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While drinking at a bar, in 1870s New Mexico territory, bigoted sheriff Eli Saunders provokes Pardon Chato, a man of mixed white and Apache heritage. Resenting that the "redskin nigger" is being served, Eli pulls a gun on Chato, forcing the quiet man into a draw which results in Saunders' death. Saloon keeper and former soldier Quincey Whitmore, driven by misplaced anger over the Confederacy's defeat, gathers a thirteen-man posse to find and lynch Chato. While some, like racist Jubal Hooker and his sons Earl and Elias, are eager to join, Reverend Gavin Malechie only agrees to go to maintain his standing in the community. Also part of the group are stable owner Nye Buell, Harvey Lansing, George Dunn, Will Coop, Martin Hall, Scotsman Brady Logan, rancher Joshua Everette and Malechie's Yaqui scout, who begins tracking Chato. As they ride into the barren, butte-riddled desert, Quincey suspects that the "half breed" is not fleeing, but leading them into a desert wasteland. Meanwhile, the elusive Chato watches just a few miles ahead. Soon after, Will is injured when he falls from his horse, forcing George to escort his friend back to town. The next morning, the group discover their water bottles have been slashed during the night. Unnerved by Chato's fearless proximity and the sweltering heat, the group angrily bicker and then set fire to an abandoned Native American village to vent their frustration. Caught in a steep valley at midday, the posse is an easy target for Chato, who shoots two of the mounts and scares the remaining horses with a few shots, forcing the posse to round them up. That night, the men debate their conviction to pursue their quarry. Brady reminds them that he signed on for only one week, but Jubal, eager to kill, vows to continue till death. The next day, as vultures circle the horses' carcasses and water dwindles, Earl accuses the scout of stealing their supply and threatens to kill him, but Malechie vouches for the Yaqui. That night, Chato returns to his home, a stone house by a waterfall, where he is warmly greeted by his woman and child and a male comrade. The next day, while Chato and his comrade round up wild horses to break, the Hooker brothers convince serveral others to brutally rape Chato's woman and then tie her up. Chato's son, having secretly witnessed the scene, runs for his father, who returns to his house and sets fire to the corral, distracting the posse long enough for him to free his woman. When some of the men in the posse shoot Chato's comrade and then hang him upside down over a fire, Quincey, Brady and Malechie admit the rape and brutality is wrong but do nothing to stop the Indian from being killed. Although the men believe the murder will scare Chato away, the scout knows that the Apache will kill them for their treachery. Soon after, Earl, determined to take Chato's woman for himself, leaves the camp in search of her. While Quincey vows to continue hunting for Chato, he demands that the bloodthirsty Earl promise to leave the boy and his mother unharmed, to which Earl reluctantly agrees. Soon after, however, the men find Earl's lifeless body, his groin burnt black, and Jubal vows to kill them all. Hours later, when Quincey, wanting to avoid being targeted in the canyon, suggests taking the long way around, Jubal threatens to kill anyone who hampers the hunt, insisting they ride after Chato into the canyon. Martin is immediately shot by Chato and left behind in the scorching sun as the men flee out of Chato's range. Chato then takes Martin's water and gun. Soon after, the posse carefully retrace their steps to Martin and make camp. The next morning, after Jubal insists that they leave the dying man and the others refuse, Earl pulls his gun out to shoot Martin, who coincidently takes his last breath. As they dig the grave, Chato shoots at the group, killing the scout and injuring Josh, who warns that Chato will kill them all. Quincey then orders the group to return home, but Jubal holds Quincey at gunpoint until he agrees to continue the hunt. Soon after, when Harvey and Josh try to leave, Elias prepares to shoot them, but Quincey orders him to stand down. Filled with sadistic rage, Jubal shoots Quincey while Earl kills Josh and runs after Harvey. As Quincey draws his last breath, he claims that during the war Jubal's actions would have incited revenge, but Quincey is now resolved not to hold any grudge. Meanwhile, Chato shoots and scalps Harvey. When Elias discovers the body, Chato throws a poisonous snake at him. Bitten, Elias writhes in pain as Chato takes one final shot. Back at camp, Malechie and Brady, who are being held at gunpoint by Jubal, are covering Quincey's body with rocks, when Brady takes a stone and bludgeons Jubal to death. Although they have escaped Jubal's wrath, Brady and Malechie are far from prepared for the treacherous journey home. After one of their two remaining horses dies from thirst, Brady collapses from heat exhaustion. That evening, Chato shoots Malechie, who falls into the campfire. Weak and disoriented, Brady watches helplessly as Malechie's face burns. The next morning, the Scotsman tries to continue, but soon walks into Chato, who watches impassively as the exhausted man flees into the vast desert terrain and certain death.