Wil Anderson (John Wayne) of the Double O Ranch has a herd of cattle he needs to get to market before winter. Unfortunately, all the able-bodied and available men have run off to join a nearby gold rush. His friend, Anse Peterson (Slim Pickens) convinces him that he could hire local schoolboys. Initially reluctant, Anderson is eventually forced to go with the idea. He ends up with 11 boys between the ages of 9 and 15. Joining them on the drive is Jebediah "Jeb" Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne), their Camp Cook, and the first black man the boys have ever seen.
The boys learn quickly to do a man's job, but the group is being followed by a gang of ruthless rustlers....
- Anyone Can Die: Including children and John Wayne.
- Badass Grandpa: Wil Anderson, of course.
- Camp Cook: Nightlinger
- Cattle Drive
- Coming of Age Story
- Complete Monster: Long Hair (Bruce Dern).
- Dropped Glasses
- Everyone Is Armed: Yes everyone really did pack iron back in the Old West and they still do. The pugnaciousness of it is exagerrated though, and most teenagers did not really expect to do anything more bellicose then popping rabbits. Certainly pulling a knife for a boys fistfight would receive far worse consequences then in the movie.
- Improbable Age
- Innocent Bigot: The boy's first reaction to Nightlinger is a mixture of nervousness and insensitive curiousity, and one even uses the "N-word". However there is nothing really mean-spirited about it in intention. It is just that they are boys and have never seen a black man. Nightlinger takes it good naturedly (he probably wouldn't from a grown man and he does not look like the sort one wants to offend).
- In point of fact Nightlinger proceeds to tell a heroic fairy tale about himself and the boys are suitably enchanted. They are so innocent that they simply have not been told that a black man is supposed to not be able to be a badass fantasy hero.
- Miss Kitty: At one point the boys encounter a group of what Nightlinger calls "soiled doves". Naturally, they have their madam with them.
- Pay Evil Unto Evil
- A Real Man Is a Killer: One of the more controversial bits of the movie. Though the film does seem a bit cynical about it.
- Rite of Passage: The whole film, since it's about teenagers, who for the first time in their lives got touch and getting an honorable job.
- Stutter Stop
- Team Dad: Anderson
- Team Mom: Nightlinger
- True Companions: Starting at the beginning scene where they encourage each other to pass the test of worthiness for the employment (staying on a wild filly for ten seconds).
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior
- Would Hurt a Child: He doesn't actually follow through, but Long Hair, the leader of the rustlers, makes it pretty clear he has no qualms about it.