The Plainsman

The Plainsman is a 1936 American Western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The film presents a highly fictionalized account of the adventures and relationships between Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, and General George Custer, with a gun-runner named Lattimer (Charles Bickford) as the main villain. The film is notorious for mixing timelines and even has an opening scene with Abraham Lincoln setting the stage for Hickok's adventures. Anthony Quinn has a role as an Indian. A remake using the same title was released in 1966.

The Plainsman
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCecil B. DeMille
Produced byCecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by
Story byCourtney Ryley Cooper
Based on"Wild Bill Hickok, the Prince of Pistoleers"
1934 stories
by Frank J. Wilstach
Music byGeorge Antheil
CinematographyVictor Milner
Edited byAnne Bauchens
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • November 16, 1936 (1936-11-16)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States


With the end of the American Civil War, military industrialists are left with an oversupply of weapons. Some of the more unscrupulous ones view the Indians as possible new customers.

Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) has just been discharged from the Union Army and is making his way back west. On a paddle steamer, he bumps into his old army scout colleague, Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) and his new bride. Later, Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) is the driver of their stagecoach to Hays City, Kansas.

John Lattimer (Charles Bickford), an agent for the gun makers, has supplied the Cheyenne Indians with repeating rifles, which enable them to kill half of the troopers at a United States Cavalry outpost. Hickok discovers the rifles and reports it to General George Armstrong Custer (John Miljan). Custer sends out an ammunition train to the fort with Cody as guide. Hickok tries to locate Yellow Hand (Paul Harvey), the Cheyenne chieftain, to find out why the Indians have gone to war.

When Calamity is captured by the Indians, Hickok tries to bargain for her release, but instead gets captured himself. Yellow Hand states that the Indians are fighting because the white man has starting settling land promised to the Indian and is killing off the buffalo. Yellow Hand promises to release his captives if they tell him the location of the ammunition train. After much prodding from Calamity, Hickok professes his love for her just before he is about to be tortured. Calamity then discloses the route of the ammunition train in order to save Hickok from being burned alive. Yellow Hand holds true to his word by releasing his two prisoners.

The Indians ambush the ammunition train. Hickok sends Jane to get reinforcements while he fights alongside the besieged soldiers. After a desperate six-day siege on a river bank, the survivors are saved when Custer arrives with the cavalry.

Back in town, Hickok catches up with Lattimer and tells him to get ready for a gun duel. Instead of going himself, Lattimer sends three cavalry deserters in his place. Hickok kills all three deserters in the gunfight, but this makes him a fugitive from the law. Hickok flees to the Dakota Territory. Calamity leaves for Deadwood separately when the townspeople find out that she was partly responsible for the attack on the ammunition train.

Custer sends Cody after Hickok. After meeting in the woods, the two friends capture an Indian and learn that Custer has been killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and that the Cheyenne are moving to join the Sioux Indians in the Black Hills. They also learn that Lattimer is sending more rifles to the Indians, to be picked up in Deadwood. Instead of arresting his friend, Cody rides off to warn the cavalry, while Hickok goes to Deadwood to deal with Lattimer. Hickok kills Lattimer and detains Lattimer's henchmen for arrest by the cavalry. Hickok is shot in the back by Lattimer's informant Jack McCall (Porter Hall) while he is playing cards with the henchmen. The film ends with a heart-broken Calamity Jane cradling Hickok's body.


Cavalry soldier extras and unit horses were period costumed members of the 115th Cavalry, Wyoming National guard which was still a horse cavalry unit from 1922 to 1941.[1][2]


Parts of the film were shot in Kanab Canyon, Kanab movie fort, and Paria, Utah.[3]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. "The Plainsman - 1937". American Cowboy. Active Interest Media, Inc. 12 (6): 75. March–April 2016. ISSN 1079-3690.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. Clay, Steven E. "U.S. Army Order of Battle 1919-41" (PDF). The Arms: Cavalry, Field Artillery, and Coast Artillery, 1919-41. Fort Leavenwworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press. 2: 1232.
  3. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  4. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2016.


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