Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Guns of Fort Petticoat

At one level The Guns of Fort Petticoat  where a group of Southern women organised by war hero Audie Murphy fend off a large war party of Indians will appear unpromising afternoon viewing fare  even given the winter weather and a night when I felt so tired I went to bed and slept around 8,30 and then could not sleep for about four hours getting  up and going back to bed in the early hours.

I have written before that Audie Murphy, the star of the film was a genuine super hero, the most decorated individual soldier  in the Second World War. He died at the age of 47 in a plane crash in 1971 having made over forty films. His book and first film To Hell and Back  remains a classic,

The film uses  an actual event as yhe backcloth, The Sand Creek Massacre or the Chivington Massacre. On November 29th, 1864 a 700 man force of the Colorado Territory Militia committed one of the most infamous acts of genocide in US History against its indigenous people when they murdered between 73 and 166 friendly Cheyenne  over half women and children and destroyed their village  in the process.

About a decade after a  peace treaty had been signed with a number of Indian Tribes, the finding of gold led he US government to renege and reduce the land area available to less than tenth and which although many agreed to accept others, understandably did not The Colorado Unit had helped defeat the Texas Confederate army in the Civil War in 1862 and returned home to where they mounted a home guard under Colonel Chivington. The State Governor using Chivington and his men adopted a hard line towards the Indians who some  settler  i.e. trespassers and land stealers, accused  the Indians of stealing their cattle. Understandably the massacre led to a war of retaliation. About a thousand Indians set about revenge killing many women and children. It needs to be stressed that the Americans had not just slaughters the Indians  but brutally tortured and mutilated many of the defenceless women and children.   
In the film Texan Lt. Frank Hewitt (Murphy) is serving with the U.S. Cavalry under Colonel John Chivington. On patrol, Hewitt meets a group of Indians who are unarmed and returning to the Sand Creek reservation which they were not supposed to leave. While briefing Col. Chivington, the Colonel orders the Sand Creek Massacre. Hewitt not only disagrees with the punishment of the Indians, but realizes they will use the attack as an excuse to unite and spread terror throughout the Southwest, including his own hometown in Texas which has been emptied of the majority of its menfolk who are fighting for the Confederacy. Colonel Chivington sees Indian attacks on Texas as a bonus to create havoc in the Confederacy. Violently objecting, Hewitt is placed under arrest and confined to quarters.

He deserts to warn his neighbours but meets  a hostility because of the side he joined and considered a traitor.  This includes a woman he had hoped to marry and who had married another man in protest  on the rebound to his departure and now manages  the farm with the help of the husbands younger adolescent brother.

No one believes him about the threat until he brings home the dead body of a woman murdered by Comanche’s who have joined the uprising. Hewitt organizes the woman  hence the petticoat brigade of women training them in marksmanship and combat tactics. Armed and given military ranks, Hewitt and the ladies seize the day and hold onto the only safety they have in an abandoned mission. This includes a pacifist bible quoting lady and a couple of itinerant saloon women.

There is also one man who wants to get away in apart from the woman who he has got pregnant and wants  him to marry her. He is forced to stay but persuades the woman to get for him the only horse left  Reaching a  stage post he encounters three desperadoes and persuades them to let him live by telling of the women and alleging they have gold and jewels at the Mission. The men kill him  anyway.  The desperadoes  are then run off  from the mission and they run into the Indian War Party and  use the same approach telling of the women. Vastly outnumbered  Murphy gets everyone on the roof out of sight and this convinces the Indians  that if the women were there they have gone and they kill the desperadoes. Just as they are about to ride away a gun used by the adolescent brother goes off accidentally and there is no alternative but to stay and fight, Two of the women  are killed and others wounded but the Audie hits on the idea of  killing  the Indian medicine man, and showing him off back at the Fort and this convinces the Indians that the omens are bad and they ride off.

Murphy announces that he is returning to face the music  at  his unit and a court marshal and found guilty as his story is not believed. However before sentence is given  the Commanding Officer arrives as do a group of the Petticoat brigade to confirm his account fo what happened, Chivington is arrested for the Massacre and Murphy freed, The woman says she will lave her husband when he gets back and  join her first  and still love.

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