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In the 1870s, Martin Brady, an American who has lived most of his life in Mexico, crosses the Rio Grande and comes to the Texas town of El Puerto. Martin, who works as a hired gun for the Castro family who rule Northern Mexico, has come north to deliver gold ore and pesos in exchange for rifles on behalf of his padrone , Don Cipriano Castro. In town, Martin breaks his leg when the Andalusian stallion he is riding trips and falls. Some of the townspeople suspect that Martin, who they believe is Mexican, stole the stallion. Ellen Colton, the estranged wife of the newly arrived cavalry commanding officer, sends for Doc Stovall, who sets Martin's leg. In lieu of his fee, Stovall asks that Martin's horse Lagrimas, which is Spanish for "tears," be put to stud with his mare, and Martin, who received the horse from the Castros, agrees. Martin convalesces in the barn of Ben Sterner, a German immigrant who supplies the Castros with rifles. When Sterner's nephew Ludwig, newly arrived from Germany, becomes friendly with Martin, Sterner warns that Martin is an assassin to be avoided. Ellen's husband Major Colton asks Martin's help to facilitate a joint military operation between his troops and the Castros' forces against the southern Apaches, who hide in the Castros' territory after raiding the north. Martin scoffs at the possibility, as the Mexicans disparagingly think of Anglos as "gringos." However, Travis Hight, a jovial agent of the Continental and Southern Railroad, plans to offer money to the Castros for helping to wipe out the Apaches. Captain Rucker of the Texas Rangers, whom Martin has avoided, tells Martin that he knew his father and suspects that as a child, Martin killed his father's murderer, then fled to Mexico. Revealing that his father's murderer was a wanted man and therefore Martin did not have to flee, Ricker asks Martin to join the Rangers and encourages him to start a new life. At a party, Ludwig fights a drunk who has made malicious remarks about Ellen's supposed promiscuity and slurs about Martin. After the drunk breaks a bottle and viciously cuts Ludwig, Martin slugs the drunk and shoots him dead when he goes for his gun. Martin escapes to Mexico, where he finds that Don Cipriano has left for the capital city to see the governor. Martin meets with Don Cipriano's younger brother, Marcos, who insults Martin and sends him to the capital to explain the loss of the rifles, which had been stolen from his compatriot Diego Casas while Martin recovered from his broken leg. At the capital, Martin finds his padrone , who has now taken over the government, strangely lethargic and complacent. After a few weeks, Martin meets Hight, who has arranged a meeting between Colton and the Castros. During a fiesta, Ellen, who has come to Mexico with her husband, goes off alone with Martin. She rebukes him for being a hired killer, and when she contends he is not a whole man without his gun, he removes the gun and kisses her. Later, the Castros agree to join Colton's cavalry in a joint campaign against the Apaches. After learning that his brother plans to assassinate him, Don Cipriano sends Martin to kill Marcos. When Martin refuses the assignment, Don Cipriano insults him, calling him a "gringo" and warns that according to their law, he has the right to kill Martin if he attempts to leave his employ before the debt for the rifles is paid. Defiantly, Martin says that is not his law and rides off. When Lagrimas' hoof becomes injured, Martin takes refuge with Santiago Santos, a peasant farmer, and his family. After Apaches, challenged by the combined forces, attack a nearby ranchero, Santos is saddened that the peace of twenty years is now over. While riding out to help defend a neighboring ranchero, they come upon Tobe Sutton, a black U.S. officer, who informs them that the cavalry has been attacked and that Major Colton has been severely wounded. At the Calvary's camp, Martin finds Colton, who despite his condition, orders his men to carry him to a rendezvous with Captain Rucker and the Mexican forces 100 miles away. When scouts see Apaches below with a wagon, the major orders an attack over Martin's objections, but after Colton passes out, Martin joins the attack to carry out Colton's wish. Following a gun battle in which the Apache leader is killed, the rifles are recovered. Before dying, Colton asks Martin to take Ellen his ring. Upon reaching the fort, Martin tells Ellen that what they feel for each other is not wrong, and she responds that if he wants her, he must come cross the Rio Grande and leave Mexico. Meanwhile, Rucker returns the rifles to Marcos, who relates that Don Cipriano is dead. As the new governor, Marcos orders the Rangers to leave Mexico and demands that Rucker turn over Martin for murdering the drunk. Rucker refuses however, and tells Martin that witnesses testified that Martin killed the drunk in self-defense. As Martin rides towards the river, an assassin wounds Lagrimas, but Martin shoots the assassin, then kills his severely wounded horse. That accomplished, he puts down his gun, gunbelt and hat, and approaches the Rio Grande.