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Although they have been promised a shipment of gold in exchange for their acceptance of a peace treaty, Sioux warriors in the Wyoming territory attack a supply wagon heading for Fort Laramie. The fort's soldiers, led by Capt. James Tenslip, successfully defend the wagon. Back at the fort, Tenslip and Maj. Seth Bradner, the commander, determine that the Sioux have been attempting to steal gold from the supply wagons as a means of enriching their tribe without having to sign the treaty. Bradner sends his scout, the Frenchman Jean Salignac, who is part Sioux, to negotiate with Red Cloud, the Sioux chief. After Bradner, a Virginian, receives a message that the Confederacy has elected Jefferson Davis as its president, a violent brawl breaks out between the fort's Northern and Southern soldiers. Melissa Bradner, the major's niece and the object of Tenslip's affections, fears the growing conflict and begs Tenslip, who is from the North, to marry her before the situation worsens. Bradner gives Tenslip permission to marry his niece and promises to announce the engagement at that evening's dance. However, a Pony Express messenger interrupts the festivities, and when Bradner addresses the crowd, he announces not the engagement, but the Confederacy's attack on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln's subsequent call for military action against the rebels. A group of soldiers from the South then plot to take over the fort and steal the next gold shipment in order to bring war funds to the nearest Confederate fort in Texas. They approach Bradner for his support, but Bradner angrily denounces the plot as an act of treason. Hendrey, a Southerner, informs Tenslip of the plot and, to the tune of "Dixie," is savagely murdered and scalped as a traitor by the Southern soldiers. Later, Tenslip reveals his mistaken belief that the major is a participant in the Southerners' plot, and both the major and Melissa are angered by the accusation. Salignac then returns from his mission to report that Red Cloud has refused to come to Fort Laramie and has demanded that the signing of the treaty and the turning over of the gold take place on neutral ground. After Bradner receives an order from his superiors calling for the release of all soldiers whose loyalty to the Union is in doubt, he turns command of the fort over to Tenslip, renewing the younger man's admiration for the dignified commander. The following day, Bradner and his men, joined by Salignac, bid goodbye to the fort and head for the nearest Confederate outpost in Texas, confident that the Sioux will not attack as they are no longer soldiers. In the meantime, Melissa, still angry at Tenslip, makes plans to return home to Virginia. Riding through Sioux territory, Bradner and his men are soon confronted by Indians, and Bradner has Salignac explain that the Sioux will receive the promised gold from Tenslip once their convoy has made its way safely out of the area. However, Red Cloud, fearing a trick, attacks the small group of men and demands Bradner as a hostage. Although Bradner is willing to serve as hostage, his men refuse to surrender him, fearing that the Yankee Tenslip will not pay his ransom. Salignac manages to sneak through enemy lines in order to get help from Fort Laramie, and although Tenslip greatly dislikes and mistrusts Salignac, his conscience dictates that he make certain his former commander is safe. Grateful that Tenslip is willing to help her uncle, Melissa finally forgives him for his misguided accusations and she and Tenslip declare their love for each other. Tenslip and his men reach the small band of battle-weary Southerners and, during a protracted battle with the Sioux, the soldiers lay aside their hostilities to fight alongside each other. United, the soldiers finally manage to prevail against the Sioux, but Bradner is killed. Tenslip offers the Southerners a chance to stay with him, but although they are grateful for the Northerners' help and have a newfound respect for Tenslip, they decide to ride on to the Confederate fort. Salignac, now redeemed, joins Tenslip and his men, and together they return to Fort Laramie, above which the Union's Stars and Stripes blows in the wind.