Cinematographer Archie Stout and John Ford used infrared black-and-white film stock, developed originally for medical and scientific researches and which doesn't sense the blue and records that color as black, in many exterior scenes shot in the Monument Valley to enhance the clouds and the rock formations. Ford learned that technique from Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa that he worked with for The Fugitive (1947).
The Fort Apache fort, built for this production, stood for years. It was reused in dozens of productions, most notably the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954). It was located at the Corriganville Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, California. Today it is possible to visit this location, as it is now administered as a City Park in Simi Valley.
The plot for this movie was loosely based on Custer's Last Stand with Thursday as Custer and substituting Apaches for the Sioux. The cover-up by the survivors and the military of Thursday's blunder is in line with the cover up of Custer's mistakes and deliberate disobedience of his orders at Little Big Horn.
Shirley Temple and John Agar were married at the time the movie was made, but went through a highly publicized divorce complete with allegations of spousal abuse, infidelity and alcoholism a couple of years later.
Infrared film was used in outdoor scenes to enhance the fantastic look of the scenery and sky. However, the actors' skin tone looked far too pale on infrared, so they were compelled to wear very dark make-up to compensate.
First entry to John Ford's famed "Cavalry Trilogy," followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), though it was not originally intended as a trilogy. This second project Ford's independent venture teaming with Merian C. Cooper was planed to give their company 'Argosy Productions' financial stability after the commercial failure of The Fugitive (1947).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Thursday's Charge, the painting referenced at the end which falsely depicts Lt. Col. Owen Thursday's last stand as him greatly outnumbered and fighting off the Indians to the best of his abilities, was actually one of the illustrations used to advertise for the film in it's initial release.