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On the day that Judge Jim Scott is to sentence Rudy Hayes to be hanged for the murder, Rudy's brothers, Charlie and Howard Hayes, arrive in town. Jim, who has spent the past eight years traveling as a circuit judge, is thrilled to receive the lease to his new ranch, which he plans to present that afternoon to his girl friend, Myra Owens, as part of a marriage proposal. Jim travels to the ranch, where his loyal friend, Sam Wyckoff, is helping to put the house in order, and is confronted by the Hayeses there. Charlie smoothly proposes that Jim offer Rudy a reduced sentence, but Jim refuses to be intimidated by them, prompting the oafish Howard to attack him. Jim punches Howard and Sam pulls out a rifle, after which the brothers leave. In town, meanwhile, Barney Wiley, appointed as sheriff by Jim after the judge had rid the territory of most crime, is carrying on a secret affair with Myra, and Myra announces her intention to reveal it to Jim. Jim returns to his office, where Rudy's girl friend, Cora Johnson, warns him that Charlie plans to kill them both if Rudy is not freed, but Jim again refuses. When the Hayeses' menacing cousin Jake arrives in town, Jim directs Barney to collect the family's guns, but the Hayeses easily outdraw Barney and beat him in a humiliating fight. Later, Myra tries to confess her affair to Jim, but cannot bear to hurt him. When he announces soon after to her and the town businessmen that he has bought a ranch, everyone congratulates the couple. As Hayes cousin Monte arrives to join the others, Mrs. Quarry, the widow of the man Rudy murdered, urges Jim to hang Rudy so that she can see him die. Later, Howard attacks Jim with a knife, and although Jim easily disarms him, the other Hayeses gang up on him and threaten to kill him. Jim, who does not carry a gun, then borrows one from deputy Floyd and visits Barney. Although Jim counsels Barney to imprison the Hayeses, a frightened Barney refuses. When Barney adds that he must have protection when he escorts Rudy to the gallows, Jim is dismayed by the younger man's cowardice. Meanwhile, Charlie leads his family in terrorizing the local businessmen, threatening their families unless they push Jim into banishing, rather than hanging, Rudy. After the townsmen approach Jim and Barney, Jim points out that not only is banishment unethical, it will also put Barney's life at risk, as he will be solely responsible for leading Rudy out of the territory. Mrs. Quarry, who blames Barney for not preventing Rudy from killing her husband, also supports banishment. Jim remains steadfastly committed to hanging the guilty man, and counts Barney, Sam and Floyd as his only allies. Barney, however, soon attempts to quit, agreeing to stay only after Jim points out that he will be considered a coward wherever he goes. Just before the sentencing, Cora spots Barney asking Myra not to reveal their relationship to Jim, and runs to Jim to tell him of their deceit, hoping this will convince him to banish Rudy and put Barney's life in danger by forcing him to escort Rudy from the territory. Jim then confronts Myra, who explains that she fell in love with Barney while Jim was traveling, and that although Jim expects everyone to do the right thing, sometimes people do only what is easy. When Jim leaves, Myra's father, preacher Andrew Owens, explains to her that Jim plans to save Barney's life at the possible expense of his own. Soon after, Jim confronts Barney and threatens to banish Rudy, pointing out that this would save both Barney's reputation and Myra's future. At the trial, Jim, worn down by the opposition, is about to pronounce the banishment sentence when the town's children file into the building. Seeing their faces, Jim declares that Rudy must be hanged, then takes the Hayeses' guns and orders them out of town. Although Jim plans to ride along in the well-guarded wagon bearing Rudy to the gallows, Barney sends the wagon off without Jim, placing him in eminent danger. Jim takes off for his ranch, and when Sam discerns what has happened, he censures Barney in front of Myra, which convinces her of Barney's weakness. She and Sam set off for the ranch, but the Hayeses are already there, firing bullets at Jim and throwing firebombs into the house. Jim manages to shoot Howard, Monte and Jake, but cannot find the wily Charlie, who slips into the burning house and attacks him. As Sam tries to protect Myra from the sight of the burning building, Jim finally overpowers Charlie and kills him. Wounded but alive, Jim crawls out of the house, and Myra runs into his arms.