In 1863, First Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) is wounded in the American Civil War. Rather than having his leg amputated, he takes a horse and rides up to the Confederate front lines, distracting them in the process. The roused Union army then attacks and the battle ends in a Confederate rout. Dunbar survives, is allowed to recover properly, receives a citation for bravery, and is awarded Cisco, the horse who carried him, as well as his choice of posting.
Dunbar requests a transfer to the western frontier so he can see its vast terrain before it disappears. Dunbar arrives at his new post, Fort Sedgwick, but finds it abandoned and in disrepair. Despite the threat of nearby Native American tribes, he elects to stay and man the post himself. He begins rebuilding and restocking the fort and prefers the solitude afforded him, recording many of his observations in his journal.
Meanwhile Timmons, the wagon driver who transported Dunbar to Fort Sedgwick, is killed and scalped by Pawnee Indians on his way back to Fort Hayes. Timmons’s death and the suicide of Major Fainborough, who sent them there, prevents other soldiers from knowing of Dunbar’s assignment to the post, effectively isolating him. Dunbar notes in his journal of how strange it is that no other soldiers accompany him at the post.
Dunbar initially encounters his Sioux neighbors when several attempts are made to steal his horse and intimidate him. In response, Dunbar decides to seek out the Sioux camp in an attempt to establish a dialogue. On his way he comes across Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), who has injured herself in mourning her deceased husband.
She is the white adopted daughter of the tribe’s medicine man Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), her original family being killed by the aggressive Pawnee tribe when she was young. Dunbar returns her to the Sioux to be treated, which changes their attitude toward him. Eventually, Dunbar establishes a rapport with Kicking Bird and warrior Wind In His Hair (Rodney A. Grant) who equally wish to communicate. Initially the language barrier frustrates them, so Stands With A Fist, though with difficulty remembering her English, acts as translator.
Director: Kevin Costner
Year of Release: 1990
Character to watch: Kevin Costner as Lieutenant Dunbar.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?