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In the 1870s, while surveying land for a new branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, engineer Gil Harkness and construction foreman Jim Vesser learn that representatives from the Canon City & San Juan Railroad are also in the area. The hot-headed Jim confronts his competitors, who turn out to be Bob Nelson, a friend from Jim's Civil War days, and his boss, McCabe. Although Bob insists that his company has a legitimate franchise on the land, Jim fights Bob, and during the fracas, McCabe shoots Bob in the back. McCabe's cohort, Johnny Buff, witnesses the scene and supports McCabe's claim that Jim shot Bob. Jim eventually is cleared of murder charges, but refuses to return to the railroad, even after Gil tells him that McCabe has a history of violence. While discussing Jim with his sympathetic boss, railroad head Gen. William J. Palmer, Gil sparks the ire of Palmer's secretary, Linda Prescott, who denounces Jim as a cowardly killer. Later, Jim hops on a D&RG logging car and rides it until an explosion set by McCabe and Buff causes a landslide on the tracks. Jim reunites with Gil, who is on the train with Palmer and Linda, and informs him that CC&SJ have obtained an injuction against D&RG, prohibiting them from further construction. Jim then declares that he is coming back to work, as he now realizes how dangerous McCabe is. Soon after, Jim saves Linda when her dress becomes ensnared by the train, and unaware of his identity, she thanks him with a smile. Later, Linda, who is actually Bob's sister and is spying for McCabe to avenge his death, shows up in his camp and reports that Jim has yet to appear. Upon returning to the D&RG camp, however, Linda is introduced to Jim and grows suddenly cold. Then when Jim suggests to Palmer that they respond to McCabe's strong-arm tactics by running his men out "on a pole," Linda angrily accuses Jim of acting above the law. The next day, after Palmer has left for Denver to try to vacate the injunction, Jim talks Gil into resuming construction, arguing that any fines they might incur will be less costly than complete stoppage. When Jim enters the camp saloon to re-hire his workers, however, one of McCabe's spies stirs up the others by complaining about their late pay. Jim fires the man, and a brawl ensues. Later, as Palmer returns from Denver with his accountant and the payroll, the train on which they are riding is robbed by three men, including the masked Buff, who shoots and kills the accountant. Palmer then chastises Jim for defying the injuction and states that they must beat McCabe by strictly legal means. To that end, Jim decides they must implicate McCabe in the payroll robbery and, assuming that the crooks will have extra cash to spend, goes to the saloon to observe the gambling. When he sees two men losing big money, he accuses them of the robbery, then follows them after they leave the saloon. A gunfight erupts, and Jim wounds one man and kills the other. Although the wounded man has $1,000 on him, he continues to deny any involvement in the robbery. Later, Jim confronts Linda in her tent, revealing that he saw her riding in the direction of McCabe's camp, but she dismisses his insinuations and throws him out. The next day, Palmer announces that the injunction has been lifted but that to keep the company from going into receivership, he must attend a meeting in Denver the following afternoon. Afterward, McCabe summons Linda to his camp and, by assuring her that he still intends to trap Jim, persuades her to reveal Palmer's plans. McCabe then orders Buff and his men to steal one of Palmer's trains, sabotage the telegraph at every depot and set up snipers to prevent Palmer from getting to Denver. Palmer, Jim and Gil soon deduce McCabe's scheme and rally their men to fight McCabe's. Although McCabe sets up a blockade, the D&RG men barrel through it and then allow their train to crash head on with McCabe's. Later, Jim instructs Palmer to ride to an outlying depot and catch a train to Denver, while he and Gil keep McCabe at bay by building a barrier on the tracks. At that moment, Linda tells Jim who she really is and admits that she has been helping McCabe. During an exchange of gunfire between Jim's men and McCabe's, Linda returns to McCabe's tent, where Buff tells her that McCabe intends to blast Jim and his men with dynamite. Outraged, she accuses Buff of killing Palmer's accountant, and Buff confesses to the crime just as McCabe enters. After McCabe denounces Buff as a thieving traitor, Buff exposes McCabe as Bob's killer. McCabe denies the accusation and orders Buff to help set the dynamite on the train car that will be sent hurtling at the barrier. Dodging McCabe's bullets, Linda flees back to Jim, and Jim and the others scatter in time to avoid the blast. McCabe, however, is shot in the back by Buff and killed in the explosion. Later, Palmer, who reached Denver and saved the railroad, defends Jim's actions to the sheriff, and a forgiving Jim looks forward to a life with Linda.