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Willie Boy, a young Paiute Indian, returns to his Banning, California, reservation in 1909 so that he may attend his tribe's annual fiesta and resume his relationship with Lola, whose father has stood between them. When Willie attempts to arrange a midnight date with Lola, her father threatens to shoot him. Concurrently, easygoing Under-Sheriff Christopher Cooper, or "Coop," comes into town to see Liz Arnold, a wealthy Bostonian who doubles as doctor and superintendent of the reservation. Their relationship is tenuous: though Liz is sexually attracted to Coop, she regards him as her social and intellectual inferior and scorns his coarse manner. Willie meets Lola in the woods at midnight as planned, but their lovemaking is interrupted by the appearance of her father and brothers. Lola's father is killed in the ensuing scuffle, and, according to tribal tradition, Lola becomes Willie's wife. Liz, however, has other ambitions for Lola, and she insists that Coop apprehend the couple so that she can be returned to the reservation. Though his sympathies are with the Indians, Coop reluctantly heads a posse of bloodthirsty ranchers, but Willie and Lola evade the group. As the pursuit through the Mojave Desert drags on, Coop abandons the posse in order to return to town so that he may serve as bodyguard to the visiting President Taft. In Coop's absence, Willie picks off the pursuers' horses and accidentally shoots Ray Calvert, a member of the posse. The hysterical fear of an Indian uprising and assassination attempt against the President sweeps the town, and Coop is forced to continue his pursuit. The chase has left Lola so exhausted that she has become a liability to Willie, but she refuses to abandon him; and when the posse finds her dead body the following day, opinion is divided on whether she died by Willie's hand or by her own. Coop soon traps Willie in the mountains, and a confrontation is forced. When the Indian raises his rifle, Coop shoots against his will, only to discover that Willie's gun contains no bullets.