MAJOR PAULINE is based on real life and times of actress Pauline Cushman who, during the Civil War is doing a show in Lewisville, Kentucky when Secret Agent William Truesdail approaches her to become a spy. She agrees. During her next act she drinks a toast to the Confederacy, causing a riot in theater. She’s ran out of town.
She heads for Shelbyville Tennessee. Meets Confederate Captain Richard Blackman who makes her his male aid-de-camp, even getting her a confederate uniform to wear as she accompanies him to military camps gathering military intelligence.
Later caught by confederate soldiers, she meets Colonel John Morgan who takes a fancy to her. After a night of wining, dining and intimacy he lets her go.
Caught again with military documents, she’s sentenced to hang by General Braxton Bragg. Dying of pneumonia in her cell, Colonel John Morgan intervenes. She’s removed to a house and treated by doctor. Still weak and back in her cell, Pauline manages to get a letter containing instructions of what to do with her body after the hanging to her sister (actually William Truesdail). General Rosecrans reads letter, orders invasion of Tennessee. General Braggs withdraws from Shelbyville three days before the execution. Captain Morgan orders Pauline left behind. She’s given honorary rank of Major.
Back on stage she develops her own show and tours the wild west. In Abilene, Kansas, she nearly dies in theater fire, but is rescued by badly burned Jere Fryer, 15 years her junior. She nurses him back to heath, they marry and buy a ranch in Casa Grande Arizona, They’re happy. She becomes first female sheriff in history.
Her marriage falls in jeopardy when she gets reputation as tough sheriff, confronting muleskinners, standing in middle of gunfights, thumping drunken ranch hands shooting up saloons and drives Jere to have affair with owner of Red Garter Saloon, Dolly Duval, 30’s. Pauline gives her badge to her husband. As sheriff he continues his affair. Pauline and Dolly have a fight along main street. Beaten badly Pauline takes to bed refusing to get up for weeks. Jere runs to Dolly. Pauline uses trickery, pretending she was in bed because she’s pregnant. Sends Jere to Texas to buy herd of white-face Herefords to bred with longhorns. While he’s gone, she buys newborn baby Emma from saloon girl in another city. Jere’s happy. Emma gets sick, At age 7 she dies. Dolly finds baby’s real mother and confront Jere and Pauline. Pauline admits truth. Jere leaves.
Pauline goes back to stage. Can’t make it. Later she dies cleaning house for room and board. Pauline is buried a hero by the Grand Army Of The Republic in Oakdale Cemetery in San Francisco.