This film is about the first Americans and how the relentless hunt for the buffalo contributed to the near extinction of the North American Plains Indians.
Tahtonka is sioux for "buffalo". For most of the Indians who lived on the North American prairie the buffalo was a significant contribution to daily life. For all the prairie Indians the buffalo became essential to their culture. The film deals with the period in Indian history when the buffalo was still important, the period from the horse was introduced in America to the tragedy at Wounded Knee in 1890, a period of more than 300 years. When the Spanish first came to the continent in 1521 there were more than 16 million buffalo. 300 years later there were only 300 in all of North America.
It covers three hundred years of Plains Indians history from the pre-horse period through the tragedy at Wounded Knee in 1890. It features Ben Black Elk, son of the revered Holy Man of Black Elk Speaks. It features dramatic re-enactments of the Mandan buffalo dance, hunting buffalo by sneak-ups and surrounds, the horse hunt, and the near desecration of the massive herds by white hide hunters. When the large herds had disappeared the life style of the Indians had also disappeared. Disease and hunger threatened the Indians when they gathered in reservations. In 1889 a Ute warrior named Wovoka had a dream, which was quickly dissimilated and developed into a movement known as the "Ghost Dance Cult". This cult was taken up by many Indians as a last resort to save their way of life. Through a ritual dance the Indians glimpsed a new world where their loved ones who had passed away could return. The film ends with the Wounded Knee massacre, the last big violent confrontation during the Indian wars.