Based on the first part of a novel by Kenneth Roberts, Major Rogers leads his Rangers on a retaliatory raid against Indians, and they return starving.
In 1759 Hunk Marriner (Walter Brennan) is in the stocks for disloyal speech and is visited by artist Langdon Towne (Robert Young). Humphrey Towne (Robert Barrat) accepts his son's dismissal from Harvard. Langdon kisses Elizabeth Browne (Ruth Hussey), but her father Rev. Browne (Louis Hector) rejects him. Langdon drinks, calls Wiseman Clagatt a thief, and flees abduction with Hunk to the west. Major Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy) buys them rum and looks at Langdon's maps, getting him to join his Rangers. Lord Amherst (Lumsden Hare) gives Rogers his orders and Mohawk scouts. They row boats on Lake Champlain. To avoid the French they haul boats over a hill. Rogers sends the Mohawks back. A fight breaks out over an Indian, who shoots gunpowder. Rogers sends back the injured and disobedient. Rogers says they are going to Canada to attack the Abenaki Indians, and he describes their crimes. They trudge in water and sleep in trees. Webster (Regis Toomey) has a broken leg and is left behind. Indians tell Rogers that the French got their boats. Rogers sends Sergeant McNott (Donald MacBride) to Amherst to send food to Fort Wentworth.
To cross the rapid St. Francis River Rogers forms a human chain. Langdon counts 142 who crossed. At dawn they sneak into a village, set it on fire, and kill Indians. Rogers releases the Indian women and children with a threatening message. A white woman asks Rogers to take her back, but Jennie Coit (Isabel Jewell) hates him. They have only corn to eat. Hunk finds Langdon wounded in the stomach; but Rogers gets him to walk and has Jennie help him. At the lake Rogers stops the hungry men and scouts with Indians. Men want to hunt and outvote Rogers, who catches Crofton (Addison Richards) eating an Indian head. Crofton tries to kill Rogers and then jumps off a cliff. With birds, squirrels, frogs, and lizards the men make stew. Two men return after escaping from torturing Indians. Langdon makes it back saying that Dunbar and his men were killed by Indians. Rogers leads his weary man to Fort Wentworth, but no one is there. Rogers orders them to work, but they refuse. Rogers quotes the Bible, and they hear the British coming in boats. Rogers has his men stand at attention as red-coats carry food. In the final scene in town Lord Amherst gives Rogers his orders from King George II to go to Detroit, and they march out. Rogers says good-bye to Langdon and Elizabeth, who says that Langdon will be a great painter.
This realistic depiction of a brutal slaughter of an
Indian village during the French and Indian War reflects the current
war in which the Americans are already helping the British. The
hardships arouse admiration for their endurance and courage but
also indicate the unnecessary suffering that accompanies the fighting
of dehumanized enemies in war.