Two orphan girls are sent to live with their uncle in the wild West. They bring along two puppies in a picnic basket as companions. When the puppies run off, they are picked up by Native Americans (depicted as broad stereotypes with Griffith’s usual ham-handed handling of diversity issues a la Birth of a Nation.) The Chief’s son and his friend have missed the annual dog feast (“eat dog, live long” proclaims the title card)–believe it or not, I’m not making this stuff up! Just when the Indians are about to stab the puppies in order to eat them, one of the settlers shoots the Indians dead. This provokes a provincial war, “The Battle of Elderbush Gulch” in which the Indians attack the settlers’ village, much carnage ensues, and the settlers are finally rescued by the Cavalry from a neighboring town. Lillian Gish has some of her better crazed mad-woman moments as a young mother frantic to find her baby who has gone missing in the battle.
While the racism is hilariously shocking, once you get past it, many of these early Griffith films are incredibly charming and technically fascinating. Nobody was making movies this well in 1913 as D.W. Griffith at Biograph. The battle is handled convincingly, and the cross-cutting between interior human scenes and exterior battle scenes is the stuff of Griffith’s signature story-telling style.