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In the 1850s, in the Rogue River Valley area of the Oregon territory, Indian tribes resist the encroachment of white settlers. After Army captain Richard Hillman reports to Maj. Wallich that they have lost another battle against Indian Chief Mike's warriors, he learns that Wallich is being replaced by Maj. Frank Archer, a renowned disciplinarian. As Archer and his reinforcements approach the fort, they scare off Indian ambushers with a round of cannon fire. Archer finds the fort in the midst of a recruitment campaign, during which rum is served to entice the civilian volunteers known as "Irregulars," who are led by Stacey Wyatt. Archer is appalled by the festivities and insists that Wyatt and his men follow military decorum. Archer also reprimands Hillman, and orders him to take command of the pack mules until he learns military discipline. Already unpopular with his troops, Archer also earns the resentment of Brett McClain, the sergeant's daughter, when he prevents his men from attending her social. Later, Chief Mike sends emissaries to the fort requesting a conference, but Archer initially refuses because he has been ordered to attack. After receiving new orders, however, Archer meets with Chief Mike, and the Indian chief assesses his honesty. Chief Mike agrees to a thirty-day truce during which the Indians will stay on one side of the river, and the whites will stay on the other. Their talk is disrupted when two dead Indians are brought in, reportedly the victims of an unprovoked attack. Chief Mike angrily attacks Archer, but Archer overpowers him and insists that they stick to their agreement. To protect his men, Archer takes Chief Mike back to the fort and guarantees his safety. The civilians demand that Chief Mike be hanged, but Archer stands by his word and releases the tribal leader, thereby earning his respect. Later, Brett also calls a truce with Archer and finds that she has grown fond of the stern soldier. After several peaceful days, Archer sends out a patrol led by McClain and Hillman. Wyatt is then sent to obtain McClain's report, but when Wyatt encounters the troop, he tells McClain that the settlers' camp has been brutally attacked by Indians and that Brett has been taken hostage. Dutifully observing his strict orders, McClain refuses to cross the river even to save Brett, until Wyatt tells him that Archer has sent new orders. Wyatt accompanies McClain to the edge of the Indian village, and watches as McClain and his troops attack the unsuspecting villagers. Many Indians are slaughtered, but another faction of the tribe attacks the Army and massacres them. Later, Wyatt meets with Matt Parish and other members of the Irregulars to reveal how he has deceived McClain on their behalf. Wyatt has been secretly working against the peace process so that he, Parish and others can gain control of the territory's riches before Oregon becomes a state. After Wyatt reports that the truce is over, Archer leads a unit to search for survivors and discovers that Brett has followed him. With no evidence of survivors, Brett angrily lashes out at Archer and rides away. Archer orders Hillman, who has gained his confidence, to return to the fort and then follows Brett. Archer is forced to kill three Indians to protect Brett, but after spending the night in the open, they are captured and taken to Chief Mike. Archer says that the peace was broken against his will, but Chief Mike declares war and releases his hostages to repay his debt to Archer. Archer sends his troops to set up for a heavy artillery attack and instructs them to begin their barrage at nine the next morning. He then leaves Wyatt in charge of the fort and forms a post at the river. The Indians attack, and while Archer and his men are fighting them off, Brett and the settlers are surprised to see McClain, severely wounded, stumble into the fort. Brett learns the truth about Wyatt and Parish's subterfuge and takes them both to Archer. Archer forces Wyatt to accompany him to meet with Chief Mike and warns the Indian leader that he is unable to alert his men in time to stop the artillery barrage. However, Wyatt discounts Archer's story, and in an effort to decide the matter, Chief Mike suggests that he and Wyatt engage in hand-to-hand combat. Archer reluctantly agrees and is the victor. Wyatt finally admits the truth but is killed when he tries to attack Chief Mike. Chief Mike then agrees to lead his people across the river to safer ground. Parish is arrested, and everyone watches as the artillery fires away. No one is injured during the barrage, and afterward, Chief Mike agrees to lasting peace. Having discovered Archer's true nature, Brett embraces him.