Circle of Fire

Circle of Fire

First Impressions:
A good early season one story about true bravery versus bravado.  (Would've been better with more Jess though).

The Story:
When this episode opens, a stage carrying a woman and three passengers is stopped on the road because of wheel trouble.  Mose is trying to fix the wheel while a railroad man named Bigelow is talking about the railroad. Some Pawnee Indian scouts ride up.  Startled, the woman picks up a rifle and shoots one of the scouts.  One of the passengers asks her why she shot the Indian when he was riding up peaceable, and she hugs her friend David, played by Ernest Borgnine, and says she was afraid the Indian was going to shoot him.  The passengers realize the Pawnee will be coming after them led by Yellow Knife and decide to risk making it to Sherman station on the bad wheel.  David intervenes and says they must try to save the Indian.  Upon closer inspection of the Indian, the passengers realize that he is Taka, son of Yellow Knife, so they are doubly concerned.
Martha shoots Taka, the son of Pawnee Chief Yellow Knife

Jess laments over having to send Andy away Meanwhile back at Sherman ranch, a cavalry officer is explaining the Yellow Knife situation to Slim, Jess, and Andy.  Seems Yellow Knife's tribe refused to move south to a new reservation, so the government cut off their meat ration.  Armed forces are preparing to escort the Indians to the reservation, and the officer is warning people as they go.  Slim immediately sends Jonesy and Andy to town so they'll be safe.  Jess asks Slim if he had to send Andy to town.  Slim answers that they'll be safer there.  But Jess says it's hard to tell Andy that he's not a man.

After Jonesy and Andy ride off, the stage arrives and Slim and Jess take the injured Taka into the house.  David explains the situation.  Jess recognizes David as a major from the war.  Jess is very respectful of the major and the major seems rather surprised.  Jess agrees to stay and look after the Indian.

Mose gathers everyone together to discuss the situation.  Bigelow, the railroad man, wants to high-tail it to Laramie, leaving Slim and Jess to deal with their trouble.  David doesn't think it's right to leave Slim to clean up their mess.  Slim says he's staying no matter what.

As David begins explaining how they could defend the Sherman ranch, Bigelow starts asking David who he thinks he is to be ordering them around.  Jess comes to David's defense saying David knows what he is talking about because he was an army major.  The passengers realize that David is the infamous Major David Prescott, who was charged with cowardice during the war in a battle at Cold Creek.  The men decide to borrow horses and ride into town.  Jess asks Slim if he's gonna let them just pull out.  Slim thinks there's a better chance the Indians won't attack if they leave.

Jonesy and Andy drive back up to the ranch.  They couldn't make it through the pass because of the Pawnee. The Indians have surrounded the ranch.

Jonesy begins helping with Taka, but it's hopeless.  They can't get the bullet out. Jonesy tells Slim they're gonna have to use the Indian quick if they're gonna bargain with him.  He isn't gonna make it long.

Jonesy and Andy return to the ranch after being cut off by the Pawnee
The Indians launch a small attack on the ranch but are easily repelled.  Bigelow makes light of the attack, but Slim explains it's just a feeler.  Prescott urges caution, but Bigelow insinuates that Prescott is a coward to be afraid of Indians.  After all everyone knows 'any white man could lick a redstick ten to one' unless the white man were a coward.  Prescott obviously does not like being called a coward, and Martha tries to comfort him by telling him it's only a word.  He leaves saying its a word he'll never get used to.

Jess explains what happened at Cold Creek to Andy Andy asks Jess why they are calling Prescott a coward and Jess explains that Major Prescott had command of two companies with General Carter at Cold Creek, but Prescott was up at the other end of the valley. People called him a coward because when he and Carter were both under attack, he decided to save his own men rather than go to Carter's aid.  Jess adds that the army acquitted him of the charge of cowardice and that he probably couldn't have saved Carter regardless.  Jess glares at Bigelow as he says it, so it's obvious how Jess feels even though he claims he hasn't taken sides.
At Martha's suggestion, Slim asks Prescott for advice about how the Indians will attack.  Prescott readily replies, and adds that it would be wise to send someone to bring back the calvary.  Slim agrees and is ready to go, but Prescott suggests that there might be someone else more qualified to ride for help.  Prescott proceeds to tell a still griping Bigelow that they are looking for someone to ride through Pawnee lines to find the calvary.  When Prescott says Slim has already volunteered, Jess steps up and says that's his job.  As an ex-dispatch rider, Jess is perfect.  Slim doesn't look too happy, but doesn't object.  He offers Jess his gun, but Jess says if he runs into the Pawnee, he won't have time for anything but running. Jess volunteers to go get help

As Jess is getting ready to ride out, Andy, Slim, and Jonesy say goodbye.  All look worried.  Jess jokingly says he'll be careful because he knows he has a lot of work to do when he gets back.  Slim jokes that that's the only reason he was worried.

Prescott signals for a meeting with Yellow Knife and Yellow Knife agrees.  Yellow Knife greets the major as Long Eye, the blue coat who can see far, and talks about the battle of Cold Creek.  Yellow Knife says that the white man says Blue Coat fled and left the redheaded one, Major Carter, at Cold Creek full of fear.  But Yellow Knife thinks Prescott is smart like an Indian.  "Leave a bad fight and come back to fight another day.  The redhead one is dead.  You are alive".  (Highlander fans, think Methos in Indian garb).

Prescott explains that the Chief's son is dead.  The Chief asks for his son's body and for the one who shot him.  Prescott refuses to turn over the woman to the Indian.  As he rides out, Yellow Knife says they must send the killer of his son to his camp.

After Yellow Knife leaves, Bigelow and Prescott start arguing.  When Martha intercedes on Prescott's behalf, Bigelow accuses her of causing all of this while she's just running away from her husband with another man.  Prescott attacks Bigelow and they fight until Prescott is pulled off of Bigelow by Slim.

Martha and David Commiserate Martha and Prescott have a moment.  Prescott tells Martha to forgive him and that she must go back, but Martha says she could never give up the only man she ever loved.  Martha despairs that her mistake is going to cost them all their lives and says they should have given her to the Indians.  Prescott tries to comfort her, but Slim comes in and interrupts. Slim tells Prescott he needs to post the men.

Martha tells Slim about their sordid past.  Because Martha went to Prescott when he needed love and support, her husband accused them of loving one another.  She admits it was true, but not in the way he meant.  Therefore, Prescott refused to defend himself at his court martial.  (Don't ask me to explain the logic in this, I'm just writing what she said).
Martha talks to Jonesy and ends up asking him to sing a new song he's been working on.  Jonesy sings Swing Low Sweet Chariot to Martha.  He says he just made it up.  Martha is so moved she cries as she leaves.  Jonesy says 'I told'ya it was sad'.

As Jonesy is sitting by the window, Andy comes up and tells Jonesy that they're gonna die.  Andy says he isn't afraid.  He just wonders what it's like to die.  Jonesy says "No Trick to it.  Anybody can do it. Like lying down to go to sleep I guess...or a chariot ride home, maybe."  Then Andy asks if it hurts. Jonesy says "Theres no reason why it should, but it's tough to give up something, 'specially if it's pleasant... it's tough to say goodbye, but there's a time for everything sooner or later. What's important is to go on living until then without stewing about it". Andy says he's not stewing about it, except for wondering about Jess. He touches Jonesy's shoulder and asks if he thinks Jess coulda got through. Jonesy says "Maybe, we can hope". Andy walks away sadly, Jonesy looks like he's about to cry. Everyone looks like they're about to cry. (sniff!) Andy asks Jonesy about dying and worries about Jess
Prescott checks on the men on watch.  He keeps having to wake them up.  He stops to talk with Slim.  Slim asks if it's true that with Pawnee if you kill their Chief, they'll run away.  Prescott says it's sometimes true if he's a particularly prominent chief like Yellow Knife.  Prescott thinks highly of Yellow Knife.  He would've been proud to ride under him, perhaps even if his skin color were different.  Prescott says maybe he should've charged gloriously to the jaws of death at Cold Creek.  Slim says then he'd be in the history books.  Prescott counters the price would've been too high.  "My name in the history books for 300 more dead and exactly nothing accomplished".  Knowing what he knows now, Prescott would've done the same thing, but he admits he wishes just once he could make one of those hell-for-leather charges, that he could react with his emotions rather than rationally. (Be careful what you wish for!)

This scene is interrupted by a shot. Slim and Prescott rush to find Andy stomping out a fire. Andy shot the Indian as he was trying to set fire to the house. Andy had Martha's gun because she had left the house to go to Yellow Knife's camp. Slim runs after her and brings her back.

Later, the Indians attack.  Bigelow panics, Cal is shot, but Martha stays at the window and picks off quite a few Indians as they ride by.  The Indians retreat again.  Jonesy says he reckons the only casualty was Bigelow.  Prescott offers the cowed Bigelow a drink, then heads out to find out what Slim is up to outside.  Slim has had an idea. He's going to go talk to Yellow Knife and shoot him to end the battle.  As he turns to go, Prescott knocks him out and heads up to kill Yellow Knife himself.  When Slim comes to he follows.  Prescott tries to reason with Yellow Knife, then pulls out a gun when Yellow Knife won't listen.  Prescott is shot, but Slim manages to shoot Yellow Knife.  The Indians ride off.  They don't even pick up his dead body.

Annie's Favorite Moments:
Personally, I think Jonesy steals the show in this one. His conversation with Andy about dying and “does it hurt” is profound and so well done it makes you ache to watch it. Jonesy can’t look Andy in the eye, keeping his back turned the entire time, because he knows that in all likelihood, they’re all about to do just that. Andy conveys barely restrained terror at the prospect that Jess may already be dead.

On a lighter note, I love when Jess is leaving and Jonesy hands him his jacket with the whisky bottle in the pocket “for medicinal purposes.”

Jenny's Favorite Moments:
My favorite moment is the scene where Andy is talking to Jonesy about dying.  It was a very touching scene, and I love how concerned he is over Jess.  Their relationship is very sweet.  I also loved a nice moment at the end when Jess is helping set up a stage and Andy reaches out and rubs Jess' back and Jess reaches back and wraps his arm around his shoulders in a very sweet little hug.  I also liked the scene where Jess leaves.   Jonesy, Andy, and Slim look so concerned for their friend.  Apparently Jonesy gives him some whiskey 'for medicinal purposes'.  I'm a sucker for scenes where the main cast shows how much they care for each other.  Jess is risking his life trying to get help, and Slim and company know it.  The joking between Slim and Jess only highlights how much they've come to care about each other (to me anyway). Andy, Jonesy, and Slim say goodbye to Jess as he attempts to get help
The Owie Factor:
We definitely need a half bandaid.  The only 'owie' to speak of is Slim getting knocked out by Prescott.  Given how many times the boys get beat up or shot up, I don't think this even qualifies as a half.

Annie's rating:A solid two stars. It’s horribly un-PC, but then so are most of the episodes that deal with Indians. Some nice angst and drama about death and valor.

Jenny's rating: Two stars.   I have very mixed feelings about this episode.  I love how the concept of bravery and what constitutes a hero is dissected, but it also seems brutally unfair to the Indians.  They did nothing wrong and the chief was a good honest leader, yet he and quite a few Indians die needlessly because of the woman's thoughtless act.  I also didn't like how the Indians just left without even taking the Chief's body for a ceremonial burial.  As a great leader, his body shouldn't have just been left like that.  This was a hard episode to rate.

  • Ernest Borgnine as Major David Prescott
  • Marsha Hunt as Martha
  • Robert F. Simon as Bigelow
  • Frank Ferguson as Crable
  • John Pickard as Cal
  • Frank DeKova as Yellow Knife

    Notes of Interest:

    Bigelow is played by Robert Simon, the same actor who played Robert Fuller's character's father in The Lawman episode called "The Friend". If you haven't seen it, try to. It's a good'un.

    Glory Road



    Fugitive Road