The Massacre of Our Men

By R. Earle Harris
All rights reserved (c) 2015 (rearleharris@tuxfamily.org)


FADE IN:

EXT. BIG HORN MOUNTAINS AND TONGUE RIVER - DAY

MONTAGE: The Big Horn mountains seen from the south as islands rising from the high deserts. The wooded eastern valleys that merge with the rolling buffalo-grass hills. Descending over Lodge Trail Ridge and Massacre Ridge and settling upon the Tongue River.

MRS. CARRINGTON, wife of Col. Carrington, narrates.

MRS. CARRINGTON (V.O.)
In December of 1866, the Lakota of the Big Horn Mountains dealt the United States Army such a blow that the government in Washington abandoned three newly-built forts. Washington surrendered to the demands of the Lakota, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho. And, for a time, we left this region to its native peoples.

GREY SCREEN

The screen is the cold grey of death.

Title Over:
               December 21, 1866

EXT. MASSACRE RIDGE - DAY

Cold, grey sky. The snowy badlands of northern Wyoming. On horseback are John Wheatley (civilian), John Fisher (civilian), Pvt. Patrick Clancy, and four other enlisted men. Pvt. Patrick Shannon, clinging to Clancy's stirrup, is half-carried as he runs alongside.

These eight men are nearing the east-west spine that is the north end of Massacre Ridge, eagerly pursuing some ten or fifteen young Oglala warriors who are baiting them on as they draw Fetterman's entire command into ambush. Shannon looks back and we see the cavalry - Lt. Grummond, 27 men, and Cpt. Brown - one hundred meters back on the ridge to the south, moving forward at a trot. (Cpt. Brown rides the Calico pony that we will meet below.) Cpt. Fetterman and his 48 infantry are another hundred meters south of the cavalry and are standing still, in good order. A dozen of these men, under 1st Sgt. Lang, a German, are in a skirmish line twenty meters north of the main body. Wheatley's group passes over the spine and, immediately, two to three hundred Lakota and Cheyenne seem to rise out of the snow-covered ground before them, unleashing a volley of arrows and screaming at the top of their lungs. Almost all of Wheatley's group and their horses are wounded. They can see that there are even more Lakota rising from the deep draw to the east, hundreds of them on horseback, racing up the slope. In an attempt to get away with their lives, the group bolts west off the high ground. Shannon spins to the ground, too wounded to hold on to the stirrup. We see his face, briefly, as we hear 1500 Lakota screaming up the ridge toward him.

EXT. FORT - NIGHT

Establishing shot of Ft. Kearney in Nebraska.

Title Over:
                May 19, 1866 - Ft. Kearney, Nebraska Territory 

INT. HOUSE - NIGHT

Burning exterior of the Carringtons's officer's quarters.

INT. HOUSE - NIGHT

Mrs. Carrington is searching the flames for her young son, JIMMY. She is unable to go farther into the house.

MRS. CARRINGTON
Jimmy!

A window behind her is broken out. Pvt. PATRICK SHANNON tumbles into the room.

SHANNON
Come, Mrs. Carrington!

She struggles against him.

MRS. CARRINGTON
No! My son Jimmy is in there!

Shannon is dragging her bodily to the window.

SHANNON
He's safe, ma'am.

SHANNON (CONT'D)
(To Patrick Clancy.)         
Patrick! Pull her out!

Pvt. Patrick CLANCY reaches in and together they get her out the window.

EXT. HOUSE - NIGHT

Continuous.

MRS. CARRINGTON
No! Jimmy!

CLANCY
He's safe, ma'am. He's sure and safe.

Shannon clambers out of the house as the rounds in two big dragoon Colts begin to cook off in the flames.

SHANNON
Get her down, Patrick.

Jimmy runs up, delighted.

JIMMY CARRINGTON
Mother! Those are Father's big pistols.

CLANCY
Let's be getting away, ma'am.

EXT. HOUSE - NIGHT

Everyone is clear of the burning house. COL. CARRINGTON, CPT. BROWN, Pvt. Patrick SMITH arrive on the run.

SMITH
I found the colonel!

JIMMY
Father! Your pistols are shooting!

MRS. CARRINGTON
I'm fine, dear. These boys pulled me out.

CPT. BROWN
I see my Patricks have been in the heat of things.

The Patricks all salute the colonel.

COL. CARRINGTON
My thanks to you, men.

The colonel wraps his wife in his cloak.

COL. CARRINGTON (CONT'D)
Come, Margaret. The night is almost gone and we can make you comfortable in the wagon.

MRS. CARRINGTON
You would think I could spend my last night here in our feather bed.

COL. CARRINGTON
Captain Brown, have Metzler bugle the men out. Any men that slept through my fire can join the rest of us. I want us all moving as soon as the sky lightens.

CPT. BROWN
Yes, sir.

EXT. PLAIN - DAY

Dawn, the plain just west of Ft. Kearney. "Carrington's Overland Circus" consists of two battalions - 1500 men, including some 400 cavalry, 50 wagons, a couple hundred head of cattle, and several ambulances, or small wagons, that carry the households of dependents.

EXT. PLAIN - DAY

Carrington and his scout, (the ) Jim BRIDGER, are riding alongside the Carringtons' wagon. Bridger is 60, wise in the ways of native Americans, and never rides faster than a slow trot.

COL. CARRINGTON
How many days to Ft. Laramie, in your estimation, Mr. Bridger?

BRIDGER
Four weeks. Or thereabouts.

Bridger looks back down the line.

BRIDGER (CONT'D)
Maybe more, with these men.

COL. CARRINGTON
You don't care for my veterans, Mr. Bridger?

BRIDGER
That was the South, Colonel. These men knew who to fight the against the rebellion. As for Indians, I reckon you're well-equipped with everything you need but men, weapons, and horses.

EXT. PLAIN - DAY

General William Tecumseh SHERMAN approaches, leading a Calico pony (the one Brown is on in the massacre.)

EXT. PLAIN - DAY

Bridger sees the general approaching.

BRIDGER
I'll be off up ahead.

Bridger departs.

SHERMAN
Good morning, Colonel. I came to wish you well and spend a morning on the prairie before I go back to the Great White Father. Here--

Sheridan hands Carrington a telegram.

SHERMAN (CONT'D)
General Cooke sends his love.

Carrington frowns.

COL. CARRINGTON
Thank you, sir.

SHERMAN
Don't mention it--he's a pain in the ass.

Sherman rides closer to the ambulance.

SHERMAN (CONT'D)
Good morning, Mrs. Carrington. I heard you lost a good feather bed last night.

MRS. CARRINGTON
We did, General.

SHERMAN
Well, you won't find another one out here. But I've brought you a present for the plains. I'm offering it to you so the Colonel won't refuse me. And it's for Jimmy, so you can't refuse me either.

He offers her the reins of the pony.

JIMMY
Oh, Mother!

MRS. CARRINGTON
I can't refuse, can I? Thank you, General.

SHERMAN
And this, my dear, is only an old army account book. But it will make a fine journal. You and the colonel will be making history, as I did. Write it down.

Sherman hands her the book and returns to Carrington.

SHERMAN (CONT'D)
Colonel, I spoke to Bridger this morning. The old coot says you're leading a deck of paper soldiers. He's likely to know what he's talking about. Fix it.

COL. CARRINGTON
Yes, General. And thank you for the presents.

SHERMAN
I brought no present for you, Carrington. You get the Indians and the mountains and the Powder River. I get Washington and the damn Congress. Good luck to you, Colonel.

COL. CARRINGTON
Thank you, General.

Sherman departs.

MRS. CARRINGTON
Henry?

COL. CARRINGTON
Yes, Margaret?

MRS. CARRINGTON
Why do you always use tiny sentences when you speak to generals?

COL. CARRINGTON
They outrank me, dear. I'm supposed to be seen and not heard.

MRS. CARRINGTON
What does General Cooke say?

COL. CARRINGTON
He wants to know why we haven't left Ft. Kearney yet.

MRS. CARRINGTON
I hope you have a good answer.

GREY SCREEN

The cold grey of death.

Title Over:
               December 21, 1866.

Each time the film breaks to the massacre, our vision is slammed with that initial cold, stark, grey screen. These massacre scenes are violent, stormy bursts of action. Any dialogue in them would be minimal and left to the director's interpretation.

EXT. MASSACRE RIDGE - DAY

Wheatley's group, passing over the ridge to the west, can now see a hundred or more Lakota, already within archery range, coming south toward them along the steep west slope. As the Lakota open fire, Wheatley leads those with him to dismount and they take cover within a twenty-foot circle composed of a few large rocks, two to three feet tall, with space enough between them for one man to pass. Wheatley and Fisher, armed with fifteen-shot Henry rifles, open fire on their attackers. The soldiers with them, young Civil War veterans, fire with their single-shot Star carbines. Thanks to the fire-power of the Henry rifles, the first onslaught is broken.

Behind these men, up on the ridge, Lt. Grummond orders his cavalry forward at the first sound of rifles from Wheatley's men, who are out of sight as soon as they first passed over the end of the ridge and were attacked. They are no sooner in motion than mounted warriors surge up all along the ridge in front of Grummond's men. To the east of these Lakota, below the ridge where the slope is gentler, hundreds of Lakota and Arapaho come into view. The battle cries of 1500 attackers are so loud that no one can hear Grummond yelling orders. His cavalry is stunned.

EXT. FORT SEDGEWICK - DAY

Evening is approaching and from this Nebraskan fort the approach of Carrington's Circus can be seen.

Title Over:
                May 31, 1866 - Ft. Sedgewick, Nebraska Territory 

EXT. RIVER BLUFFS - EVENING

Evening, near Fort Sedgewick on the Platte River. Above the river, in a pavilion of tents, the regimental band is entertaining the officers, dependents, and upper enlisted men.

EXT. RIVERBANK - EVENING

Below on the river, CPT. TEN EYCK is directing the river crossing. Using ropes, mules, and muscle, the men - including the three Patricks - are dragging one wagon after another across the half-mile of mud flat and shallow water. Throughout this scene, the Patricks are leading mules through the mud accompanied by the music from above.

SHANNON
Patrick?

SMITH AND CLANCY
Yes, Patrick?

SHANNON
I was thinking it's a fine night for music.

SMITH
And mules.

SHANNON
And mules, to be sure.

CLANCY
One could only wish the mud a little deeper.

SHANNON
Oh, but we have the help of these muddy men of the third battalion to be grateful for.

Cries of "Hear, hear" from several muddy men.

SHANNON (CONT'D)
Tomorrow they would not be here to help us.

SMITH
And where might they be going?

MUDDY MAN
Utah.

SMITH
And where might that be?

SHANNON
Likely west. We all seem to be walking that way.

SMITH
Except Thomas here - he has a horse.

Pvt. Thomas MADDEON, armourer, older and larger than the Patricks, is on horseback dragging poles toward a bogged-down wagon.


Screenplay truncated at 500 lines.