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Jim Douglas is on his way to witness a hanging in the border town of Rio Arriba when he is stopped on the outskirts of town by a guard who disarms him and then escorts him to see Sheriff Eloy Sanchez. The sheriff questions Jim's motives and then confiscates his guns. On the street, the edgy townsfolk mistake Jim for Simms, the hangman who is to execute the sheriff's four prisoners. While registering at the hotel, Jim is warmly greeted by Josefa Velarde, a former lover he has not seen since a liaison in New Orleans five years earlier. When Josefa asks Jim if he ever married, he curtly answers yes and then changes the subject. After Simms arrives, Jim asks to see the prisoners, the men he has been tracking for six months, and expresses his relief that the law will finally bring them to justice. The men--Alfonso Parral, Bill Zachary, Ed Taylor and Lujan--insolently address Jim as he glares at them through their cell bars. Simms postpones meeting the prisoners until after the town gathers that night in church. When Josefa invites Jim to join her at church, he tersely replies that he no longer attends services. As the town kneels to pray, Simms visits the jailhouse and coldly stabs the sheriff in the back. Whirling around in shock, the sheriff shoots and kills his assailant, but the four prisoners escape nevertheless. Meanwhile, Emma Steinmetz, the shopkeeper's daughter, has slipped out of the service to retrieve something from the store and is abducted by the prisoners. The gravely wounded sheriff staggers into the church just as the outlaws and their hostage gallop out of town. When Emma's father Gus discovers that his daughter is missing, a posse forms, but Jim declines to join, vowing to bring the fugitives to justice himself. Alone in his hotel room, Jim stares at the photo of his wife and daughter he carries in a pocket watch. The next morning, Jim catches up to the posse and assumes command. After finding the real Simms's body lying dead along the roadside, Jim orders gunshots fired every five minutes to distract the outlaws. The lecherous Zachary is about to assault Emma when the sound of gunfire spooks him. The fugitives, who have never met Jim, puzzle over his dogged determination to apprehend them. Aware that Jim is close on their trail, they assign Parral to ambush him while the others ride on. Spotting Parral lying in wait, Jim gets the drop on him, then shows him the photo and demands to know which of the four outlaws killed his wife. Although Parral swears he has never laid eyes on the woman in the photo, Jim shoots him down in cold blood. At the Rio Arriba church, Parral's mother grieves for her dead son while the padre tells Josefa that Jim's wife was raped and murdered by four outlaws who were identified by Jim's neighbor, a man named Butler. When the padre mentions that before embarking upon his quest for vengeance, Jim entrusted the care of his little daughter to a ranchhand and his wife, Josefa gasps that the little girl could have been hers because Jim proposed to her years earlier, but she turned him down. While Josefa rides to Jim's ranch to comfort the little girl, Zachary, Taylor and Lujan continue on with Emma. Spying Jim in the distance, Taylor stays behind to ambush him. When Taylor starts firing, Jim waits until he runs out of bullets, then lassoes him and hangs him upside down from a tree. Four miles from the Douglas ranch, Emma, Lujan and Zachary come across Butler's shack and ask him for food. After feeding them, Butler nervously excuses himself to go to work, grabs a sack and runs out the door. Zachary shoots Butler in the back and while Lujan goes out to examine the sack, Zachary drags Emma into a room and rapes her. As the posse approaches, Lujan and Zachary ride off, leaving Emma behind. En route to the Douglas ranch, Josefa meets Jim and begs him to give up his quest. After finding Butler's dead body and Emma, ravished and hysterical, Josefa exhorts Jim to kill the culprits. Josefa and Jim ride to his ranch and after entrusting his daughter to Josefa's care, Jim and the posse ride in pursuit of the remaining two fugitives. The posse is forced to turn back upon reaching the Mexican border, but Jim continues on. Finding Zachary and Lujan in a small border cantina, Jim throws his watch on the table. When Zachary draws his gun, Jim shoots him down, then turns to fire on Lujan. Lujan escapes, however, but Jim tracks him through the night and into the following morning. Returning home to his wife Angela and ailing son, Lujan runs out of the house to fetch some water for the child, and Jim enters and aims his pistol at Lujan. Angela smashes Jim over the head with a clay pot, and Lujan then asks Jim why he is hunting him. When Jim shows him the photo, Lujan insists he has never seen the woman before, and recalls that he and his companions rode past the Douglas ranch on their way from the border. Pointing to the sack, Jim states that the men who killed his wife stole the sack containing the family's life savings. When Lujan tells Jim that he took the bag from Butler, Jim realizes that Butler killed his wife. Speechless with remorse, Jim returns to Rio Arriba and heads directly to the church to pray for forgiveness. Soon after, Josefa and his daughter enter the church and the little girl runs to her father, who hugs her. As the three walk out of the church together, they are greeted by a round of applause from the assembled community. When the townsfolk offer their undying gratitude, Jim asks for their prayers instead.