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During Will Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Kansas, in August, 1863, Jim Dancer mistakenly kills Theodore Slocum, the brother of Bert Slocum, the man who had killed Jim's own brother. The act is witnessed by Theodore's daughter Evelyn. When the Civil War ends, many of Quantrill's men become outlaws. In 1871, Bert Slocum hires the Pleasanton Detective Agency of Chicago to bring Jim in to stand trial for Theodore's death. Pleasanton agent George Cummings captures Jim and plans to turn him in to his firm's Kansas City office. As they are crossing a swollen river, Cummings is handcuffing Jim when the ferry on which they are traveling rolls suddenly and the key falls overboard. Cummings is then hit by a rearing horse and he and Jim, handcuffed together, fall into the river. The next morning, when a stagecoach arrives at the ferry crossing, Jim and Cummings are found on the river bank by a passing stagecoach. Because Cummings is dead, Jim impersonates him and says that the body is that of his prisoner, Jim Dancer. Dave Oldham, one of the stagecoach passengers, then cuts Cummings's hand off in order to free Jim. Slocum is at the Kansas City office when Jim arrives. There Jim has the handcuffs removed and reports to manager Harry Travers, who has never met the real Cummings. When Slocum asks where Jim is, "Cummings" tells him that Jim died in a ferry boat accident and was buried at the river bank. Seven weeks later, after quitting the agency, Jim is in Lanyard, Kansas, working as a track layer on a railroad crew. Slocum is also in town representing Charles Lanyard, vice president of the Missouri, Kansas and Pacific Railroad, and welcoming cattlemen from Texas who are bringing their herds into town for shipment East. When Jim rescues Slocum's niece Evelyn, from the attentions of one of the cowhands whom he kills in a shoot-out, the citizens want him to be their new marshal, despite the fact that Slocum prefers gunfighter Johnny Tancred. At the Eldorado saloon, Jim encounters co-owners Dave Oldham and Florence Peel, who were also on the stagecoach and have guessed his true identity. Jim accepts the job as marshal and arrests three cowboys causing a ruckus at a dance. When their friends try to free them, Jim is assisted by Oldham and arrests nine more. Later, Jim finds notorious outlaw Jesse James waiting in his hotel room and tells him about his situation. Jim hopes that Jesse is not there to rob the bank and advises him that he would hate to have to face him in a shoot-out. Jesse leaves, but says he may be back some day. The town of Lanyard grows rapidly, as do the bank's assets. Slocum, who has created a homestead development company and is stringing barbed wire around the town's perimeter, has pushed through a city ordinance prohibiting cattle drives through the city and has appointed Tancred as Jim's deputy. After Tancred kills a cattleman, however, Jim fires him. Soon Lanyard comes to see Slocum as he and Slocum made a deal to share all profits that came from the town. By their agreement, Lanyard had purchased land from Slocum for the creation of the town, but Slocum has bought up much of the surrounding land. When Tancred tells Slocum that he thinks "Cummings" is Jim, Slocum decides to summon someone from the Pleasanton Agency. Clifford Bailey of Pleasanton soon arrives at the saloon, where he meets Oldham, an old friend from the 14th Missouri Cavalry. Oldham defends Jim to Bailey, and tries to convince him to do nothing to change the situation, even though Bailey knows that Jim is not Cummings. Jim thanks Oldham for his help but Oldham says that Bailey, who did not reveal Jim's true identity, made his own decision. One day, Yancey, who formerly rode with Jim and Quantrill, kills a store owner and he and his gang are arrested by Jim. Soon Lanyard is named the county seat and a new judge has been appointed to replace the former crooked judge, who now is acting as the killers' defense attorney. Yancey remembers from where he knew "Cummings" and identifies him in court as Jim Dancer, after which Jim resigns. When Evelyn, who previously was interested in him, learns Jim's true identity, she attacks him. Meanwhile, the judge sentences Yancey and his gang to be hanged. Slocum tells Tancred to free them, which he does in addition to shooting the judge, prosecutor and Oldham. Slocum then forces the former judge to try Jim for the crime and sentence him to death by hanging. However, Jim is saved at the last moment by Jesse, who, in collusion with Lanyard, has come to rob the bank. Tancred has decided to double-cross Slocum and take the bank's assets, irritating Jesse, who wanted to do the job himself. Jesse then gives Jim a gun with which he shoots Tancred. Slocum and Yancey are also shot in a gunfight with Jesse's gang. Finally, Florence, who has been in love with Jim, walks toward him.