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In the mining community of Goldtown, corrupt city boss Jim Granby discovers a tombstone bearing his name and that day's date. Realizing it is a death threat, Granby's right-hand man, Bernie Malloy, offers his assistance, but Granby refuses. While riding to town with his gun drawn, Granby is stopped by circuit court judge Gene Autry. When Granby refuses to surrender his gun, Gene shoots it out of his hand, drawing a crowd of townspeople, including Cathy Wheeler. Cathy reveals that the tombstone threat was probably the work of her father Ed, who has just been released from jail after serving a ten-year sentence. Unseen by anyone, Ed slips into town and shoots Granby, then flees with Gene in pursuit. Ed hides at an old abandoned mine in Ghost Canyon, but Gene forces him out. Later in town, Gene and Ed learn that Granby is in serious condition, and Ed confidently declares he cannot be charged for the same crime twice should Granby die. When Gene asks for clarification, Ed explains that Granby's real name is Jim Mears, the man Ed was sentenced for killing. In court the following day, Ed explains his past association with Granby: Ten years earlier both Ed and Granby become separated from their Cavalry unit while scouting. By a creek, Ed discovers a nugget of gold and both men begin digging and panning, but come up empty-handed. When Ed wishes that they could have founded a boomtown, Granby suggests they spread the word that they have discovered gold. Ed agrees and soon the Goldtown settlement is formed as eager prospectors buy worthless claims from Ed and his silent partner, Granby. Gene, the head of the prosperous Great Hacienda Ranch, and his friend, demolitions expert Smiley Burnette, hear explosions in the hills as miners continue searching for gold. Smiley tells Gene that the unexplained disappearance of many of the miners might be due to the Ghost Riders, who are said to protect the gold and their graves from fervent prospectors. When Gene later defends Ed from an irate miner whose land has been foreclosed, Ed suggests that Gene run for circuit judge and offers his support. With the arrival of Cathy, Ed informs Granby that he wants out of their partnership as he intends to go straight. Granby refuses and threatens to reveal the truth about the phony claims to the growing number of miners who suspect they have been swindled. A few days later, Teeno, a young miner, tells Smiley that his claim has been jumped and he has been forced off his land by the Ghost Riders. Smiley and Teeno return to his claim site, but are fired upon by Granby's men, led by Bernie. Gene arrests Bernie, and as Ed and Granby watch the confrontation from a nearby hill, Ed accuses Granby of selling false claims, frightening the miners off their property and then reselling the land. Granby demands that Ed get Bernie out of jail, but when Gene refuses Ed's request, Granby's men, dressed as the Ghost Riders, ride into town that night and break out Bernie. A few days later, Gene receives a death threat at his ranch, but insists on making his usual ride along the range. Meanwhile, Smiley and Teeno plot to capture the Ghost Riders, but are nearly caught by them. Later, Ed finds Bernie at Granby's Ghost Canyon cabin and, seeing several white horses, realizes that Granby is behind the Ghost Riders. Ed purchases dynamite from Smiley, then arrives at the abandoned mine meeting place with Granby and sets up the explosives. Granby goes into the mine to retrieve his money, but realizing Ed's plan, leaves several personal items behind and sneaks out the back. Gene witnesses the mine's explosion and when Granby's personal effects are recovered, arrests Ed for his murder. In the present at the courthouse, Ed explains that he soon realized that Granby, who had taken over Goldtown after his arrest, was Mears and that he had been tricked, but served his time so that he could murder Granby upon his release. Gene holds Ed for his own protection, and when a fading Granby later orders Bernie to get Ed, Bernie finds out from Smiley that Gene has taken Ed to his ranch. Armed with several kegs of explosives, Bernie rides out to the ranch, where a short-handed Gene and Teeno are rounding up Gene's cattle herd. Bernie and his men, disguised as the Ghost Riders, set off the explosives to force a stampede. Hearing the commotion, Ed rides out to help, but is shot by Bernie. Before dying, Ed admits to Gene that he was wrong and that Granby has been behind the Ghost Riders all these years. Gene and Smiley then find Teeno dead at the hideout, and realize he has killed Bernie and his men. When Smiley wonders whether the myth of the Ghost Riders could be true, Gene says they will never know.