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Jesse James, a member of Quantrill's Partisan Rangers during the Civil War, meets Zerelda Mimms, a northern girl marooned on her uncle's southern plantation, and is saved from capture as a spy. After the war, Jesse is warned by his friend Parson Bill that his mother has been maimed by fanatic Union sympathizers and is threatened by Frederick Mimms with expulsion from the town. Jesse is about to wreak vengeance on Mimms when his daughter's screams bring help; he flees in a spectacular manner and becomes notorious as an outlaw bandit. Citzens attempt to trap him into surrender with the aid of Bob Ford, who betrays him for love of Zerelda, but Jesse escapes with Zerelda on his horse, Silver King, and forces Parson Bill to marry them in a stagecoach.