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In Wyoming cattle country, as rancher Blaise Starrett rides into town on a snowy day, he sees a spool of barbed wire in farmer Hal Crane's wagon, prompting him to tell his partner, Dan, that he has warned Crane that he will not stand for wire fences. At the general store, Starrett chastises the owner for selling wire to Crane. Although the owner sympathizes with the hard-working farmers, he confesses that he tried to dissuade Crane from buying the wire. When Crane's wife Helen arrives, Ernine, the owner's daughter, tries to break the tension by inviting them for coffee. Momentarily left alone with Starrett, Helen coldly says that she no longer loves him and regrets their affair. Starrett does not believe her, but she insists that she will remain Hal's wife. When Starrett later goes to the town's hotel and saloon, he finds Dan at the bar, standing next to a can of kerosene. Suspecting foul play, Hal and several of the townsmen warn Starrett not to use the kerosene to burn Hal's wagon. As Hal and Starrett continue to make vague threats to each other, Helen enters the hotel. Starrett then rebukes the townsmen, saying that he and Dan came to the territory over twenty years ago and will not let "pot bellied farmers" take away their hard-fought freedom. A short time later, Helen enters Starrett's upstairs room and begs him not to kill Hal, promising to resume their relationship in exchange for her husband's life. Although she gives him a passionate kiss, he only momentarily responds, saying that Hal eventually would come after her and the end result would be the same. Later, when Starrett goes downstairs, he finds Dan passed out and starts to pick up the can of kerosene. Hal again warns him not to burn his wagon. They are on the verge of a gunfight when a shotgun-wielding band of seven men enter the hotel, led by former army officer Jack Bruhn. Bruhn reveals that they are being pursued by the cavalry, and, after one of his men kills a townsman who draws his gun, introduces his men by describing their sociopathic personalities. Only Shorty, a man who served under Bruhn in the army and Gene, an innocent young man new to the band, are not brutal killers. Bruhn, who is a strict disciplinarian, promises that there will be no more killings if the town cooperates and lets his men rest. Despite his men's pleas, Bruhn says that there will be no women and no liquor, then demands that the liquor be hidden and the four townswomen be taken to the general store. Despite his strong demeanor, Bruhn has been badly wounded and asks for a doctor. Veterinarian Doc Langer, the town's only citizen with medical knowledge, fears removing the bullet in Bruhn's chest and secretly asks Starrett if he should kill Bruhn. Knowing that Bruhn's disciplinary hold on his men is the only thing keeping the town from being destroyed, Starrett urges Doc to keep Bruhn alive. After refusing liquor to deaden his pain during the operation, Bruhn talks about his past to Starrett, recounting his days at West Point and alluding to a massacre of an entire Mormon town, an incident that Starrett remembers. After the bullet is removed, Bruhn asks Gene to sit with him while he sleeps and asks Starrett to check on his men. Later that day, Clagett, one of the farmers, decides to ride out of town because his wife is home alone and is shot by Bruhn's men. The townsmen now decide that it is unsafe for the women to stay, so the women start to walk away from town while Starrett reasons with Gene that the women are not safe from the two most brutal of the band, Tex and Pace. Although Gene is sympathetic, he says he must obey Bruhn. Shots then ring out, forcing the women to stop and awakening Bruhn, who is angry that Starrett did not believe that he would keep the women safe. When his men start to approach the women, Bruhn orders them back, and the women return to the store, after which Bruhn lets Tex fight Starrett, using fists instead of guns. After Starrett bests Tex, Bruhn lets two of his men pummel Starrett until he passes out. Still angry, Bruhn then takes the only child in town, Ernine's younger brother Bobby, as a hostage in the hotel. Gene assures the frantic Ernine that he will watch over Bobby. Later, Helen goes to Starrett, who is recuperating from the fight, and tells him how grateful Hal is for everything Starrett has done. Meanwhile, inside the hotel, Tex and Pace start to twist Bobby's arm, hoping he will reveal the location of the liquor. Gene forces them to stop just as Ernine arrives. She tries to take Bobby to the store, but the boy says that Gene is "all right" and he does not mind staying. Pace then tries to force himself on Ernine, but Gene pulls a gun and tells Ernine to leave. Just then, Bruhn comes down from his room and chastises Pace. Although he still refuses to allow his men to drink or molest the women, Bruhn reluctantly agrees to let the men invite the women to dance with them that evening. Although Shorty, Gene and Bruhn politely dance with Ernine, Helen and the other women, Pace and Tex treat the women brutishly. When Starrett, who has been recuperating, learns what is happening, he barges into the hotel and stops them, telling Bruhn that the weather is clearing and the Cavalry will soon arrive. He then convinces Bruhn that letting the men stay might cause another "Mormon massacre" and offers to lead them to freedom through a treacherous mountain pass. The next morning, as they are about to leave, Helen asks Starrett why he is sacrificing himself and he replies that he did not like what he saw in the mirror after she left his hotel room. Meanwhile, Gene says goodbye to Ernine, who asks him to stay. When he promises to come back, she reveals that there is no safe passage. Gene immediately tells Bruhn, but Bruhn says nothing to the other men. As they ride through the snowy pass, Tex's horse collapses. Realizing that they are doomed and not wanting Gene to die with them, Bruhn tells him to give Tex his horse and follow the trail back. When Bruhn falls from his horse, Shorty goes to him, after which Tex shoots and kills Bruhn. Tex then forces Starrett to continue with them after Starrett whispers "Thank you, Captain Bruhn." One by one, the men are killed by the greed of the others, who want all of the gold from their robbery, until only Tex, Pace and Starrett are alive. During a fierce blizzard, Tex and Pace shoot at Starrett as he tries to escape, then try to start a fire. When Pace, who has no matches, shoots at the wood to start the fire, the horses run off, but the fire still will not start. Pace and Tex seek shelter against a crag, but by morning Pace has frozen to death and Tex is barely able to move. Tex takes his rifle and aims in the distance at Starrett, who has mounted one of the horses, but he cannot hold onto the gun and collapses on a snow bank. When Starrett reaches his ranch, Dan and Gene greet him, and Gene says that he would like to stay and work for him.