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"Walsh" by Sharon Pollock Play Summary

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"Walsh" is written by Sharon Pollock, a Canadian playwright. The tragedy premiered in November of 1973. The play focuses on the real-life interactions between an exiled tribe of Sioux, lead by Chief Sitting Bull, and the North-West Mounted Police, lead by Commissioner James Walsh. The friendships that develop between the tribe and the NWMP conflicts with the orders Walsh has to send the Sioux back to America, where they will be slaughtered.

The fifteen-person cast help to teach the audience about a historical event they may not have known about. The play uses the historical events to discuss issues of Canadian identity, cultural differences, and morals.

James Walsh

James Walsh

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

Character in Main PlayCharacter in Prologue






Ghost Clarence



Sitting Bull


Crow Eagle



Poker Player


Poker Player

Mrs. Anderson





The play begins at the chronological endpoint. All of the characters in the prologue, except for Walsh, Clarence, and Harry, do not appear in the main play. The script gives specific instructions for which actors should be used for each of these roles. (In theatre, this is known as doubling.) The scene is told from Walsh's point of view. Clarence does not participate in the scene. He is a figment of Walsh's imagination.

A sorrowful wind blows across the stage as unkempt workers enter a lonely tavern/brothel in Dawson, Yukon. All of the workers look at Walsh as he makes his way onto the stage. Jennie and Ian prepare a place for him. An encounter with the Prospector almost stops him, and he can't look at Clarence. It seems Walsh's mind is troubled.

Jennie sings to entertain her guests. Walsh requests Break the News to Mother before Harry enters, complaining of the cold and asking for food. There isn't any. Harry takes out his wallet, but the others tell him to put it away or Walsh might take some of his money. Billy plays GarryOwen on his harmonica. The tune disturbs Walsh, who drops his drink. The drink is quickly replaced. Harry and Walsh inform the rest of the characters that GarryOwen was General Custer's marching song. The paperboy comes in to sell the paper, but Walsh refuses to give him any money. He fights with the Prosecutor over it. When Walsh has him pinned, Clarence cries out. Walsh is the only one who hears him.

A spotlight lights on Harry as he tells the story of General Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn in great detail. There is no break between this monologue and the start of Act 1.

General Custer

General Custer

Act 1

Act 1 opens with Harry starting to move farming supplies as he explains how he met Major Walsh. A newer member of the Mounties, Clarence, asks him for help with a large case of shovels, but eventually brings it onstage himself. Clarence trips over a ploughshare. The case spills open. As they lament the uselessness of the farming equipment, Clarence mentions a rumour that the Sioux are coming north.

Major Walsh is upset about the shipment the government is forcing him to try to give to uninterested Natives, but he welcomes Clarence into the team. Louis, the Metis guide, is also accepting of Clarence. Louis makes a joke about his father not being as white as Walsh because his father is French.

Mrs Anderson, a settler, interrupts the officers by explaining that Natives had stolen her washtub. Crow Eagle, a member of the local tribe, stated they used it to make a drum since she had two washtubs. Walsh negotiates a payment for the washtub-turned-drum. Louis translates.

Crow Eagle asks for ammunition to hunt buffalo, but Walsh suggests they look at farming as a stable alternative to the buffalo. Crow Eagle refuses, stating that if the buffalo go extinct, they would rather die with dignity than work on a field. He leaves.

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Clarence asks Major Walsh about the Sioux. Walsh says they have nothing to worry about. The NWMP go scout the Sioux camp. Several leaders, including Gall, Sitting Bull, and White Dog, come to greet the scouts. Everything is formal, with tension on both sides. White Dog, who took some horses for the journey, is asked to return them and not take wild horses again. White Dog insults Walsh, but takes it back, preventing a fight.

When it is Sitting Bull's turn to speak, he interrupts Walsh, insisting that they need ammunition to hunt. The Major agrees to let them have some.

Pretty Plume, Sitting Bull's wife, sets up her part of the camp. At the same time, Louis sings the voyager song En Roulant Ma Boule.

Six Months Pass

Louis, Clarence, and McCutcheon eat Native food together and smoke a pipe. Walsh explains to Sitting Bull that the government will only allow them to stay in Canada if they stay on the Canadian half of the border and are self-sufficient. He admits he does not agree with the plan, but, as White Forehead Chief, is following orders from the crown. He states the President will treat them fairly.

Sitting Bull notes that other chiefs who have been told that were slaughtered. Walsh insists he is trying to be helpful, but Sitting Bull does not trust him. There is too much political turmoil in the area. Tribes are refusing to go to reserves and are asking for Sitting Bull's help. The chief must refuse them and speak with the Americans.

Red men choke and die on white men's words!

— Sitting Bull

In a winter storm, the Natives and the NWMP are looking for an incoming tribe. Battles and the cold have killed many of them. Most of the warriors were killed in battle, so the tribe is mostly women and children. The NWMP attempts to help the new arrivals.

A Blackout Moves Time Forward One Season

Sitting Bull and his wife are teaching their son, Crowfoot, about the Medicine Wheel. Walsh calls them to speak with American General Terry. The general refuses to accept Pretty Plume as the Sioux's speaker. He makes promises that the Sioux will be well cared for, but this time, it is Pretty Plume who does not accept Terry's terms.

Walsh tries to reason with Sitting Bull. When the chief asks him for his personal opinion, all Walsh can say is that the Sioux must consider their options. Sitting Bull says if Americans lie by saying they will be well cared for, maybe the British lie when they say there are no supplies.

Louis reminds Walsh that the Sioux are trusting in the light-haired NWMP to make good choices. Walsh promises to present the Sioux case to the government. There is a blackout.

Act 2

The NWMP are doing chores in Fort MacLeod, noting this was not the adventure they imagined when they signed up. They exchange stories of their pasts. The story time is interrupted by the sight of smoke in the distance. American soldiers are burning the border so the buffalo can't leave. Clarence thinks the entire thing is ridiculous. Louis suggests the Natives will need to survive on grass.

Meanwhile, Walsh is reading a letter from his wife and writing her a reply. While his wife is hopeful, Walsh's outlook on life is grimmer.

Walsh is asked to meet with Colonel MacLeod, his boss. MacLeod chastises him for not following the rules about getting supplies, and Walsh says the Sioux need them. MacLeod encourages Walsh to send the Sioux back. Walsh is conflicted, but MacLeod insists Walsh must cut the Sioux off. He also tells Walsh to write an apology for his insubordination.

They say one's strongest instinct is self-preservation . . . and I've made the force of my life.

— Walsh

Walsh starts to change his attitude. He tells Harry, who visited Sitting Bull, that the government wants the Sioux to leave and don't care what will happen to them in the United States.

Meanwhile, Clarence sneaks into the Sioux camp to give Crowfoot and Pretty Plume some food. Sitting Bull asks Clarence to smoke a pipe with them. He tries to get Clarence to agree with them. Clarence does.

Later, Walsh rips up a letter from his superiors. He rants to McCutcheon about the injustices suffered by the Natives, noting that the government's response to his statement that the Sioux wanted to settle in Canada was to send a bigger army.

Walsh is also upset when Sitting Bull asks for provisions. Walsh can't give him anything. Sitting Bull and Walsh fight the same way the Prospector did. Clarence cries out. Walsh sends everyone away.

Some Time Passes

Clarence and McCucheon haul Walsh's rope-bound trunk onstage. Walsh says they used too much rope. Walsh has chosen to take some time to be with his family. Clarence notes Sitting Bull will still think of Walsh as a friend, but Walsh can't afford to think like that anymore.

Walsh has 18 months off. During a snippet of that time, Harry sings drunkenly. Everyone is on edge. Sitting Bull and the Sioux are sent to America.

Walsh returns to the force with a map, soldier figurines, and a model train. He uses them to show his men a plan for battle. Clarence interrupts with the news that the Sioux were killed. Walsh remembers Sitting Bull and slams his hand on the desk.

Potential Essay Topics

  1. How are cultural differences portrayed in the play?
  2. What is the purpose of the prologue?
  3. Analyse one of the quotes in relation to the play.
  4. Why is GarryOwen used throughout the play?
  5. What historical points did Pollock change? Why?

Work Cited

Pollock, Sherry. Walsh. Modern Canadian Drama. Ed. Jerry Wasserman. Vancouver. Talonbooks, 141-168.

How to Cite this Article

MLA: Layton, Molly. "Walsh Summary." HubPages. HubPages, Inc., 4 Oct. 16. Web. [date of access]


Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on October 04, 2016:

I find history very interesting. In school I didn't appreciate it as much as I do now. Thanks for sharing this story.

Blessings to you.

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