Cast & Crew
Wild Bill Elliott
In the Dakota territory, after finding the trampled body of farmer Joe Martin, cattleman Loren McKenzie and his daughter Kathy send for Joe's brother Bill. Bill left home after Joe divided their father's large ranch into smaller farms for homesteaders to settle, but, after hearing from farmer Tad Sloane that the local ranchers have been looting and killing area farmers, he grows eager to carry on his brother's dream of creating a West shared by cattlemen and homesteaders. Bill spurns McKenzie and lawyer Austin's advice to buy back all his land to make it one large ranch again, instead gathering all the farming families together to announce that he will start to farm alongside them and devise a way to keep the ranchers out. To McKenzie, Bill points out that where Joe was kind, he is a fighter. Later, McKenzie's foreman, Red Olson, and Austin plot together behind McKenzie's back to destroy Bill. At the same time, in Bill's barn, he and Tad are developing a special wire, laced with wire barbs, to create a more efficient fence. That night, Bill visits the McKenzies and responds to McKenzie's offer to buy his land by retorting that Joe was murdered by a rancher. Kathy breaks the tension by bringing Bill outside, but when she states that he seems to have barbed wire around his heart, he tells her he cannot be distracted from his job. Just then, Red rushes in to inform them that the cattle have stampeded Bill's new fence and are wounded. Everyone gathers to see the scratched cows, and while the homesteaders assume Red stampeded the cattle on purpose, the ranchers want Bill hanged for harming their property. McKenzie, eager to keep the proceedings peaceful, proposes that they take the debate to Judge Bruce in Fargo. There, the judge finds that no crime was committed, but allows the ranchers to sue Bill for damages if they can prove he set the wire as a trap. When he is done, Bill announces that he has willed all of the land to the homesteaders, thus making him more valuable to the ranchers alive than dead. Soon, homesteaders are erecting barbed wire fences across the prairie, and Austin and Red start a reign of terror. After one farmer recognizes Red in the gang, Bill goes to McKenzie to discuss a less dangerous wire that will allow ranchers to keep their herds together and buy feed from the farmers. Red whispers to McKenzie that he should keep Bill there for the evening, to protect him from a homesteader meeting that might turn violent, and then rushes to Bill's barn with his gang. There, they destroy the equipment and shoot Tad, who struggles to the McKenzies' and, before dying, informs them of Red's deeds. Convinced that McKenzie and Kathy are in on the scheme, Bill rushes back to his barn, where Red ambushes him. Hours later at a rancher dance, McKenzie and Kathy's attempts to build excitement about Bill's new wire are interrupted when the horrified ranchers discover Bill behind the stage, completely wrapped in wire. Meanwhile, Red and his henchmen brag to the saloon bartender about their attack, and he secretly sends customer Sam to warn Bill. A weakened Bill immediately races to the saloon and learns that Red has gone on to Five Corners to gather his hired guns for one last attack on the farms. While Bill follows Red alone, Kathy overhears Sam tell his wife about Red's gang, and she and her father form a posse to track them down. Within hours, the raiders are burning farms up and down the prairie, and Bill's attempts to pick them off individually are ineffectual. When the posse finds him, he agrees to join forces, and they soon find the gang resting in Rock Canyon. Quietly, Bill instructs the posse members to surround the canyon with barbed wire. A shootout begins, and when the gang members try to flee, they find themselves trapped. Although they surrender, Red remains behind, forcing Bill to go after him. After a brief struggle, Bill shoots Red. In Fargo days later, Bill demonstrates his new wire, from which the cattle peacefully back away. Impressed with this non-violent means of parceling off the land, Judge Bruce declares that the West has been tamed by barbed wire.
Wild Bill Elliott
Vincent M. Fennelly
The working title of this film was Barbed Wire. The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. Although copyright records list the film in sepia, the viewed print was black and white. At the beginning of the picture, voice-over narration explains that the cattlemen became increasingly angry and violent as the homesteaders took over more ranch land. Modern sources add House Peters, Jr. and Bud Osborne to the cast.