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After the Civil War, Lt. John Wesley Barker and his friend, Jim McWade, return to their hometown of Millsborough, Texas. Although Jim is unaware of it, Wes is in love with Jim's fiancée, Alice Sharp. When Wes visits Alice at her father's drugstore, townspeople Elihu and Utopia Mills tell him that the state police are ordering everyone to turn in their guns. Just then, Capt. Jessup of the state police enters and tells Wes that his father, Rev. Barker, has been writing rabble-rousing sermons encouraging rebellion. Wes visits his father and asks him to leave town, but Rev. Barker is dedicated to his flock. Later, at his father's church, Alice tells Wes and his cousins, the four Clayton brothers, that Barker has been shot and killed by the state police, in an apparent accident. Meanwhile, at the state police headquarters, Jessup orders his men to enforce the curfew in town. At the blacksmith's, Wes and his cousins shoot and kill Jessup in retaliation for Rev. Barker's death, and one of the Claytons, Shep, is hurt. Later, two state policemen visit Alice at her home, and when Wes decides to hide in the dark, Alice admits she loves him. Meanwhile, Jim visits Gen. Gibson Hart, telling him that Wes will surrender if he can be assured of a fair trial, and Wes agrees to surrender. The whole town turns out in support of Wes, and fearing violence, the adjutant general rides into town with more police and declares a state of martial law. Hours later, Alice tells the jailed Wes that Jim is assembling the jury for his trial, but when Gen. Hart reneges on his promise of a trial, Jim releases Wes and his cousins, and they escape with several officers and Gen. Hart as their hostages. Sometime later, Wes and his cousins rob a stage guarded by state police. When Wes is later attacked by police and the townspeople riot, the police react by burning houses and wagons and killing innocent citizens. One of their victims is Andy Renfro, whose wife had delivered a baby only moments before. Although the town is in a state of anarchy, President Grant will not commit troops. During the chaos, Jim meets Alice at Halfway Springs and she tells him she loves Wes. While Jim is sworn in as United States Marshal by Gen. Sheridan, Wes and his gang rob the First National Bank. Now that he is truly a criminal, the townspeople form a vigilante group led by Wade Clayton, Wes's uncle. As Wes and his men prepare to leave for Mexico, they are ambushed by the vigilantes. Wade shoots and kills his brother Shep, and Wes is shot in the arm. When he learns from Josie Allen that Gen. Hart plans to kill Jim, Wes goes to warn him. When Hart shoots, Wes dies when he is hit by a bullet meant for Jim, but returns fire before he dies, killing Hart. Many years later, Alice and her grandson admire the monument erected to Jim's memory, but she reminds him that Jim was not the only one who sacrificed for Texas.