In 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, the US Cavalry assigns Captain Nathan Cutting Brittles (John Wayne) one last mission before his retirement. He must lead his troops against Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors inspired from George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
In addition, Capt. Brittles’ commanding officer, Major Mac Allshard, hampers the patrol when he orders the Captain to deliver his wife, Abby, and niece, Olivia Dandridge to a stagecoach in Sutross Wells.
In the middle of this melee, 1st Lt. Flint Cohill and 2nd Lt. Ross Pennell compete for the affections of Olivia who wears a yellow ribbon in her hair; a sign in the US Calvary that she is fond of one of their officers.
Chief scout Sgt. Tyree, 1st Sergeant Quincannon, and Major Allshard ride along with Brittles, but when they arrive at Sutross Wells, they find the town burnt to the ground. The Cheyenne and Arapaho killed most of the soldiers there as well as many townsfolk. With the mission a failure, Brittles returns with the town’s survivor to Fort Starke to retire.
Meanwhile, 1st Lt. Flint Cohill continues on the original mission. Brittles returns to them with four hours left on his active duty. The Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors prepare to lay siege to Fort Starke. However this time, Brittles wants to make peace with Chief Pony That Walks, and walks into the Indian camp to try. That of course fails because the young warriors want war.
So, Brittles hatches a plan to stampede the Indian’s horses out of their camp while they sleep. Unable to attack the fort, the braves to return to their reservation.
The film ends with the US Calvary recalling Brittles to duty as Lt. Colonel, the Chief of Scouts, and Miss Dandridge and Lt. Cohill get engaged.