In pioneer westerns of the 20s and 30s the main theme was usually the exploration of the unclaimed west, but in the 1910s the most common set-up was of a civilized easterner heading to an already-settled but still unruly west. This is the case in Griffith westerns like The Battle of Elderbrush Gulch (1913), as well as later features by DeMille such as The Virginian (1914) and A Romance of the Redwoods (1917). It's worth bearing in mind that, in this early part of the twentieth century the "old" west would have been a fairly recent memory, and the western was then more a lesson in geography than history. It's also rather apt given the circumstances of production companies from the east going out west and probably also the reason why they are called westerns and rather than being some sub-genre of the historical feature.
While the outsider in westerns of this period was typically a lady or gentleman of New York or some other east coast city, the titular squaw man is an Englishman. There are a few establishing scenes set in England, with a plot regarding an embezzlement from an orphan's fund that is very reminiscent of Griffith's biograph shorts. This is not surprising, as Griffith took his themes from the American stage where he began his career, and The Squaw Man is based on a play. The trouble is, Griffith was a master at making these theatrical stories cinematic, whereas the adaptation of The Squaw Man is rather flat and weak. The plot takes bizarre, improbable and pointless turns, sometimes getting bogged down in subplot and at other points zipping ahead making the narrative incomprehensible at times.
As noted this was Cecil B. DeMille's debut as director, although this is perhaps misleading. It was co-directed by Oscar Apfel, who had already made two-dozen shorts for Edison and Pathe. Accounts of the production state that Apfel handled the technical side of things, whereas DeMille coached the actors. DeMille may therefore be responsible for some of the fairly decent naturalistic acting on display here, although there are some lapses into appalling pantomime. There are some DeMille style attempts to photograph the imagination, with double exposures showing the hero dreaming of home, one of which is very effective, with a picture in a magazine morphing into the woman he has left behind. There also seem to be some experiments with lighting going on with some contrasting brightness and dimness in interiors, perhaps a forerunner of the Rembrandt lighting that would soon become a DeMille trademark. It is of course very difficult to accurately attribute ideas, although DeMille is also credited as "picturizer" (i.e. screenwriter) and producer.
In spite of these meagre marks of quality, as a whole The Squaw Man lacks excitement and real drama. In comparison DeMille's first feature as solo director, The Virginian, is a far more solid production, and although made only a few months after The Squaw Man it is light years ahead in style.