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In 1893, while fleeing across Nevada rangeland, three escaped convicts, led by Lednov, come upon three cowboys and kill them for their clothes and horses. Rancher Jed Graham discovers the bodies and takes them to nearby Aspen. There fledgling rancher Clay Phillips is warned by Sheriff Gardner that Lednov, whom Clay once apprehended after he murdered his best friend, has escaped and is looking for revenge. Sure that Lednov is already headed there, Clay leaves for his ranch in Sonora with his young brother Steve and a new herd of horses. Soon after, Clay and Steve meet up with four saloon girls--Mary Wells, Helen Carter, Elaine and Marcia--who were forced out of Aspen by social reformers and are now headed for work in Sonora, California. The women are stranded on the road with a broken wagon wheel, and the taciturn Clay reluctantly agrees to take them as far as the next ranch. That night, Marcia's beau, Jim Clayton, shows up in their camp, and ignoring the advice of the more experienced Mary, Marcia accepts his marriage proposal and leaves. Mary then discovers that Elaine, who is ill and depressed, has fled the camp. Steve eventually tracks down the distraught Elaine and is leading her back to camp when he spots three men. Assuming that they are the fugitives, Steve fires his rifle, but is chagrined to learn later that he shot at the sheriff and his posse. After Steve is chastised by Clay, he is given his first lesson in "letters" by Mary, who criticizes Clay for not teaching his brother how to read. Clay, in turn, reminds Mary about her dubious past. Lednov and his two cohorts, meanwhile, arrive at the Wyatt ranch just ahead of Clay and steal the ranchers' guns and ammunition. Unaware that Clay is trailing them, Lednov pushes on, bent on revenge. The Wyatts are further surprised when Clay shows up with the sickly Elaine, who they reveal to be their "lost" daughter. While Ma Wyatt lovingly cares for her child, who was abandoned by her lover before Mary befriended her, Clay convinces Elaine's morally strict father to allow Mary and Helen to spend the night at the ranch. Clay is determined to part ways with the women, but Mary, who is equally determined to get to Sonora quickly, tries to charm him into changing his mind. When that tactic fails, Helen tells Elaine that Mary will reveal facts about her past to her father unless she agrees to go on to Sonora. Anxious to remain at home, Elaine becomes upset and begs Helen and Mary to go at once. Witnessing Elaine's discomfort, Clay orders Mary and Helen to leave with him. Soon after, Clay spies Lednov's camp up ahead and takes a more obscure trail to Sonora. Along the way, the group meets Fowler, a secretive Irishman, who reluctantly invites them to his camp. That night, Clay kisses Mary, but insists to the approving Steve that he has no intention of marrying her. Helen, who meanwhile has discovered that Fowler has just struck gold, decides to remain with him. The next morning, Steve once again kisses Mary, but when he refuses to admit his love and questions the sincerity of her reformation, she becomes furious and takes off in the wagon. She soon crashes, however, spilling her clothes into a creek and destroying Clay's wagon. After Clay, Mary and Steve leave Fowler's camp, Lednov spies Mary's clothes floating in the creek and interrogates the miner about them. Brutalized by Lednov, Helen eventually reveals Clay's whereabouts, after which the fugitive kills Fowler in cold blood. As they near Sonora, Clay puts Mary on a stagecoach and, pretending to be angry with him, orders his brother to make his own way. Steve soon spies the fugitives approaching and returns to Clay's side. During the ensuing gunfight, Steve is shot, but with his brother's help, Clay finally kills the three outlaws. In Sonora, Steve's wounds are treated, and Clay and Mary reunite and together with Steve face a happy future.