In 1870s Kansas, a pretty young widow falls into prostitution after her husband dies in a blizzard. She is soon drawn into the intrigues and passions of the region’s most powerful men.
GREAT PLAINS, SUMMER, 1878
Annemarie leaves her brutal, drunken second husband and makes her way toward Cimarron, Kansas, looking for honest work. But there is only one kind of work for a young woman with no friends and no money. After being ripped off, raped and robbed, Annemarie gives up and seeks protection in the local brothel.
The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad chugs past. Annemarie, now well fed and painted up, leans from a brothel window and shouts down bawdy greetings at a troupe of cattle drovers. She swigs from a bottle in her hand.
Almost unnoticed nearby, a couple of bookish engineers in city dress, are “platting” the town with primitive surveying equipment. One of the men, Yale-educated ADAM GERTNER, glances up at Annemarie and flirts. But his partner, EDWIN DANNER, is a Bible-thumping party pooper and keeps a close eye on young Adam.
Overseeing them is COLONEL JOHN ENRIGHT, town banker, a Civil War hero with a lot of years that he would like to forget. After the war, Colonel Enright had grown wealthy by running a hay station for travelers’ oxen on the nearby Santa Fe Trail. Now, he has big plans for the town—and himself. His faded wife knows he doesn’t love her any more.
One of the Colonel’s plans is to build a better whorehouse with the help of “fancy woman” BEATRICE “BEA” BANNING, early thirties, his mistress during the Civil War. He still loves her and wants to see her succeed. Beatrice arrives and surveys the town. She is not impressed with the crude brothel. Things are going to change around here, and soon.
Bea enters the brothel and confronts the grim, slovenly madam, EMILY PEET. Emily can stay and help Beatrice—or clear out. She stays, but plots revenge. The girls are told to move along west to the mining camps. Only pretty girls will be allowed here, and the prices will reflect the higher quality. Because Annemarie is pretty, talented—and healthy, she stays, along with HELENA BARNES, another spirited young prostitute.
They situate the new brothel on an island in the Arkansas River. To everyone’s amazement, a beautiful grand piano arrives—the only piano in town.
Bea’s entourage includes BOB and TED TYREE, lanky Missourians, veterans of Quantrill’s Raiders who sometimes ride with the James Gang. Playing security guards at a whorehouse is the closest thing to “going straight” that they have ever done. Colonel Enright, who fought for the Union, takes note of the Tyrees—and no love is lost.
The colonel confides his dreams for the town to schoolteacher CALVIN SCHROEDER. Calvin and his wife, WINIFRED, also a teacher, recently arrived to start a school. Their journey, southwest from Dodge City, crossed an unmarked area called the “Jornada,” or Journey of Death. The Schroeders lost their son during this harrowing trip, and they are bitter with each other. Their daughter, VALEDIA, sixteen, is angry too, at leaving her friends back east. She is already flirting with both Tyrees and ripe for trouble.
When a drover rides in with news that the Comanche Indians have ambushed a wagon train at Cimarron Crossing and killed four men, the town calls on the U.S. soldiers for reprisals. They ride out—some from the whorehouse—along with the Tyrees, who are always ready for murder and mayhem. But before the Tyrees can saddle up, Calvin accuses Bob Tyree of seducing the rebellious Valedia. After a brief confrontation, Calvin foolishly draws on Bob and is shot dead. Though it was self defense, the Colonel tells the Tyrees to leave. Bea sticks up for them and they are allowed to stay. This sets the colonel at odds with the “respectable” element of the town.
It is not the Comanches that the soldiers find and attack. It is Dull Knife, chief of a northern Cheyenne tribe, who fled from the Oklahoma Reservation, trying to reach Wyoming and Montana. The soldiers from Fort Dodge overtake Dull Knife near Scott County Lake—but they are fighting the wrong tribe. The tribe, already impoverished and stressed by their trek, suffer even more misery, with no reason.
But when the soldiers and posse return to Cimarron, they bring with them two young women, ANNA WHITE and SARAH MORGAN, who had been kidnapped by Indians and become the wives of braves —- both killed in the battle. Since they are no longer suitable brides for white men, they move into the brothel, suspicious and unhappy.
More girls now arrive to staff up the brothel. Bea interviews each girl and “auditions” them. Each girl is to have a special talent. The money now streams in not only from the cattle drovers and railroad workers on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, but from the soldiers who have to guard against Comanche and Apache raids as the workers build the railroad.
A huge party celebrates the grand opening of Cherry Hill. Soldiers, cattlemen, and prominent men of the region attend. As Annemarie entertains the gentlemen, her brutal second husband buys his way in and beats her senseless before Bob Tyree kills him. That’s two men he’s killed, says the Colonel. He demands that Bob leave town. Bea draws a line in the sand and she and the Colonel are now officially adversaries. As they argue, the surveyor Adam Gertner brings Annemarie upstairs and tenderly nurses her injuries, along with the former Indian brides, Anna and Sarah, who are so touched by his kindness that they insist on rewarding him with a voluptuous “freebie” while Annemarie lies asleep.
Meanwhile, Dull Knife's decimated and weakened tribe endures an epidemic of deadly measles. When young Adam Gertner hears of what is going on, he gathers up supplies and rides out to help them. We learn that Adam had always wanted to be a doctor, but had been swept up in the momentum of the U.S. westward drive and left Yale to explore and buy up the best land with plans to become a powerful range baron. Now, as he treats the native children, and sees the misery before him, he realizes that his true mission is really to be a doctor.
a young Colin Farrell type
The Big Sky
I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the killing of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0
I collaborated with producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers) on the script "Fast Fade" on the life of tragic film noir actress Barbra Payton.