are welcomed by Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon.  He calls the roll.  The last name called is Yorke.  At this Kirby Yorke and two fellow officers perk up.  Kirby goes outside to look at the faces of the recruits.  He then says a few tough sentences to them. 

Jeff Yorke is brought to his father.  Dad mentions his failing out at West Point.  Where did Jeff enlist?  At Highland Falls, New York where the Academy is. Kirby then gives a little speech that he will give no special treatment to his son.  In fact, he will expect twice as much work from him.  Jeff strikes back by saying he wants to be treated as any other recruit here at the fort.  Dad says:  "Then we understand each other." 

Quincannon holds riding practice for the recruits.  He uses some of the best riders in the fort to show the recruits the way the cavalry rides and jumps over obstacles.  Then he says, but that's the easiest way.  Some of the men can ride Roman style standing between two horses running in tandem.  Troopers Daniel 'Sandy' Boone and Travis Tyree act as if the riding display was not impressive at all.  So Quincannon asks them if they would like to ride Roman style.  The two men jump at the chance and run over to the two sets of horse, jump up on them and ride them around the track and also jump over a high obstacle.  The guys just loved showing-off in front of the sergeant major. 

The local sheriff and his deputy come to talk with Quincannon asking him if his has a horse thief named Tyree in his outfit?  Quincannon acts like he's insulted at the very idea.  He now asks recruit Yorke if he wants to ride Roman style.  Yorke is all gung-ho and jumps on the back of the set of horses.  He does a marvelous job of riding, but his horses don't make the jump completely and Tyree has to jump off them.  His father was watching him and started to go to his son's rescue, but he catches himself and holds back.  All the other men on the field run out to see if  Yorke is okay.  He's okay.

Quincannon has to break up a fight between recruit Yorke and an older recruit.  The sergeant major asks Yorke what's all this about?  Yorke refuses to answer, so Tyree speaks up saying the older man, Heinz, said something derogatory about Yorke's father.  Then Boone pipes up saying the older fellow also said that he's the teacher's pet of a chowder-headed Mic sergeant".  Boone asks Quincannon what does that mean, sgt. major?  Quincannon does not like that and asks the man if he meant what he said?  Yes, he did.  The men will fight it out a 9 p.m. behind the tents.

The older man is not as tall, but he is stronger than Yorke.  In the fight, he knocks Yorke down.  Yorke gets up then goes down when he is hit squarely in the bread basket.  The army surgeon comes over to Quincannon and tells him he will get bused for this, but then he goes over to Yorke and starts giving him boxing advice.  Quincannon as referee goes over to the waiting small man gouging him in the eyes while he tells the man not to do any gouging.  He then hits him on the right side of his face knocking him off his barrel stool and says when coming out of the clinches, don't do anything like that.

The fight resumes and Yorke goes down for a third time.  Now the fight is stopped with the arrival of Lt. Col. Yorke. No one will say what the fight is about.  Quincannon says it's a "soldiers' fight".  So Yorke leaves telling the men to carry on.  But now the two fighters decide to make up.  This leaves the sergeant major unsatisfied and he knocks Heinz down with a right fist to the jaw. 

The next morning the Lt. Col. sneaks a peak at his son through the window of the sick bay.  A wagon arrives carrying a strange passenger.  Strange because she is a woman.  One of the officers says no unauthorized ladies are allowed on the fort.  But, oh, is she authorized.  She has authority from none other than Gen Sheridan himself.  She explains that she has come to see her son, Jeff Yorke.  Mrs. Kathleen Yorke is shocked when she sees her estranged husband, Lt. Col. Yorke and Quincannon walking up to the wagon.  Yorke takes her arm and they walk over to Yorke's quarters.  She doesn't care for Quincannon who she calls an arsonist.   (Quincannon was given the order to burn down Kathleen's plantation in the Shenandoah Valley.)

Kathleen says she is taking her son out of the army.  She will get a math tutor for him and he can begin again at West Point.  Kirby says the man enlisted and he will stay enlisted until he finishes his enlistment.  Kathleen gets very angry at Kirby.  She wanted to take Jeff home with her, but her husband says she needs the signature of Jeff's commanding officer, and that's Kirby and he's not signing. 

The married couple have dinner together in their tent.  The Regimental Singers start singing after dinner.  They sing especially for the Lt. Col.  They sing "I'll take you home again, Kathleen". 

At bedtime, Kirby sleeps elsewhere than the tent.  Quincannon comes and gets Kathleen.  He takes her to see her son.  Jeff is shocked to see her.  She kisses her son and his bandaged bruises and cuts.  Kathleen quickly find out from her son that he is not going to drop out of the army and go home with her.  She is surprised that her son is so determined not to quit. 

Apaches attack the fort.  They are going to get their men out of the army stockade.  Kathleen sees a trooper shot from his horse right in front of her.  She faints at the sight. 

An Indian guide identifies the Indian dead by tribe:  Chiricahua Apache, Mescalero Apache and White Mountain Apache. Kirby says the uniting of three tribes means real trouble.  He orders Capt. St. Jacques to form Troop A and go after the Apaches. 

The sheriff comes out again and they arrest trooper Tyree for manslaughter back in Texas. Mrs. Yorke feels sorry for Tyree and she tells her son and Quincannon that she will get him a good lawyer. 

Quincannon asks the surgeon what is an arsonist?  The surgeon explains the word and Quincannon says Mrs. Yorke calls him an arsonist because back in the civil war in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Captain Yorke had him burn down his wife's family's plantation. 

Lt. Col. Yorke and some aide go out to the middle of the Rio Grande (called Rio Bravo by the Mexicans) to talk with some Mexican charged with keeping Mexican citizens safe around the Rio Bravo.  Kirby wants to put his command under the Mexican officer and help him go after Chief Nachez.  The Mexican says he cannot, because his orders are to stay by the Rio Bravo. 

When Yorke returns to his tent and lights the lantern, he sees his beautiful wife all dressed up.  He grabs her, swings her around and kisses her passionately.  He then apologizes to Kathleen for getting out of control.  She asks him if this is because of his overweening sense of duty?  She says his sense of duty destroyed two great things:  her family's plantation and them as a couple. 

Gen. Sheridan, Mr. and Mrs. Yorke and the other officers all have dinner together.  Mrs. Yorke offers a toast:  "To my only rival:  the United States Cavalry." 

Tyree jumps on a horse and escapes from the marshal. 

Gen. Sheridan now tells Yorke that he wants him to go after the Apache even if it means going over the Rio Grande and into Mexico.  He then orders from the fort all women and children and have them transferred to Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas. 

Kirby goes over to Kathleen to tell her she will be going to Fort Bliss, along with the other women.  Jeff will be along on the escort to El Paso.  Kathleen says Jeff will hate it, but she loves Kirby for it.  They hug and kiss. 

The next morning the wagons of women and children with a large escort head out for Ft. Bliss.  Kirby watches them leave the area.  Out in the desert, Tyree watches the wagon train as it goes by.  His friends are at the end of the formation and Tyree gets some water and food from them.  Tyree tells Boone and Yorke that the water hole is all muddied up.  And that's a heap big Injun sign.  The two troopers take off to tell the lieutenant. 

Before they can get to the lieutenant the convoy runs right into an Apache ambush.  Several soldiers are shot from their horse.  Heinz gets speared by a long Indian lance.  The men stop at a narrow pass, overturn the wagons and start picking off the Indians with their weapons.  Yorke gets the assignment to race back to the fort for help.  He takes off as fast as he can.  The women and children hide behind the rocks.  Three Apache chase after Yorke.  Tyree sees all this and saves the day.  He catches up with Jeff and gets the young fellow's pistol.  He then lays his horse on the ground.  From behind the horse he shoots all three of the Apache. 

Help arrives from the fort.  The detachment lost four men in the battle and the Apache got away with the children.  Kirby says they will get the children back.  He and his men go after the Apache.  They follow them down by the Rio Grande.  There Tyree comes up to them with important information concserning the Apache and the children.  They are now holed up in a small settlement.  Kirby lets Tyree pick three men to go with him to the Mexican town.  One of those men is Jeff.  Kirby takes a hard swallow over this, but he lets his son go.  Kirby follows afterwards. 

The team of four reach the church building where the children are being held.  The Apache are holding some form of ceremony in the center of town.  Many  them are very drunk. 

After the ceremony the Apache start for the church.  A little girl sounds the church bell for the main cavalry to hear.  They hear the bell and come a riding.  Kirby rides right into the church and checks to see that the men and children are alright.  He then has the children put into two wagons.  The troops go right down Main Street.  Kirby gets hit by an arrow and falls off his horse.  His son Jeff pulls the arrow out of his father. 

Kathleen anxiously watches the troops as they slowly come back into the fort.  She is very relieved to see the children come back.  She runs over to Jeff when she sees him.  Jeff is walking behind his father who is on an Indian type stretcher being pulled by a horse.  Kathleen holds his hand as she walks alongside the stretcher. 


Another good John Ford film  --  part of the three part trilogy about the cavalry.  Seems the historical action was transferred from the Texas panhandle (northern top of Texas) to the Rio Grande in southern Texas marking the border between Texas and Mexico.  And the Cheyenne ad Kiowa were changed to the Apache. The acting was good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


Comanche  --  at one time there may have been as many as 20,000 Comanche living in the present-day Eastern New Mexico, Southern Colorado, Southern Kansas, all of  Oklahoma, and most of Northern and Southern Texas.  Quanah Parker was the last major chief of the Comanche Indians.

Kiowa  --  The Kiowa lived mostly in the plains of west Texas, Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico.  They formed a deep bond with the Comanche and the Plains Apache.  Two of their most famous chiefs were named Satanta and Satank. 

Cheyenne  --  the Cheyenne nation comprised ten bands, spread all over the Great Plains, from southern Colorado to the Black Hills in South Dakota. Currently the Northern Cheyenne live in southeast Montana and the Southern Cheyenne, along with the Southern Arapaho, live in central Oklahoma.

Arapaho  --  lived on the eastern plains of Colorado and Wyoming.  They were close allies of the Cheyenne tribe and loosely aligned with the Sioux.


1840 (July 27)  --  Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was born in Westchester County, New York.  He was the nephew of diplomat John Slidell, diplomat for the Confederate States of America, and the brother of U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Alexander Slidell MacKenzie.

class of 1862  --  he graduated from West Point at the head of his class.  He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and served in the battles of Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg and through the Overland Campaign. 

He was appointed colonel of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, which served as infantry during the attacks on Petersburg, Virginia.  He was wounded there, losing two fingers.  This led to his nickname, "Bad Hand".

1864 (August-October)   --  he helped oppose Jubal Early's raid menacing Washington, D.C.

1864 (October 19)  -- he was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek fighting off Jubal Early's forces.

He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers.  He commanded the Cavalry of the Army of the James.  He led the cavalry in the Battles of Five Forks and Appomattox Courthouse. 

1865  --  he was appointed brevet major general of volunteers and served in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. 

Mackenzie was not that popular among his troops because of his harsh discipline that led to the nickname the "Perpetual Punisher".  But as far as fighting was concerned, General Ulysses S. Grant said he was the "most promising young officer" in the entire Union after the Civil War.  Mackenzie served in the West in the Indian Wars. 

1867  --  he was appointed colonel in the 41st U.S. Infantry (later the 24th Infantry Regiment) and saw action against the Apaches in the American southwest.

1867  --  at Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the United States signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty (a series of three treaties) with the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, Cheyenne and Arapahoe.

1868  --  in the Treaty of Fort Laramie, the Great Sioux reservation was established in the Black Hills of Dakota.   

1871 (Feb. 25)  --  he now commanded the 4th U.S. Cavalry. 

Panic of 1873  --  economic depression in the U.S.

1874-1875  --  the United States defaulted on the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867.   What resulted was the Red River War, orchestrated by Gen. Philip Sheridan.  It was a series of conflicts in the Texas panhandle between Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho and the United States Army. Mackenzie fought in the Red River War.

1874  --  the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of Dakota was made public following the Custer Expedition there.  People suffering from the Panic of 1873, caught gold fever and flocked into the Dakota Hills, naturally making the Indians there very angry.  

1875 (Sept. 28)  --    He and his troops were able to route the Indians at the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon that brought about the end of the war.

1876  --  outbreak of the Black Hills War between the Sioux and the U.S. Army. 

1876 (summer)   --  Mackenzie defeated the Cheyenne in the Dull Knife Fight, which helped bring about the end of the Black Hills War. 

1882  --  he was appointed brigadier general. 

1884 (March 24)  --  following a fall from a wagon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he suffered from mental instability and retired from the Army. 

1889 (January 19)  --  he died in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York City.  He is buried in the West Point National Cemetery. 



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