Black and white, silent, 1925
William S. Hart Productions
Directed by King Baggot
Runtime: 78 minutes
Starring: William S. Hart (Don Carver), Barbara Bedford (Molly Lassiter), Lucien Littlefield (Kentucky Rose), J. Gordon Russell (Noll Lassiter), Richard Neill (Bill Freel), Jack Murphy (Bart Lassiter), James Gordon (Joe Hinman), Lillian Leighton (Widow Riley)
In 1939, William S. Hart re-released the all-silent Tumbleweeds in theaters, appearing as himself in a short, talking introduction to the film. He describes the historical background of the Tumbleweeds story-- the opening of 1,200 square miles of land on the Cherokee strip in 1889 for settlement. He then goes on to give his official "farewell" speech, announcing his retirement from motion pictures.
Tumbleweeds opens with a scene of cowboys herding cattle on an open range. The cowboys sing songs about being "tumbleweeds"-- never sitting still and settling down like most people.
We are introduced to Don Carver, who works as a cowboy for the Box K Ranch. He is portrayed as a stand-up, honest, and fair man who loves the land and his job-- in these early scenes he fearlessly shares the range with a rattlesnake, and he rescues two wolf pups whose parents have been poisoned.
Upon meeting up with fellow ranch hands, Carver informs them he has heard rumors that the Cherokee strip will soon be opened for settlement by homesteaders. He and his comic sidekick, Kentucky Rose, visit the nearby town of Caldwell, Kansas, to find out if the rumors are true.
As they ride into town, Carver and Kentucky observe the arrival of a several wagonloads of homesteaders, the first of many more to come. Kentucky finds a stout widow woman with a few children, and he is immediately smitten with her.
In preparation for the opening of the strip for homsteading, the government orders that all cattle be removed from the land. The cowboys from numerous ranches begin their last big roundup, causing a mass migration of cattle. Carver and the Box K outfit ride atop a small hill and look out on the scene. "Boys, its the last of the West," declares Carver, and they all remove their hats in reverence.
Homesteaders continue to arrive around Caldwell in droves, and the town swells practically overnight. Don and Kentucky ride into town to meet with their boss. They witness a man (Noll Lassiter) beating a young boy and his dog. Carver steps in and forces the man to apologize to the boy and the dog by dunking him in a horse trough. The townsfolk look on and laugh, and the boy is grateful to Carver.
Lassiter, humiliated, goes to dry off. He is met by another man named Bill Freel. The two plot to get choice land during the homesteading rush-- specifically, they have their eye on the Box K Ranch.
Meanwhile, Carver, Kentucky, and their Box K boss meet in the town saloon to have a drink. Carver's boss advises him to consider filing for a claim and settling down; Carver says he only settle down under a tombstone.
While they talk, Kentucky sneaks off to gamble with some of Carver's money, causing Don to chase him around the saloon with a lasso. As Carver tries to rope Kentucky, he accidentally ropes a woman (Molly Lassiter), who is very upset and refuses to hear any of his apologies. Fortunately for Carver, the young boy he helped earlier is the younger brother of Molly, and he helps Don to make amends. Carver awkwardly and clumsily apologizes to Molly, and she finds this endearing. They chat about her filing a claim for a homestead, and Carver begins to change his mind about wanting to settle down.
Noll Lassiter and Bill Freel appear on the scene. Molly introduces Noll as her brother, and Freel pointedly indicates to everyone in the room his romantic interest in Molly. Carver excuses himself before he becomes too angry with Freel. He promises to call on Molly again, and she looks forward to seeing him again.
Around town, the government posts a notice stating that once someone has registered for a claim, he may not enter the strip before the appointed time, or he will be arrested as a "Sooner." Carver and Kentucky both file for claims, and Kentucky helps his widow ladyfriend to file for hers as well. Carver plans on trying to stake out the Box K Ranch for his claim, which he hopes to share with Molly.
Carver calls again on Molly, and they plan to meet at a street festival the following night, celebrating the last night before the land rush is to begin. Carver then goes out to the strip to collect a few Box K strays. Freel and Noll Lassiter use this chance to have him arrested as a Sooner, claiming he was trying to stake out the Box K land prematurely.
As the street party goes on, Molly waits for Don. He cannot meet her because he has been arrested. Lassiter and Freel bring this to her attention, and she is devastated. She watches as he is hauled away to be locked in a pen with others who have been arrested as "Sooners."
Kentucky overhears Freel and Lassiter plotting to stake the Box K early; he follows them as they ride out to the strip. When a mounted soldier tries to arrest them as Sooners, they shoot him down, and shoot Kentucky's horse from under him as he rides near the scene. Kentucky makes it back to town to tell Carver and the soldiers what has happened. Don asks Kentucky to have his horse ready at noon when the strip is opened, and he will try to escape from the holding pen to meet them.
As Molly waits for the land rush to begin, her brother does not appear to take her out to the strip. The innkeeper takes pity on Molly and loans her his horse and buggy so that she will have a chance at a good claim.
At the stroke of noon, the starting cannon is fired, and an incredible race begins as scores of people on horses, bicycles, and on foot all rush to claim their new homes. Carver is unable to get out of the pen before noon. However, his horse races to join him at the pen when the cannon sounds; Carver pole vaults over the top to join in the land rush.
Carver races to the Box K, only to find Lassiter and Freel's horses already there. The horses are covered with what appears to be sweat, but under inspection turns out to be soap suds. Carver accuses Lassiter and Freel of being Sooners and drives them off the land. When Molly sees Don at the Box K, she assumes the worst and accuses him of trying to steal the claim from her brother. Carver leaves in anger, telling Kenucky he plans to run away to South America to be a cowboy there. Kentucky, who is planning to marry his own newfound gal, tries to talk Molly into giving Don another chance.
As he rides away from the Box K, Carver finds Lassiter and Freel trying to steal a claim from an old couple. Carver steps in, ties up the theives, and drags them back to town to be charged for claim jumping, the murder of the soldier, and for being Sooners.
When Carver returns to town with his prisoners, he offers to go back to jail, since he escaped from the pen to join the land rush. The soldiers, now knowing that he was not acting as a Sooner, let him go free. He steps into the town hotel to find Molly waiting for him. They return to their new claim on the Box K land and live happily ever after. The final scene shows a tumbleweed being caught up in a barbed-wire fence-- the cowboy has finally settled down.
Plot keywords: land rush, Cherokee strip, closing of the frontier, end of the West, honorable cowboy, love triangle, cattle roundup scenes, ranch work
Scenery: dry, dusty land; plains; some scrubby woods
Tumbleweeds is available on DVD.