I stumbled onto a DVD of one of my favorite movies recently. LAST OF THE DOGMEN stars Tom Berenger as Lewis Gates, a former bounty hunter who spends too much of his time drunk these days. Two years ago, while his wife and he were crossing a river, her horse bucked and threw her off. Lost in the rapids, Lewis was unable to save her and had blamed himself ever since. Sheriff Deegan, played by Kurtwood Smith, his father-in-law, blames him also.
Even though he doesn’t like Gates, it doesn’t stop Deegan from sending him after three escaped convicts that had disappeared into the Oxbow region of the Rockies, a four thousand square mile tract of mountains and forest with no roads or towns. He’s the best tracker in the state, drunk or sober.
Gates trails them for two days, spotting them in the distance late the second day. Planning to move in early the next morning, he hears gunfire as he’s starting out. Upon reaching their position, all he finds is a torn shirt, a great deal of blood, a number of shotgun shell casings, and an arrow.
A few days later, while reading the paper, he sees an article about an anthroplogist, Professor L.D. Sloan(played by Barbara Hershey), an expert on Indians, and visits her with the arrow. “A nice reproduction of a Cheyenne dog soldier’s weapon.” She tells him.
Unsatisfied, he pours over the local newspaper’s bound copies and discovers that, since 1898, seventeen people have gone into Oxbow, never to be seen or heard from again. And in 1935, sixty miles in from nowhere, a railroad crew grabbed a young Indian boy who spoke no English. Locked up in a jail cell, he disappeared overnight and no reservation Indians were missing a boy.
Suspecting what he might find, Lewis wants to go back in and needs someone who speaks Cheyenne. Sloan accompanies him and they ride deep into the mountains, finally finding what they both wanted, a tribe of wild Cheyenne that had been hiding for 130 years from the white soldiers.
Their adventures from this point I won’t dwell too deeply for any who might not have seen this one. Both realize quickly that civilization must never learn of these people. But the Sheriff has a large group of armed men working their way closer to the waterfall pass through a mountain that leads to the valley of the last of the Dogmen.
And finally, although he’s not in the movie, the familiar voice of Wilfred Brimley is the voice-over narrator, an unnamed person who’s telling the story that Lewis Gates told him.
I loved this movie when I rented it years ago and hadn’t seen it since. I was lucky to find this DVD and urge anyone who hasn’t seen it, or have for that matter, to check it out if they can find a copy.
It was the film that made me a fan of Berenger. Barbara Hershey had already been on my radar for a little movie called Last Summer, based on an Evan Hunter novel. Not to mention Lonesome Dove.