The Guns of Fort Petticoat

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The Guns of Fort Petticoat
Original film poster
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Screenplay byWalter Doniger
Based onPetticoat Brigade
1955 short story
by C. William Harrison
Produced byHarry Joe Brown
StarringAudie Murphy
CinematographyRay Rennahan
Edited byAl Clark
Music byMischa Bakaleinikoff
Color processTechnicolor
Brown-Murphy Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • April 1957 (1957-04)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,080,000 (US rentals)[1]

The Guns of Fort Petticoat is a 1957 American Western film produced by Harry Joe Brown and Audie Murphy for Brown-Murphy Pictures. It was based on the 1955 short story "Petticoat Brigade" by Chester William Harrison (1913–1994)[2] that he expanded into a novelization for the film's release. It was directed by George Marshall, distributed by Columbia Pictures and filmed at the Iverson Movie Ranch and at Old Tucson.

The fictional story tells the tale of an Army deserter training a disparate group of women to become Indian fighters climaxing in a Battle of the Alamo type action.


In 1864, during the American Civil War, Texan Lt. Frank Hewitt (Audie Murphy) is serving with the U.S. Cavalry under Colonel John Chivington. On patrol, Hewitt meets a group of Indians who are unarmed and returning to the Sand Creek reservation which they were not supposed to leave. While being briefed by Hewitt, the colonel orders the attack known to history as the Sand Creek Massacre. Hewitt not only disagrees with the punishment of the Indians, but realizes they will use the attack as an excuse to unite and spread terror throughout the Southwest, including his own hometown in Texas which has been emptied of the majority of its men who are fighting for the Confederacy. Colonel Chivington sees Indian attacks on Texas as a bonus to create havoc in the Confederacy. Violently objecting, Hewitt is placed under arrest and confined to quarters.

Hewitt deserts to warn the Texans but is hated and ignored as a traitor by his now Confederate former neighbors, who despise him for serving with the Union. No one believes him until he brings home the dead body of a woman murdered by Comanches who have joined the uprising. Hewitt organizes a brigade of women training them in marksmanship and combat tactics. Armed and given military ranks, Hewitt and the women seize the day and hold on to the only safety they have in an abandoned mission (Fort Petticoat). Hewitt, the "blue belly traitor", and the petticoat brigade face desertion from the only remaining man and fight off scavengers and Comanches as they struggle to build trust and work together during the ensuing attacks. As the final gun fight is over, Hewitt and his greatest female critic fall in star-crossed-love left over from childhood memories. But Hewitt cannot reciprocate because as an honorable soldier he must return to his post at Sand Creek and face charges for desertion. Col. Chivington's commanding general happened to enter the trial room in the final hour as Hewitt is being renounced as a deserter and a liar about a most fantastic story of helping to rescue the women in Texas and training them to fight off Comanches. As the guilty sentence and execution is about to be pronounced, the female confederates return the favor, marching armed into the trial to stop the proceeding. The commanding general, in a surge of sentimental good will, orders a surrender to the armed ladies who have saved the day and proved Hewitt's truthfulness. Hewitt's testimony snares Col. Chivington (who is relieved of command and ordered held for trial) and his hopes in his new-found Confederate love are restored.



The novel Guns of Fort Petticoat was published in March 1956.[3]

In July 1955 Murphy announced he would make the film, which then had the working title Petticoat Brigade, after The World in My Corner and a biopic of Charles Marion Russell. He called the movie a "Destry-style Western."[4] Murphy produced the movie through Brown-Murphy Pictures, which he had set up with producer Harry Joe Brown. On November 9, 1955, Murphy signed a contract with Walt Disney Productions and Brown-Murphy Pictures to appear in two films, of which this was the first. Disney wanted Murphy to make another movie; Murphy, who had the right to select stories, submitted proposals to appear in adaptations of Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen and The Idiot by Dostoevski. Brown accused Murphy of trying to get out of his contract and sued him for $1 million.[5]

The working title of the film was Petticoat Brigade; screenwriter and television director Walter Doniger was originally set to have directed the film.[6]

Aline MacMahon was to appear in the cast but found the role too strenuous. She was replaced by Hope Emerson.[7] Lucy Marlow was cast in a key role then dropped out and was replaced by Patricia Livingston.[8]


  1. ^ "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, January 8, 1958: 30
  2. ^ Herridge, Monte. "The Works of G. T. Fleming-Roberts". Mystery File. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  3. ^ Books Published Today New York Times 29 Mar 1956: 24.
  5. ^ "Audie Murphy Sued for $1,000,000 by Producer", Los Angeles Times 18 Sep 1957: B1.
  6. ^ "The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957) - Overview". TCM. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  7. ^ Drama: 'Girls in Summer' Hinted as Play for Diana Lynn; Oberon Show Suggested Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (19220 Apr 1956: B9.
  8. ^ LAUGHTON SIGNED FOR OFFICER ROLE: He Is First of 4 to Be Cast in Leading Parts in 'Bridge Over the River Kwai' By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times. 18 Apr 1956: 25.

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