Cast & Crew
In 1863, the discovery of gold in the Montana Territory brings a glut of hopeful miners and a surge in lawlessness. Among those hoping to strike gold is young John Malvin, son of a renowned Missouri judge. On his way to Montana City, John witnesses the murder of a miner and his son by three bandits, Yeager, George Ives and Gimp, who, John notes, has a clubfoot. The following day at a stage relay station run by Possum Enoch and his daughter Clair, John believes he recognizes Yeager, but Clair inadvertently warns the Yeager and the others by shooting at John. John engages in a brief gunfight with the men, who try to escape. Two of the three men are killed by Sheriff Henry Plummer, just arriving as the stagecoach escort, but Yeager escapes. On board the stage is lawyer Bill Landers, a friend of John's father. When John reveals he has witnessed the holdup and murder, Plummer sends him to report to his deputy, Ives. Unknown to the community, Plummer is behind the attacks on the miners and Ives is his assistant. Ives learns from John that he is unable to identify any of the bandits except Gimp. Returning to the bandit's camp, Plummer chastises Yeager and kicks him out of the gang. John checks into a boardinghouse in town where he overhears Bill discussing the continued assaults with businessman Jason Waterman, who demands stronger law enforcement. Bill later suggests to Plummer that the sheriff take John on as a new deputy, but they interrupted by a gunshot fired through the window. Outside, Plummer finds Yeager and shoots him unwitnessed. At the station, John tries to speak with Clair, but she ignores him, which galvanizes him to ask Plummer about becoming his deputy. The sheriff agrees and after swearing John in, presents him with a set of pistols, which impresses the young man deeply. Concerned about his business going bankrupt, Jason withdraws all of his money from the bank and asks Plummer to escort him on the stage to the next town. Just before the stage departs, however, Plummer stays behind and asks John to ride in his place. At the station, John proposes to Clair after telling her of his new position and the trust Plummer has placed in him. Suspecting a set-up to rob Jason, Clair pleads with Possum to warn John. Possum hesitates, before secretly telling John that the other two passengers in the coach are bandit road agents. When Plummer's gang ambushes the coach, John prevents the road agents from robbing Jason, although they jump from the moving coach and escape. Afterward, safely back in town, Jason confides to Bill that he finds it unusual that Plummer should have abruptly made John the stage guard when so much money was at stake. John, meanwhile, reports to Plummer, gratefully mentioning Possum's tip. The next evening, Plummer purposely raids Possum's to arrest Gimp, and during the confrontation, a lamp is shot out, and Plummer shoots Possum in the dark. Clair realizes Plummer has murdered her father and angrily tells Jason and Bill she believes that Plummer is behind the string of robberies as well. When she informs John, however, he refuses to believe the accusation. Later Clair attempts to rouse the townspeople to form a vigilante group to defend the miners and stagecoaches from attack, but Plummer cautions them to avoid mob violence. Bill then produces a list of suspects, which Plummer demands to see, but the lawyer refuses. Hurt by Clair's actions, John departs with Plummer as Bill swears in a vigilante group. The vigilantes start out slowly and have only moderate success, so the thefts and assaults continue. Gradually the vigilantes become more effective and upon seizing one bandit, they learn of Ives's involvement and arrest him. Plummer learns that Ives will be transported through the relay station and encourages John to save him, but Jason rides in the stagecoach to prevent any interference. Plummer then plots to arrest Jason, and although Clair learns about his plan, she is stopped by Gimp and is unable to pass on the information. John pleads with Clair to abandon her crusade against the sheriff, but when Plummer threatens to kill Clair, John realizes she has been telling the truth. As the stage returns with Jason inside, Plummer tries to attack, but John and Clair alert the driver and guard. In the ensuing shootout, Plummer is wounded by John and arrested. John and Clair reconcile as Bill arrives with the news that the vigilantes can disband because Montana has been declared a state.