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In the mid-1920s, Texas rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict II goes to Maryland to buy "War Winds," a prized stallion, from Dr. Horace Lynnton. There Bick falls in love with Lynnton's spirited elder daughter Leslie. After Leslie breaks her engagement to Englishman Sir David Karfrey, they quickly marry and Bick brings Leslie back to his enormous ranch, Reata. When they arrive in the dusty, windswept town named after Bick's family, Leslie graciously greets their Mexican-American driver, Angel Obregon, and Bick admonishes her not to be too kind to "those people." Bick's tough, cattle-driving sister Luz throws a party for the newlyweds and Leslie faints when she is served a plate of barbequed calves' heads. Determined to become a real Texan, however, Leslie rises early the next morning and takes the breakfast duties away from Luz, who looks upon Leslie as a rival to her position as head of the household. While Luz, Bick and Leslie are out driving cattle, Bick sends Leslie home with Jett Rink, a rough cowboy who is close to Luz, but clashes with Bick. On the way back to Bick's mansion, Leslie insists on stopping in Reata, where the poor Mexican laborers live. Leslie goes into one of the hovels and discovers that a mother, Mrs. Obregon, and her newborn, Angel III, are seriously ill. Returning home, Leslie learns that Luz has taken a serious fall while trying to break War Winds. After Luz dies, Leslie asks the doctor to go to the village to tend to the Obregons' sick baby, despite Bick's protests that their family physician should not tend to "those people." At the funeral, Bick, his lawyer and other friends tell Jett that Luz willed him a piece of land, but encourage him to instead accept a cash settlement twice the value of the property. Jett declines the cash, and insists on taking the plot of land which he calls "Little Reata." Soon Leslie gives birth to twins, Jordan III and Judy. As the years pass, Bick continues to argue with her over her work at the migrant labor camps, where she has hired a new, Mexican-American physician, Dr. Guerra, to help improve living conditions. Leslie gives birth to another girl, whom they name Luz, and at the twins' fourth birthday party, Bick, who clearly favors his son, insists on forcing his frightened heir to ride a new pony. Bick's disappointment at Jordan's tears and Leslie's admonishment is further heightened when little Angel III skillfully rides the pony back to the corral. Uncle Bawley, Leslie's ally in her conflicts with Bick, tells her to continue rearing the children her way, as Bick knows no more about the job than his father. Realizing that their differences have caused too much friction in their marriage, Leslie decides to take the children for a long visit to Maryland. After a lonely Thanksgiving for both Bick and Leslie, Bick unexpectedly shows up at the wedding of Leslie's younger sister Lacey, who is marrying David. Bick takes Leslie back to Reata after she admits that she cannot change and he says Texans like vinegar with their greens. Meanwhile, Jett, who has found oil on Little Reata, becomes wealthy. His success enrages Bick, who forces Jett to stop using the name Reata, and the new company, Jettexas, becomes a multi-million dollar company. Years later, as the children approach adulthood, Judy wishes to go to college at Texas Tech to study animal husbandry, although Leslie wants her to go finishing school in Switzerland. Jordan, whom Bick has tried to groom since birth to be the heir to Reata, decides to become a doctor. At Christmas, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Judy elopes with her sweetheart, Bob Dace, who has just been drafted. Angel Obregon brings Angel III to visit, proudly showing off his son's new soldier's uniform, and Jordan, who has received an over-sized cowboy hat from his father, meets Juana, a young nurse in training who has accompanied Dr. Guerra to the festivities. That afternoon, Bick gets drunk on eggnog, and tries to convince Jordan, and then Bob and Judy, to take the ranch when he retires, but they want to start a small ranch of their own. Jett, not realizing that it is Christmas, shows up and convinces Bick to allow an oil well to be drilled on Reata. After the war, all of the local ranchers, including Bick and Leslie, have become oil rich. At a pool party to celebrate the end of World War II, Leslie expresses disgust that the Texas oil barons are receiving a 27.5% tax exemption from the government. Jordan, who has just married Juana in a private, Mexican-Catholic ceremony, then announces his wedding, much to his father's anger. A short time later, Angel III is brought home in a casket and, at the funeral, after the attending soldiers give Angel's father the American flag in honor of his son's bravery, Bick gives the grieving Obregons a Texas flag from his own collection. Soon Judy and Bob, and Juana and Jordan have their first babies, both boys. Jett, now called "Mr. Texas," plans to have a huge celebration to commemorate the opening of his new airport and hotel in Hermosa, Texas. Luz, who has a crush on Jett, can think of nothing else, and Bick finally decides to attend "like the best of 'em," and even buys his own airplane to arrive in style. At a celebratory parade, Bick and Leslie are distressed to discover Luz riding a float as "Queen of the Parade." Later, in the hotel's quiet bar, Jett ignores his guests, gets drunk and proposes to Luz, who demurely declines, then leaves. At a cocktail party in the Benedict suite, Jordan and Juana arrive with their baby. When Juana goes to the hotel beauty salon to get her hair done for the banquet, they refuse service because they have orders from Jett not to do business with "her people." Jordan grows furious and breaks the salon's mirror. A short time later, Jett, almost stumbling from drunkenness, arrives late at the banquet, at which he is to give a speech. As he walks up to the podium, Jordan confronts him and the two exchange punches, until Jordan is carried out nearly unconscious. Bick then takes Jett into a store room to give him a thrashing, but Jett is so drunk that he cannot defend himself. After knocking down rows of wine racks, a disgusted Bick, his entire family and their close friends leave the banquet room. Jett finally arrives at his place on the dais and promptly passes out. Back in their suite, when Bick refers to Juana as a "fine little gal," Jordan becomes angry and accuses him of being as bad as Jett and argues that Bick only fought "Mr. Texas" because Jordan had disgraced the Benedict name by losing the fight. Luz is upset and wants to go to Jett, but her parents refuse. Uncle Bawley, for whom Leslie has always had a soft spot, convinces her to let him take Luz to Jett. They find him drunkenly sobbing in an empty banquet room, rambling about his love for the beautiful Leslie. The next day, Bick sends the airplane back to Reata while he, Leslie, Luz, Juanna and the baby drive home. On the way, they stop at a roadside café where the waitress does not want to serve them because of Juana and the baby, but the owner acquiesces, realizing that Leslie and Bick are well-to-do. When an elderly Mexican husband and wife enter the café, however, the owner roughly tries to throw them out. Seeing this, Bick goes to their defense. Despite using his influence as "Bick Benedict," the owner refuses to change his mind and the two men engage in a brawl that ends in Bick's complete defeat. Back at Reata, Leslie reveals that Luz has forgotten about Jett and gone to Hollywood to become an actress. As she and Bick relax while babysitting their two grandsons, one white and one brown, Bick says that his grandson looks like a "wetback," but that men will just have to get over it. When he reflects that he is a failure, Leslie says that she realized what a great man he was when she saw him lying on the floor of the café after fighting for the rights of the downtrodden. The couple, finally content, gaze at the two boys, whose faces represent the future of Texas.