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As Catherine Morgan, a full-blooded Indian, is returning from the reservation at which she was visiting her parents, she and her nine-year-old son, Petey, are chased by two men on horseback. Catherine lashes one of the men, Rick Belden, across the face with her whip, but Rick and his friend, Lee Smithers, succeed in capturing her when her buggy overturns. Petey escapes on Rick's horse and rides into the town of Pawlee to get his father Matt, the town marshal. When they return, however, they discover that Catherine has been raped and murdered. The horse taken by Petey wears a distinctive saddle, which Matt recognizes as belonging to his old friend, Craig Belden. Meanwhile, at Belden's huge ranch outside the town of Gun Hill, Belden is infuriated when Rick, who is his son, and Lee tell him that the saddle was stolen by horse thieves. Rick also jokes that the cut on his face came from a romantic encounter. Belden, who bullies Rick relentlessly in an effort to "make him a man," orders him to retrieve the precious saddle. Deciding to question Belden about the saddle, Matt takes the train to Gun Hill and onboard meets cynical beauty Linda, who warns him that the town is controlled by Belden. Unknown to Matt, Linda is Belden's mistress, but when she arrives in Gun Hill, she refuses to go to the ranch, instead remaining in town. Matt travels to the ranch, where Belden is delighted to see his old friend. Believing that Matt has caught the horse thieves who stole his saddle, Belden chats amiably, relating that after the death of his wife, he was left with only his son. Matt interrupts Belden to tell him about Catherine's murder and upon questioning his friend, deduces that Rick has a cut on his face, and that he and Lee are responsible for the crime. Belden begs Matt not to arrest his son, but when Matt insists that Rick must pay, Belden then warns him that he "owns" the entire town, including the sheriff and town council. Matt again insists that he will be leaving on the last train from Gun Hill that night, and that both Rick and Lee will be in his custody. After Matt leaves to search the town for Rick, Belden orders Rick in from working the range and angrily confronts him. Although Rick attempts to justify his actions by pointing out that Belden himself has commented that there "ain't nothing prettier than a Cherokee squaw," Belden yells at his son for lying and killing his friend's wife. Belden fires Lee and orders him to leave the ranch, even though he knows that the hot-tempered Lee will probably get drunk and go after the fast-drawing Matt. Insisting that he can take care of himself, Rick heads to town with foreman Beero and henchman Skag, although Belden warns him to stay away from Matt until he organizes the rest of the men and follows them. In Gun Hill, the townspeople are belligerent to Matt, who punches a man for saying that "hereabouts" they give a man a bounty for killing an Indian rather than arresting him. Linda is upset by the town's animosity toward Matt, although she warns him to forget his ideals and leave before he is killed. After Linda informs him that Rick is at the neighboring saloon, Matt sneaks up to the building's upper floor. There, he knocks out and captures Rick, then carries him outside. Unable to get any help from the cowardly sheriff, Bartlett, Matt carries the unconscious Rick to a hotel room, where he cuffs the younger man to the bed. When Belden and his men arrive in town, they learn of Rick's predicament. Belden calls to Matt to turn his son loose, and when Matt refuses, the men shoot at him until Matt slides the bed in front of one of the windows and Rick screams at his father to cease firing. After the shooting stops, Belden and his men retreat to the Horseshoe Saloon, and find Linda there. Belden asks Linda why she did not go to the ranch upon her return to Gun Hill, and Linda reminds him that she was hospitalized because he had beaten her after Rick lied about her fidelity. Linda complains that he always takes Rick's word over hers, and when Belden hesitates after Linda asks him to marry her, she storms out. At the hotel, Linda visits Matt, who asks her to sneak in a shotgun to him. Although she is developing feelings for Matt, Linda states that she is too selfish to help him, and returns to the Horseshoe. Linda questions Lee about the killing and, when he says that Catherine was "just another Indian squaw," throws her drink in his face. The drunken Lee leaves, after which Belden goes to Matt's room to talk face-to-face. Although Belden appears to be pleading honestly for his son's life, Matt sees in a mirror that two of Belden's henchmen are sneaking down the hallway. Matt shoots them but refrains from killing Belden. Stating that they are now even, as Belden had saved his life long ago, Matt sends him on his way. Upset that no one will help Matt, Linda sneaks a shotgun into the hotel for him. Lee then sets fire to the back of the hotel, and while the men attempt to douse the blaze, Matt cuffs himself to Rick, then, with the shotgun planted under Rick's chin, walks slowly out into the street. Belden orders his men not to shoot as Matt makes his way to the train station, but there, Lee challenges Matt to draw. Matt is forced to go for his gun when Lee draws and although Matt shoots the younger man, Lee's bullet goes astray and kills Rick. After Matt un-cuffs himself from Rick's body, Belden rushes to the station. Grief-stricken, Belden also challenges Matt to draw, and although Matt replies that the matter is settled, Belden insists. Matt outdraws and mortally wounds his friend, and just before dying, Belden tells him to raise Petey right. Matt then boards the train to Pawlee and exchanges a glance with Linda as she holds Belden's lifeless body.