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At the end of the United States Civil War in 1865, the Younger brothers, Jim, Bob and Cole, return to their home state of Missouri to discover that carpetbaggers from the North have taken over the state. Because money issued by the defeated Confederate government is now worthless, many farmers cannot pay their taxes. William Merrick, a carpetbagger, takes advantage of this to drive farmers off the land in the railroad's right of way in order to obtain it for himself. Shortly after their return, Martha Adams, Cole's girl friend, dies when the Adams family is forced to leave their home. Hank, the brothers' father, is also threatened with losing his farm for failure to pay his taxes. When Merrick arrives with Sheriff Brennan to take possession, Hank tries to argue his rights and is shot by Greg Bilson, one of Merrick's men, who also kills Brennan. When Cole and Bob return their gunfire, one of Merrick's men sets their house on fire, driving the Youngers away. A warrant is sworn out for the Youngers for Brennan's murder and they go into hiding. A few days later, Pettibone, who works for Merrick, takes the stagecoach to make a delivery of money. The Youngers steal it from him, and at Jim's suggestion, return the money to the farmers so that they can pay their taxes. During a train robbery, the Youngers meet Jesse James and join his gang. The Youngers continue to rob the carpetbaggers and distribute the money to farmers who are down on their luck. Bob is wounded during one of the robberies and when they stop for a doctor, they are recognized and the doctor's office is surrounded by deputies. Jim, who had been at the post office mailing a letter to his girl, Mary Hathaway, stampedes a herd of cattle and the Youngers escape under their cover. Because Bob's injury slows the men down, the Youngers and the Jameses separate. Pettibone suggests that Merrick use Mary to lure the Youngers into the open. They arrest her as an accomplice and Jim offers to turn himself in if Mary is released. That night, Cole and Bob break into the jail where Jim is being held and learn that Merrick and Bilson plan to have Jim murdered when he is moved from the jail. Because Merrick's men have been ordered to shoot at anyone wearing a duster, the Youngers force Merrick and Bilson to wear their dusters and send them out into the street where vigilantes kill them. The Youngers continue to steal and are captured in Minnesota where Mary visits them to explain that Missourians, who see them as heroes, have started a petition for their release.