In the film, Red River, the relationship between two apparent alpha male cowboys determines the fate of many men who embark on a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri. Tom Dunston, played by John Wayne, is originally introduced as the alpha male cowboy. He leaves a cattle drive to pursue his own dream of becoming the biggest rancher in Texas. In the film, only minutes pass by before Dunston shows his alpha male qualities. The cattle drive he left behind, which contained the woman he loved, had been attacked by Indians and Wayne and his companion Groot see the smoke billowing on the horizon. In the face of terrible loss Dunston shows no emotion and plans to continue towards Texas. The next morning he meets a boy who escaped the Indian attack by the name of Matthew Garth. The relationship between Dunston and Garth become the main focus of the film after this point. As Matheson points out, "the central relationships in the Western are conventionally those of the male hero and intimate (sidekick), and the central group is all male."
Dunston opts to bring Garth with him and essentially adopts him as a son. Arriving in Texas, Dunston establishes the biggest herd of cattle over the next fourteen years, and as Garth gets holder, he leaves Dunston to pursue his own desires. Despite having established an immense herd, the Civil War has left the South without the means to buy beef. Dunston and Garth gather a group of men to drive approximately 10,000 cattle north to Missouri.
In a scene right before they leave, Dunston and Garth draw guns in order to see who is faster and Garth wins. This establishes that Dunston's son and protege has exceeded his talent, and possibly become a more proficient alpha male cowboy. The relationship between Dunston and Garth becomes tense as Dunston, in pursuit of his goal, drives the men and cattle to exhaustion. The sense of duty to reach Missouri leads Dunston to push the men harder than they're capable, and the respecting the duty the men have to him and the drive, Dunston kills those who abandon the group. Disregard for morals and emotion in the face of duty is a quality of an alpha male cowboy, but Garth recognizes that continuing this behavior will only lead to the failure to reach Missouri.
Because of Dunston's disregard for justice and the well-being of his men, Garth usurps the drive and banishes Dunston. From this point on, Dunston intends to pursue Garth and eventually kill him. At this point, the relationship between the two cowboys is tearing as they disagree on how to fulfill their quest, which is a symbol for how to be the alpha male cowboy. While Dunston leaves the love of his life and original cattle drive to burn in the hands of Indians, Garth chooses to rescue a group of men and women driving west to Nevada. Dunston is brutal, emotionless and has no remorse over not returning to his girl in an effort to save her while Garth acts to protect the innocent, even at the risk of harm to himself and his fellow cowboys.
While Garth and Dunston's characters are strikingly similar, Dunston is a man who believes he can cut a straight path to his goal, despite any obstacles, while Garth sees the wisdom in avoiding those obstacles in order to maintain morale among his company. At the end of the film, Dunston attacks Garth, who refuses to fight back. However, after standing fast to bullets, Garth can't help but fight back when Dunston punches him to the ground. At this point, Garth's woman
Tess urges the men to see how ridiculous their actions are because it's clear they love each other. I believe that when Dunston becomes self aware of his emotions towards Garth and accepts that he was in the wrong, he joins Garth as an alpha male cowboy.