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After Chip Donahue tracks down Matt Brown and rescues him from a brawl in a Mexican cantina, he tells him that Jake Keenan has died and left him his eighty-seven-thousand acre ranch. Matt is assumed by all to be Keenan's unrecognized, illegitimate child, and Matt is glad that he is dead because of his treatment of Matt's mother. On behalf of the families who live and work on the ranch, Chip, the ranch's foreman, offers to buy the ranch for twenty thousand dollars. Matt agrees and they ride back to the ranch in Lobos, New Mexico, to sign the papers and pick up the cash. They arrive on a Sunday when most of the people are in church and the man with the key to the safe has gone fishing. However, the residents are jubilant to learn that they will each own a piece of the land they have worked on for many years. While Matt is reliving memories in Keenan's large house, Janet Calvert, Matt's former girl friend, comes in and tells him that although she is being pressured by her brothers to marry Sam Muller and had refused to marry Matt four years earlier when she was seventeen, she now realizes that she loves him and challenges him to stay. While a celebratory barbecue is being prepared, Chip discovers correspondence from a Santa Fe bank indicating that Keenan had defaulted on loans and notes and that the bank intends to foreclose on the property within a few days. Chip stops the celebration and tells the crowd that unless they can pay off the loans within a few days, they will lose the property. He suggests that if they can round up three thousand herd of cattle, drive them to Santa Fe and sell them by the end of the week, they will be able to pay the bank. The crowd is further stunned by the arrival of Matt, with Janet on his arm. When Matt asks Janet's elder brother for permission to marry her, the situation becomes tense but is defused by Janet's mother, who claims she is happy at the news. However, Muller is riled and starts a fight with Matt, which ends when Matt knocks him out. After Matt tells the crowd that he is not selling the ranch and intends to run it, Chip informs him of the debt and the cattle drive. Chip feels that they can do it if every man has a stake in it and, one by one, they agree. Matt orders that there is to be no drinking on the drive and fires Muller. The round-up begins and Matt tells Janet that they will marry in Santa Fe at the end of the drive. The newly confident Matt fires Hugh Rigdon for drinking, and when Janet asks him to give Rigdon another chance, he refuses. Accusing him of becoming a "big man" and losing the qualities she liked, Janet declares that she no longer wants to marry him. Matt then closes down a cantina, claiming that the men should be sleeping in preparation for the drive. When Matt becomes involved in a fight with Muller and one of Janet's brothers, Chip intervenes but is later fired by Matt for drinking at the bar. Early one morning, the drive starts but Janet stays behind with her mother, while worrying that Matt will not succeed without Chip's help. Chip decides to leave for other parts, but after Hortensia, the cantina's owner, tells him that he cannot run from the truth, he heads out to follow the drive. Meeting up with Matt while the cattle are grazing, Chip apologizes and is rehired. As the drive resumes across dusty flats and a river, Muller, Rigdon and two other disgruntled cowboys plot Matt's failure. After Matt insists that the drive continue by night, Chip protests that it is dangerous and could result in a stampede and loss of life. When Matt calls Chip a broken-down saddle tramp and fires him, Chip tells Matt that he is his son, not Keenan's. They start to fight but are interrupted when Muller and his companions start firing guns and cause the cattle to stampede. The men ride after the cattle, and when Chip falls off his horse and is almost trampled, he is rescued by Matt. Muller then aims his rifle at them, but Rigdon, unwilling to be involved in murder, stops him. Rigdon and Muller shoot at each other and both die. The stampede is stopped and Matt, now his own man and humbled, heads onto Santa Fe with his father.