Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Plainsman (1936)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Plainsman (1936)

In Cecil B. DeMille's epic western about the post-Civil War period, the film portrayed historical characters and events (the life of Wild Bill Hickok and other plainsmen, and also other famous personages such as Abraham Lincoln and General Custer), although compressed into one timeline:

  • the opening title card: "Among the men who thrust forward America's frontier were Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. The story that follows compresses many years, many lives, and widely separated events into one narrative -- in an attempt to do justice to the courage of the plainsman of the West"
  • the film's title-card epilogue: "It shall be as it was in the past... Not with dreams, but with strength and with courage... Shall a nation be molded to last."
  • in the opening scene (in the post-Civil War period) as he was scolded by wife Mary (Leila McIntyre) for being late to the theater, President Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) was exultant that the Civil War was over, and explained how he hoped that settlers and war veterans could now be attracted to and move into the Western frontier that would be protected and safe for settlement and the plow: ("I hope to attract our disbanded soldiers to the hidden wealth of our mountain ranges and to the wealth that lies in the soil itself..."); he fatefully left that evening to attend Ford's Theater, where he was assassinated

Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper)

Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison)

Calamity Jane (Jane Arthur)
  • a friendship developed between Indian scout Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) with his domesticating new Eastern wife Louisa (Helen Burgess), and Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) and his romantic interest - bull-whip snapping stagecoach driver Calamity Jane (Jane Arthur); when she greeted Hickok in Leavenworth, Kansas, Jane called out: "You mangy old coyote!"; she kissed him, and then noted: "Aw, you four-flushin' mule. You ain't wipin' it off. You're rubbin' it in"; when she asked why he didn't write her letters, he accused her of being promiscuous: "A woman who has a fella at every stage station, and a beau in every cavalry troop west of the Missouri - that woman doesn't need any letters from me"
  • Wild Bill quickly warned Louisa as she boarded Calamity's stagecoach ("prairie clipper") on the way to Hays City, KS - that there was lawlessness on the frontier: "There's no Sunday west of Junction City, no law west of Hays City and no God west of Carson City"
  • the villain of the film was profiteer, unscrupulous, gun-running John Lattimer (Charles Bickford), who was shipping large wooden crates marked as farming tools from St. Louis to the newly-settled West; the crates actually held seven-shot repeating rifles that would be sold to the Cheyenne Indians, led by Chief Yellow Hand (Paul Harvey), who used them against US cavalry troops; there would be dire consequences, including threats to Lincoln's dream of a safe country
  • Buffalo Bill was commissioned by General Custer (John Miljan) to lead troops to fend off the increasing number of Cheyenne Indian attacks on frontier settlements and wagon trains; Cody was assigned as a guide for an ammunition train bound for Fort Piney
  • meanwhile, Wild Bill Hickok attempted to locate Chief Yellow Hand to speak to him about the increase in Indian attacks, when both Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were abducted and captured (Hickok unsuccessfully tried to negotiate for Jane's release)
  • the two were taken to the Cheyenne camp where Hickok spoke to Chief Yellow Hand and learned why the Indian chief and all the tribes were on the "warpath" - they were opposing the unlawful taking of Indian lands and slaughter of their main food source - buffalo: ("Where sun rise, white man's land. Where sun set, Indian land. White man come, take our land. Kill buffalo, our food. White man promise us food. White man lie. Now Cheyenne buy white man's thunder stick. Soon war drums sound in all Indian land. All tribes ride with Yellow Hand. We drive white man, like buffalo, away, back to rising sun. Yellow Hand has spoken")

Captured Hickok with Chief Yellow Hand

One of Lattimer's Crates of Rifles, Sold to the Cheyenne

To Save Hickok, Jane Was Forced to Reveal the Location of a Reinforcement Supply Train
  • while captured, Jane (who was lovesick about Hickok) was forced to tell the Indians the direction, route and location ("deep Valley through the upper ford") of the mule-led supply train (with 10,000 rounds of ammunition as reinforcements) bound for Fort Piney, to save him from being burned alive (over a fire pit); her major betrayal and confession would mean the sacrifice of some of Buffalo Bill Cody's 48 troops who were riding as guides and protectors for the supply train
  • the wagon train was ambushed by the Cheyenne using Lattimer's purchased "thundersticks" (rifles); the supply train suffered a six-day long siege and was ultimately saved by the arrival of Gen. Custer's forces - it was one of the best action segments in the film
  • seeking vengeance, Hickok subsequently pursued after Lattimer's gang and Lattimer himself, and killed three of Lattimer's gang members during an attempted ambush, although he was wounded in the arm; then Hickok continued his personal chase after Lattimer into the Black Hills (Dakota Territory); in Deadwood, Hickok defended himself with his two-gun killing of John Lattimer and one of his men
  • news arrived that Gen. George A. Custer's forces had been massacred at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (recreated while described and recalled by a young Cheyenne Indian (Anthony Quinn, director DeMille's future son-in-law))
  • a memorable barroom death scene followed in the Bella Union saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (in 1876); Wild Bill Hickok was playing poker (with a famous 'dead man's hand' of black aces and eights, losing to three queens) against some of Lattimer's cohorts as he was awaiting the arrival of military authorities to take them away; at the end of his losing game when he mentioned casually: "A man's bound to lose, sooner or later," Wild Bill was fatally shot in the back by cowardly Lattimer supporter Jack McCall (Porter Hall); Wild Bill normally played with his back against a wall, but this time had broken his own rule
Death of Hickok While Playing Poker, in Calamity's Arms
  • as the film ended, Wild Bill was cradled on the saloon floor by a heartbroken and teary-eyed Calamity Jane (who had followed him to Deadwood); Cody arrived and said he would always remember Bill's legacy: ("All of us will. All of us"); Calamity kissed Bill's cold lips and told him: "That's one kiss you won't wipe off"
  • the film's epilogue: "It shall be as it was in the past... Not with dreams, but with strength and with courage... Shall a nation be molded to last"

Bookend Title Cards

Opening: Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) with His Wife Mary (Leila McIntyre)

Gun-Selling War Profiteer John Lattimer (Charles Bickford)

Calamity to Hickok About Her Kiss: "You ain't wipin' it off. You're rubbin' it in"

Wild Bill's Warning to Cody's Wife Louisa About Lawlessness on the Frontier

Gen. George A. Custer (John Miljan)

Both Hickok and Jane Were Captured by Cheyenne

Hickok Was Threatened to be Burned Alive

Indians on Warpath - Ambushing the Supply Train

Death of Gen. Custer at Custer's Last Stand

Hickok Confronting and Killing Lattimer


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