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In Habersford, Missouri, the gateway to the gold coast for ox-train transport companies, wealthy businessman Piperstone Ross, head of the local freight company, rules. One day, a stranger, Pat Candel, hitches a ride on a wagon to town and there is bewitched by Julie Santley, Ross's pretty fiancée. After cleaning up at the barber shop, Pat impetuously proposes to Julie, but after flashing an enormous diamond ring, Julie coolly informs Pat that she is already engaged to Ross. Later, at the local saloon, Pat challenges a man for cheating at cards. Impressed by Pat's gumption, a man named Vane invites him and his guitar-playing friend, Henry Hawkins, to accompany him to the river. There, Vane proudly displays his shiny new locomotive and introduces them to his engineer, Jonah McCleod. Vane explains that if he can transport the engine to Omaha, he will win the rights to lay tracks to the West, which he hopes will goad the big railroad companies into building tracks from Chicago to Omaha. Vane continues that all of the freighters have refused to cart his engine, then offers Pat $15,000 to do the job. Thinking that $15,000 would raise his esteem in Julie's eyes, Pat accepts, but soon discovers that Ross has bought up all the available oxen. After Ross agrees to sell Vane a team for $15,000, he informs Julie's brother Ben that the engine will never reach Omaha because it would pose a threat to the wagon transport business. Upon joining the wagon train bound for Omaha, Pat is surprised to discover that Julie is also traveling with them. When they reach a fork in the trial, Ross declares that they must take the steep northerly pass. That night, Ross regales Julie with stories of the lush life awaiting them in Omaha. When Pat begins to play his mouth organ, Ross upstages him by presenting Julie with an extravagant pump organ. Before starting out the next morning, Ross instructs Nat, one of his henchmen, to whittle down one of the wooden pins from the harness of Pat's oxen. Midway up the grade, the pin breaks, sending the wagon carrying the locomotive crashing down the slope. The wagon crushes Vane's leg before Paul is able to stop its rapidly increasing momentum and thus save the locomotive. Although Ross determines that Vane should immediately return to Habersford, the intrepid Vane insists upon continuing on to Omaha. Upon discovering that the harness pin has been sabotaged, Ben confronts Ross, who responds with a lash of his bullwhip and a threat. After Pat learns from a group of friendly Indians about a safe spot to cross the river, Vane thanks Pat for his efforts and voices his dream of bringing civilization to the West with his locomotive. After the Indians depart, Nat follows them and shoots one in the back. When the Indians attack in revenge, Ross gives orders to pull out and leave the locomotive behind. Pat then decides to leave camp to ascertain the size of the war party, prompting Julie to declare her love for him and forsake her life of riches with Ross. After Pat leaves, Ross tries to force Julie into his wagon. Just then, Pat returns with the news that the Indians attacked because Nat shot one of them in the back. When Ben denounces Ross, one of Ross's thugs strikes Pat in the face, allowing Ross to seize control of the men. After confiscating their guns, Ross and his thugs leave Vane, Ben, Pat, Julie, Henry and Jonah to the mercy of the Indians. When Ben protests his mercilessness, Ross kills him. Now defenseless, Pat asks Jonah to stoke up the locomotive's engine and build a head of steam. That night, when the Indians attack, Pat drives the wagon carrying the locomotive into their advancing column. As they near the Indians, Pat tells Henry to blow the whistle, thus releasing a head of scalding steam into the onrushing Indians, sending them scurrying off into the distance. After successfully delivering the locomotive to Omaha, Pat heads to the saloon to confront Ross. Along the way, he stops to buy a pair of pistols, paying for them with Julie's engagement ring. Ross, meanwhile, sends his henchmen to bushwack Pat in the street. When Ross, inside the saloon, hears the sound of gunshots followed by Pat's mouth organ, he knows that his thugs have failed, walks out and drops his gun. Angrily handing him one of his pistols, Pat orders him to draw. Waiting inside the hotel, Julie hears gunfire and runs out into the street where Pat embraces her.