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In the 1800s, after wandering for four years in Mexico following a disagreement with his father Wayne, Johnny Shattuck is returning home to Lodgepole Ranch. Recognizing the young man, Dean Cannary, Wayne's former employee and now the owner of the Circle C, orders his men to harass Johnny, steal his guns, force his hired rig over a cliff and then shoot at his feet. To escape, Johnny leaps off the road onto the side of the hill, where he is able to evade the bullies. Hearing the shots, a family friend, Señor Valdez, and his daughter Anita ride out to investigate and take Johnny to their cantina. After searching unsuccessfully for Johnny, Cannary and his men eventually arrive at the Valdez' cantina, where Cannary further torments Johnny by forcing his unwanted attentions on Anita, whom Johnny has always loved. Johnny fights Cannary, but is outnumbered by his rival's thugs. Anita, who is uninterested in Cannary's growing attraction to her, assists Johnny by cracking a bottle over the man's head. The fight is broken up by Wayne and his men, who arrive and order Cannary's group to leave. Cannary departs, but, wondering where Johnny has been all these years, tells his men that the next fight will be with guns. After returning to the ranch, Wayne and Johnny talk about the disagreement that sent Johnny packing, and Wayne's close friend Hank, who is the town's livery man, jokes about the father's and son's hot temper. When Johnny explains that he returned home after hearing about a range war instigated by Cannary, Wayne and Hank tell Johnny how Cannary progressed from cowpoke to the owner of a ranch stocked with rustled cattle. They tell Johnny that Cannary has unlawfully fenced off Apache Wells, an important public watering hole located between the ranch and the railroad loading station where cattle are sold. Guarding the Wells are notorious gunman Joe Dunn and several other thugs. Unable to water their stock on cattle drives, the other ranchers are prevented from getting their herds to market and are suffering economically. Respecting Wayne's wishes, Hank and housekeeper Tia Maria withhold from Johnny the information that the Lodgepole is nearly bankrupt because of Cannary's conniving. When Wayne and Hank tell Johnny that Cannary had hoped to hire The Durango Kid, but could not track him down, Johnny says that he knew the famous gunman. Despite the obstacles to marketing his herd, Wayne has come up with a solution. He explains that friends of Valdez have agreed to let him borrow two mobile water tanks owned by the railroad, which he can pull by mules along with the herd. Eager to help, Johnny agrees to ride with them the following morning. The next day, Johnny meets with Anita, saying that after he helps his father, he has something important to ask her. Cannary eavesdrops on their conversation, then follows Johnny when he accompanies Wayne and his men to pick up the water tanks. After discovering Wayne's plan, Cannary rides out to see his secret partner, Marcus Wolf, and together they devise a plan to sabotage Wayne's efforts without offending the railroad or alerting the federal marshals. While the Lodgepole men are en route to the ranch with the empty tanks, Cannary's mercenaries, dressed as Apaches, set fire to a wagon and roll it into Wayne's camp, where the fire quickly spreads and destroys the tanks. The mules used to pull the tanks are frightened away, and while searching for them, Johnny finds a horseshoe thrown by one of the raiders' horses. Knowing that the Apaches' horses run shoeless, Johnny and Wayne suspect that they were attacked by Cannary's disguised men, but cannot prove it. At the cantina, Wayne confronts Cannary with his accusation, but Cannary denies it and shoots him. Johnny arrives and challenges Cannary to a showdown, but Valdez, fearing for Johnny's life, will not allow it. Wayne is taken to the office of Dr. Munn, who expects that he will survive after the bullet is removed from his lung. While his father is in the doctor's care, Johnny learns from the Lodgepole employees about the ranch's financial troubles. Realizing that their only chance to keep the ranch is to get the herd to market, Johnny decides to drive the herd through Apache Wells. Anita learns that Cannary has learned Johnny's plans and is gathering his men to fight the ranchers at the Wells, and that he has ordered them to shoot to kill. She rides out to the Lodgepole to warn Johnny, but he has ridden ahead of his men, who are still rounding up the herd. At the Wells, Cannary is delighted to see Johnny ride up alone, believing that he has his adversary trapped. Johnny calls out to Cannary to meet him and Cannary smugly walks out, ready for a gunfight. When they are in position, Johnny tells Cannary that he is The Durango Kid. Cannary tries to shoot, but Johnny outdraws and kills him. Cannary's men, realizing that no one will pay them for their efforts now that their employer is dead, abandon the watering hole, leaving it once again free for all ranchers to use. Soon after, Johnny marries Anita. Leaving trusted ranchhand Turk to lead the drive and the recovering Wayne with Dr. Munn, the newlyweds, bound for their honeymoon, board a stagecoach together to the cheers of their friends.