powered by AFI
DVDs from TCM Shop
After returning home to his Texas ranch at the end of the Civil War, Chad Morgan, who served as an officer in the Confederacy, discovers that his neighbors are experiencing financial difficulties due to their inability to find a buyer for their herds. Chad convinces the ranchers to drive their cattle to a Missouri railhead where representatives from Eastern city markets will be waiting to bid for them. When the ranchers arrive at the railhead, however, they find that a single buyer, the larcenous Brog, has driven away competition and is offering only $1.50 a head, rather than the ten dollars they expected. Forced to accept Brog's offer, the ranchers feel betrayed by Chad, whom they hold responsible. Billy, a young, hot-headed rancher, begins a dispute with Brog, who shoots him in the shoulder. When the Texans return home, Chad, having nothing to return to, decides to stay in Missouri. That evening, while trying to find shelter from a rainstorm, Chad is refused a hotel room due to prejudice against Southerners. When Chad is turned away at the livery stable, Joe Jagger, one of several men sleeping there, insists that he be allowed to stay. During the night, the alcoholic Joe is caught rummaging through other men's packs, desperately searching for liquor. The angered men attempt to hang him, but the sharp-shooting Chad stops them with gunfire and consequently must leave town with Joe. Because Joe has stolen a horse, Chad leads them west across the state line to Kansas territory to avoid arrest. As they travel, Joe suffers from the heat and by night is crazed with delirium tremens. Craving liquor, he attempts to ride off alone in the night, threatening to kill Chad if he follows, but Chad knocks him unconscious. When Joe awakens in the morning, he is ashamed and grateful. On their journey west, they see a train pass on one of the newly built rail lines. Eventually, they reach the farm of Sven Johnson and his widowed daughter-in-law Kate, whose husband died on their westward journey. Kate's young sons, David and Olaf, hold them off with rifles, but Sven comes to the rescue and invites them to dinner and to stay the night. Refusing an after-dinner drink, Joe entertains the boys by drawing buildings of Boston, where he once lived. Ben, a neighboring farmer who is courting Kate, comes to discuss the difficulty of delivering their wheat to the nearest market a hundred miles away. Chad suggests they need a rail spur to the area, but Joe, whose close friend is a railroad executive in Kansas City, says that a rail line will never be built unless steady, year-round usage can be guaranteed. Later, in the bunkhouse, Chad, surprised by Joe's professional knowledge, asks about his past and Joe says that he drank away his architecture career. Conceiving a way to help the farmers, Chad asks Joe to introduce him to his railroad friend in Kansas City, Tom Draper, who is also the fiancé of Joe's sister, Helen. At the saloon where Helen works as a singer, Chad, Joe and Tom meet, and Chad pitches his idea: If Tom would build a rail line extending to the area of the Johnson's farm, it could become a marketplace for cattle and wheat, thus insuring year-round activity. Chad predicts that the railway would provide the impetus to turn fields of buffalo grass into productive farmland, while also providing Texas ranchers with an alternative to the Missouri market. Enthusiastic to resume his career, Joe proposes building a town there, with hotels, cattle corrals and other amenities to accommodate the influx of buyers and sellers. At first Helen is uneasy, knowing that Joe's illness hinders his achievements, but she senses that he is healing and she is intrigued by Chad, who brought it about. After Helen begins to believe in them, Tom becomes convinced, realizing he has much to gain from their success. Brog sees their meeting at the saloon and, when they return to Kansas, decides to follow secretly with his cohort. Tom and Helen accompany Joe and Chad, to meet with the farmers in the area, who back their idea and put up the money to build the town. Later, while Joe and the others lay out stakes to delimit the town, the spying Brog recognizes the danger to his self-interests. Before Chad leaves for Texas to spread the word about their alternate cattle market, Helen thanks him for making Joe "a man again" and kisses him. Tom has already noticed a spark between the two and is relieved when Chad rides off. Work on the building of the town continues, but when it is nearly completed, Brog and his thugs set it afire. Even though everyone is disheartened, especially Joe, Helen insists that they build again. Determined, Joe agrees, but adds, "This time we wear guns." Chad is not well received in Texas, and when the grudging Billy threatens him with a hot brand, Chad overpowers him and convinces the ranchers to drive their herds to Kansas. When the new town is completed, buyers are brought in on the new rail line shortly before the cattle arrive. Brog and his men also come to scare away the competition, but the buyers stand their ground. During the night, however, after one of the buyers is murdered in his bed, the others demand protection, but the infant town as yet has no sheriff. Joe tries to stand up to Brog, who he knows is responsible for the murder, but is humiliated. Seeing Joe go into his office with a whiskey bottle, Kate sends young Davy to fetch Helen. When Helen arrives, she finds that Joe has resisted the bottle's temptation and is preparing for a showdown with Brog. Ignoring Helen's pleas, Joe again confronts Brog, who shoots and kills him. When Chad returns ahead of the herd, he finds the town in mourning. Helen, who plans to leave with Tom that evening, blames Chad for Joe's death. Meanwhile, the buyers are preparing to leave before the auction, too fearful to care that they risk economic ruin if Brog succeeds. The cattle are brought in, but during the night, Brog's men stampede them through town. Afterward, Chad confronts Brog, challenging him to a shootout. When Brog and his henchman try to gang up on him, Chad shoots them both. Helen then runs to Chad and embraces him, and Tom sadly realizes that he has lost her. To console Tom for his loss, Sven tells him how he lost his son coming west and suggests that sometimes people lose things when they are trying to build something new. Understanding, Tom returns to Kansas City alone.