In my view, this is the best of the three movie series that put the cap on the Gunsmoke franchise. The plot is well written and nuanced. As with many Gunsmoke series episodes, the affairs of the US government and the Indian nations are put forward as a core element of the narrative, and this movie perhaps went the deepest into that narrative.
Invoking the Apache surrender on 4 September 1886, the movie shows the forced resettlement of many Apache from western reservations to Florida. It also, at the end relates the treaty violation in incarcerating treaty signatory Geronimo, and his male warriors, at Fort Pickens, Florida, on the extreme outer banks chain forming the entrance to Pensacola Bay. This stockade was dilapidated at the time, and was an extremely cruel location for Apache, given the extreme heat and humidity, which none of them were acclimated to.
As the movie's end credits show, the treaty formally provided for the Apache men to be immediately reunited with their family already moved to Florida.
This illegal incarceration lasted several months, after which the Apache were finally relocated a final time in what is today Western Oklahoma.
A stark difference in this movie is the clean break from any of the ensemble cast of the Gunsmoke TV series. It was the first effort produced after Amanda Blake's death one year prior. The only connection to the TV series was the character of "Mike Yardner," who, as with actor Michael Learned, was given a misleading male name, when, in fact, the character -- and actress -- was decidedly female.
Woven throughout the narrative is the traditional expose of courage and integrity amid strife. However, the way this episode plays out offers unique perspectives, plus a love interest that some consider controversial, but most considered fine drama.
Joe Lara turned in an especially strong performance as the true "Last Apache;" the warrior who refused to surrender, and who rode into the night without anyone knowing his ultimate fate. The cinematography that formed the final scene between Dillon and Lara's character, Wolf, was beautifully crafted, and was quite obviously filmed in actual weather conditions. That scene by itself put this movie well above standard made-for-TV movie fare.
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