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On the outskirts of the town of Springdale, Nebraska, young renegade Eddie Campbell, a member of the Fletcher gang, watches the progress of a stagecoach carrying a mail delivery to the Springdale bank. As the stage nears Springdale, the outlaws drift into town, intending to rob the bank once the mail is delivered. On the street outside the bank, elderly Marshal Hiram Cain and his devoted wife Molly greet Ben Cutler, the owner of the stage line, and congratulate him on his upcoming marriage to Ruth Granger. While the outlaws infiltrate the bank, Eddie stands lookout outside. As Eddie fidgets with his horse, Ben's teenage daughter Laurie, who was once in love with the wayward Eddie, welcomes him back to town. When the robbers demand the money, one of the tellers pulls a gun, sparking a gunfight in which the teller is killed. As the robbers flee, Ben joins the marshal and others, who pursue them into the hills. From a ridge above the trail, Eddie shoots Ben's horse out from under him, then kills the marshal. Firing back, Ben hits Eddie in the face, knocking him off his horse, then brings the marshal's body and the wounded outlaw back to town. Laurie, upset that Eddie has been injured, refuses to believe that he could be guilty of murder. When several county commissioners ask Ben temporarily to assume the post of marshal, he reluctantly agrees. After treating Eddie, Paul Ridgely, the town doctor who has been courting Laurie, proposes to her, but she rejects his offer because she is still in love with Eddie. In a play for sympathy, Eddie tries to kill himself by ripping off his bandage. When he refuses to eat, Laurie solicitously brings a basket of food and assures him that she believes in his innocence. Soon after, attorney William Selby comes to town to defend Eddie, hoping to capitalize on the notoriety of the case. Ben objects to the lawyer's presence, but Ruth argues that Eddie is "just a good boy gone bad" and deserves an adequate defense. To win the townspeople over to his cause, Selby plies them with alcohol then solicits stories about Eddie's "unfortunate childhood." When Ben criticizes Selby's tactics, the attorney accuses him of wanting Eddie to hang because he defiled Laurie. Angered, Ben challenges Selby to a fistfight and thrashes him. Tallant Joslin, the State's Attorney, comes to town to prosecute Eddie soon after, and Ben asks that he not be called to testify against Eddie to spare Laurie. At the trial, Selby manipulates the witnesses to recant their testimony that they saw Eddie shoot the marshal, thus forcing Tallant to call Ben to the stand. Although Selby tries to discredit Ben's account of witnessing Eddie murder the marshal, Ben stands by his testimony. After the jury delivers a guilty verdict, Eddie breaks into tears and swears he is innocent, then feigning remorse, begs the judge to give him a second chance because "he never had a first one." That night, a drunken Tallant, filled with regret over his role in sentencing a man to die, gives Ben the official measurements with which he must build the gallows. When Ruth begs Ben to find someone else to conduct the hanging, Ben replies that he has a responsibility to justice and to the law. Ruth accuses Ben of wanting Eddie dead, then bitterly observes that the day of the hanging was to be their wedding day. Now beginning to doubt his own integrity, Ben returns home to hear Laurie announce that she is moving in with Ruth. As the gallows are erected across from his jail cell, Laurie visits Eddie. After proclaiming his love for Laurie, the conniving Eddie asks her to pack a gun in her picnic basket when she visits that night. In the shadow of the gallows, a crowd gathers and begins to question Ben's motives, suggesting that he might deliberately have framed Eddie to protect Laurie. Later, when Laurie comes to deliver Eddie's dinner, Ben inspects her basket and seizes the pistol he finds hidden inside. Later, as Ben eats his dinner at the saloon, Ruth comes to apologize for her harsh words. Their conversation is interrupted by the commissioners, who show Ben a petition requesting clemency for Eddie and ask him to deliver it to the governor at the state capitol. While Ben is away, Paul comes to the jailhouse and discovers that the deputies are drunk. Hearing noises coming from the corral in back of the jail, Paul goes to investigate and is knocked out by two members of Eddie's gang who have come to break him out of jail. As the outlaws overpower the drunken deputies and free Eddie, Ben returns to town with the signed petition, which he hands over to the commissioners, along with his badge. Upon learning that Eddie's death sentence has been commuted, Laurie runs to see him. The outlaws pull her inside the jailhouse, and when she protests, Eddie slugs her and flees. Paul, regaining consciousness, sees the outlaws mount their horses and fires his gun as a warning. Drawn by the sound of gunfire, Ben, aided by several townsmen, gun down two of the outlaws, but Eddie escapes and takes cover in the stable. As Eddie is about to shoot Ben in the back, Laurie spots him and warns her father. Eddie then climbs onto the gallows scaffold and is about to shoot Ben when Paul calls out, alerting Ben, who fires first and kills Eddie. The commissioners then approach Ben and offer to return his badge. Ruth takes the badge, then walks off arm in arm with Ben as Laurie runs to Paul's side.