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Nothing I have been told about these people is correct. They are not thieves or beggars. They are not the bogeymen they are made out to be. On the contrary, they are polite guests and I enjoy their humor.
~ Lt. John Dunbar.

Lt. John J. Dunbar, also known as Dances with Wolves, is the titular main protagonist of the legendary 1990 film Dances with Wolves, and a supporting character in its sequel The Holy Road.

He is played by director Kevin Costner, who also played Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, The Mariner in Waterworld, and more recently, Jim White in McFarland, USA.


Dances with Wolves

In 1863, First Lieutenant John Dunbar is wounded in the American Civil War. Choosing suicide over having his leg amputated, he takes a horse named Cisco and rides up to the Confederate front lines, distracting them in the process. The roused Union army then attacks and the battle ends in a Confederate rout. Dunbar survives, is allowed to recover properly, receives a citation for bravery, and is awarded Cisco as well as his choice of posting. Dunbar requests a transfer to the western frontier so he can see its vast terrain before it disappears. Dunbar arrives at his new post, Fort Sedgwick, but finds it in disrepair after Captain Cargill abandoned it. Despite the threat of nearby Indian tribes, he elects to stay and man the post himself. He begins rebuilding and restocking the fort and prefers the solitude afforded him, recording many of his observations in his journal.

Meanwhile Timmons, the wagon driver who transported Dunbar to Fort Sedgwick, is killed and scalped by a tribe of Pawnee on his way back to Fort Hays. Timmons's death and the suicide of Major Fambrough, who had sent them there, prevents other soldiers from knowing of Dunbar's assignment to the post, effectively isolating him. Dunbar notes in his journal of how strange it is that no other soldiers join him at the post.

Dunbar initially encounters his Sioux neighbors when several attempts are made to steal Cisco and intimidate him. In response, Dunbar decides to seek out the Sioux camp in an attempt to establish a dialogue. On his way he comes across a white Sioux named Stands With A Fist, who attempts suicide in mourning her deceased husband. Dunbar returns her to the Sioux to be treated, which changes their attitude towards him. Eventually, Dunbar establishes a rapport with Kicking Bird and warrior Wind In His Hair who equally wish to communicate. Initially the language barrier frustrates them, so Stands With A Fist, though with great difficulty remembering her English, acts as translator.

Dunbar finds himself drawn to the lifestyle and customs of the tribe and begins spending most of his time with them. Learning their language, he is accepted as an honored guest by the Sioux after he locates a migrating herd of buffalo and participates in the hunt. When at Fort Sedgwick, Dunbar also befriends a wolf he dubs "Two Socks" for its white forepaws. When the Sioux observe Dunbar and Two Socks chasing each other, they give him the name "Dances with Wolves". During this time, Dunbar also forges a romantic relationship with Stands with a Fist and helps defend the village from an attack by the rival Pawnee tribe. Dunbar eventually wins Kicking Bird's approval to marry Stands with a Fist, and abandons Fort Sedgwick.

Because of the growing Pawnee and white threat, Chief Ten Bears decides to move the tribe to its winter camp. Dunbar decides to accompany them but must first retrieve his journal from Fort Sedgwick as he realizes that it would provide the army with the means of finding the tribe. However, when he arrives he finds the fort re-occupied by the U.S. Army. Because of his Sioux clothing, the soldiers open fire, killing Cisco and capturing Dunbar, arresting him as a race traitor. Senior officers interrogate him, but Dunbar cannot prove his story, as a mischievous corporal has found and discarded his journal. Having refused to serve as an interpreter to the tribes, Dunbar is charged with desertion and transported back east as a prisoner. Soldiers of the escort shoot Two Socks when the wolf follows them, despite Dunbar's efforts to intervene. It is revealed that the Sioux are waiting on the other side of the hill and Two Socks sacrificed himself to save them from getting caught by the soldiers. The Sioux track the convoy, killing the soldiers and freeing Dunbar.

At the winter camp, Dunbar decides to leave with Stands With A Fist, as his continuing presence will put the tribe in danger. As they leave, Wind In His Hair shouts to Dunbar, reminding him of their friendship. The U.S. troops are seen searching the mountains with their Pawnee scouts but are unable to locate them, while a lone wolf howls in the distance.

It is stated that 13 years later, the Sioux were forced to surrender to the U.S. Government and the conquest of the western frontier was ended.

The Holy Road

In the sequel, 11 years have passed since Dunbar became a Comanche warrior. Dances with Wolves and Stands With A Fist still live peacefully with their tribe and have three children. Dances with Wolves and the Comanches return from a raid in Mexico and survive a war against a tribe of Utes, but serious confrontations between Indians and white men take place as the U.S. expands more territory and the titular railroad is being built across the Great Plains.

Dances with Wolves tries to convince Stands With A Fist to come with him and the children, but she refuses, as she's got a lot of work to do. A ruthless band of white rangers slaughters Ten Bears' tribe and abducts Stands With A Fist and their infant daughter, Stays Quiet. Dances with Wolves, Kicking Bird and Wind In His Hair go to war with the white soldiers, but he realizes that only he can rescue his wife and child, as he can blend in with white people. During a battle against the soldiers with the Comanche warriors and Kiowa warriors led by White Bear, Dances with Wolves strips off a soldier's clothes, so he can blend in with the whites.

His two children, Snake In Hands and Always Walking join him and he buys white men clothes from a shopkeeper for the children to hide their Comanche identities. He notices a news article of Stands With A Fist and asks the Vernon constable where she is. He directs Dances with Wolves to a city called Jacksboro and they eventually reunite with Stands With A Fist.

While Ten Bears and the other Comanches head out to Washington by train on the holy road, Dances with Wolves and his family reunite with the warriors. The Comanches couldn't understand the ways of white people and even Dances with Wolves knew nothing.

Dances with Wolves, Smiles A Lot, Blue Turtle, and several other warriors head out to Fort Robinson in Nebraska. When they camp, however, they are spotted by two white soldiers. The soldiers fire shots at them, but they manage to escape. However, the soldiers notice that Dances with Wolves is white. Wind In His Hair is mortally wounded in the battle and Dances with Wolves and Owl Prophet manage to carry him away. They try to doctor him, but Wind In His Hair refuses and accepts his death. They later battle Ranald Mackenzie and his soldiers and barely manage to escape.

When Dances with Wolves and his friends go out hunting for buffalo, they hear gunshots nearby. Blue Turtle warns them that there are white soldiers and his family flee. As Dances with Wolves tries to flee on his pony, he is shot through the shoulder, tearing one of his lungs. Smiles A Lot and Blue Turtle try to carry Dances with Wolves to a safer place and he informs them to see to his family. He dies shortly afterwards and the two warriors bury his corpse.


  • In the book, the tribe he associated with was the Comanche.
  • There was a real-life John Dunbar who was a Christian missionary that associated with the Pawnee tribe.
  • Viggo Mortensen was originally cast to play Dunbar, but will probably play him in the sequel.


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