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Reformed outlaw Link Jones travels to Crosscut, Texas to catch the train to Fort Worth, where he intends to use the savings of his community of Good Hope to hire a schoolteacher. On the train platform Sam Beasley speaks with Link briefly, rousing the suspicions of the town marshal, who advises Link that Sam is a known con man. When the marshal comments that Link looks familiar, Links is evasive about his identity. Onboard the train, Sam impulsively joins Link and upon learning of his mission in Fort Worth, claims he may be able to help. Their conversation is overheard by shady-looking fellow passenger Alcutt. When the train stops to pick up wood for additional fuel, Sam introduces Link to the Crosscut saloon singer, Billie Ellis, who Sam insists would make an ideal teacher. While the other male passengers help load the train with wood, Alcutt remains onboard feigning sleep in order to signal to three other men, Coaley Tobin, Trout and Ponch, who then attempt to hold up the train. Link tries to intervene and is knocked unconscious. The holdup is prevented by the quick actions of the train guard, who orders the train to pull away. Alcutt takes Link's bag containing Good Hope's money before jumping from the train, but is wounded as the robbers flee. Link revives to discover that he, Sam and Billie have been left behind, many miles from the nearest town. Link leads Billie and Sam to a ramshackle farm, then admits that he used to live there years earlier. While the others wait in the barn, Link enters the run-down house and finds the train robbers hiding inside. Coaley is suspicious of Link's claim that he and the others simply want to rest for the night. The men are interrupted by the appearance of aging outlaw Dock Tobin, who is startled to see Link, his nephew, whom he raised as a killer and thief and who abandoned him more than a dozen years earlier to go straight. Tobin laments that nothing has been the same since Link's departure and introduces him to the roughnecks he now commands, including Link's own cousin, Coaley. Disturbed by the revelation of Link's identity, Coaley demonstrates his toughness by killing Alcutt, who is near death from his wound. Realizing the danger of his situation, Link has Sam and Billie brought into the house and lies to Tobin, telling him that he intentionally sought out his uncle after being left by the train. Tobin reveals his long-held ambition to rob the bank at the town of Lassoo and asserts that Link's return to the gang makes that possible. Link agrees to participate in the holdup to protect Billie, and after declaring that she is his girl friend, leaves to assist Sam in digging a grave for Alcutt. Hearing Billie scream, Link finds Coaley drunkenly insisting that she strip. Coaley holds a knife to Link's throat to prevent him from interfering and Tobin remains disinterested until Billie is nearly undressed. The old man then intervenes and laughingly sends Link and Billie to sleep in the barn. There, Billie tells Link that she is incredulous that he ever could have been involved with such degraded, violent men, but Link states that he was just like them, until he forced himself to break away to find another life. When Link finds his empty bag in the hay, he angrily declares that he must get back Good Hope's money even if he has to kill the entire gang. Although frightened by their situation, Billie is touched by Link's sincere efforts to protect her and his gentlemanly manner with her. The following morning, Link tells Billie of his difficulties in starting over, but that he eventually succeeded and has a wife and two children, as well as the grudging respect of the townspeople, who know about his past and yet trust him enough to give him all of their money. Claude Tobin, another of Link's cousins, arrives inquiring about the train holdup and is displeased about Link's return. Claude then reveals that the Crosscut marshal recalled Link's identity and has connected him to the Tobin gang. Tobin rejects Claude and Coaley's suggestion of killing Link and the others and they depart on the four-day ride to Lassoo. That evening, Link goads Coaley into a fistfight and beats him severely, then forcibly strips him of his clothes. Deeply humiliated, and against Tobin's orders, Coaley attempts to shoot Link, but Sam intercedes and is killed instead. Tobin then shoots Coaley for disobeying him. That evening during a private conversation with Link, Billie laments that she has finally found a man worth loving, but can never have him. The next day Link asks Claude why he remained with Tobin, prompting Claude to declare that he loves Tobin as the only father he ever had and cautions Link that he will not succeed in defeating the gang. Outside of Lassoo, Link volunteers for the holdup job, but Tobin insists that he be accompanied by the mute Trout. Link and Trout discover Lassoo is a ghost town and the bank deserted except for a frightened old Mexican woman, whom Trout kills in panic. Link kills Trout, then awaits the arrival of Claude and Ponch. In a drawn-out gun battle, Claude and Ponch attempt to encircle Link, but Link kills Ponch first, then eventually and with some regret, Claude. Returning to the camp, Link discovers Tobin has raped and beaten Billie and goes in search of the old man, who is wandering drunkenly in the nearby mountains. Link tells Tobin that, like Lassoo, he is a ghost and finished, then kills him and reclaims the bag of Good Hope's money. Riding back with Link to civilization, Billie declares she will resume singing, knowing that Link will return to his home and family.