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In 1876, with the United States still recovering from the Civil War, the Missouri Legislature debates awarding amnesty to outlaws Cole Younger and Jesse James and their men, on the grounds that the criminals were driven to their crimes by the war and the encroaching railroad, which expelled families from their land. Cole and his brothers, Bob and Jim, Jesse and his brother Frank and the rest of the gang¿Charley Pitts, Clell Miller and Kid Chadwell¿have mixed feelings about the impending pardon, with Cole welcoming it and Jesse doubtful that it will happen. Although many legislators believe that the gang members are heroes, the railroad barons despise them and have hired a dogged Pinkerton agent and his men to capture them. One day, while sitting in the outhouse together, Jesse and Frank find some papers discarded by Cole and realize that they are Cole's plans for robbing the bank in Northfield, Minnesota, which is supposedly the biggest bank west of the Mississippi. Because of the amnesty, Cole has forsaken crime, but Jesse hides the plans for future use. In town, Cole is showing his handmade leather vest, which has saved him numerous times from fatal gunshots, to a group of admiring boys, then prepares to leave with Bob and Jim. As they are riding, however, the womanizing Cole is distracted by a naked prostitute, who is being held captive by a Pinkerton agent. The detectives fire on the outlaws, and even though Cole is injured, Jim and Bob carry him to safety. Cole is treated by the superstitious Charley and the local medicine woman, while Jesse rails against the Yankees always pursuing them. Hoping for revenge, Jesse pretends to have a vision of the Northfield bank, which they can rob by wearing long duster coats and disguising themselves as cattle buyers. Energized, Frank, Bob and Chadwell agree to join Jesse, although Jim and Charley stay with Cole. After Cole has regained consciousness, he learns that Frank has gone on a raid, thereby endangering their amnesty. Furious, he rides with Jim and Charley to Clell's mule farm, where he convinces Clell to join them in stopping Jesse. Eager to overtake Jesse, who has just murdered several Union soldiers, Cole and his men board the train to Minnesota. During the journey, they learn that the Missouri legislature has voted down the outlaws' amnesty, presumably because the Speaker of the House was bribed by the railroad conglomerates. Enraged at having been double-crossed, Cole decides to rob the Northfield bank and use the proceeds to give the legislature a larger bribe to vote for the pardon. Upon arriving at Northfield, Cole and his men, dressed in typical cattlemen's dusters, learn that the townspeople have been suspicious of banks ever since the panic of 1873 and hoard their money rather than deposit it. Dismayed to discover that the establishment is almost bankrupt, Cole schemes with greedy bank president Wilcox to trick the townspeople into investing their money by pretending to have a gold shipment arrive that afternoon. Meanwhile, on 5 September 1976, after riding more than four hundred miles, Jesse and his men arrive at the town's outskirts, where they are welcomed by an elderly woman named Dottie, who is about to be evicted. Moved by her plight, Jesse gives her the $80 she needs to pay her mortgage, then soon after, robs and kills the landlord who collected the money from her. That afternoon, during a well-attended baseball game, Cole loudly declares that he was almost robbed recently and is going to deposit his money in the bank for safe-keeping. Townsmen Manning and Allen grumble that the bank is not stable because it has no gold as collateral, but soon after, Bunker, one of Wilcox's men, arrives on a coach seemingly laden with bags of gold. With Cole's men acting as guards, the townspeople are fooled and soon deposit their money in the bank. With the streets deserted, and Cole and his men standing guard at the bank, Jesse and his followers arrive. The outlaws are delighted to be reunited and spend the afternoon at a sauna, but Jesse objects when Cole offers to treat the men to an evening at a brothel. With Jesse staying behind, the rest enjoy their night at Mad Katie Kate's, where Cole tells one prostitute about his love for new technology. The next morning, Cole and the others go to rob the bank. Wilcox protests violently, but can do nothing against the superior firepower. Heywood, Wilcox's accountant, lies to the outlaws, trying to get rid of them by stating that the vault cannot be opened because of the time release. Outside, Bob is irritated by the presence of Gustavson, a local man driven mad by the loss of his son in the war. Bob shoots Gustavson and the old man falls on the calliope that Wilcox had hired to attract business, and which Cole fixed when it was broken. The resulting noise frays the outlaws' nerves, even though Chadwell has managed to get into the vault, and while they are distracted, Heywood closes and locks the vault's door, trapping Chadwell inside. Jesse shoots Heywood but as a crowd gathers, the gang must leave Chadwell behind. Clell is killed during the melee and Bob is wounded, but Cole manages to escape with his brother. Bunker alerts the sheriff, and posses form as word spreads. With the inept Northfield posse soon engaged in a shootout with another posse, the outlaws reach Dottie's house, where she tenderly cares for Bob. Although Jesse wants to move on, Cole insists that Bob cannot be moved, and so Dottie decides to go for a trustworthy doctor. Jesse and Frank accompany her on her wagon, and after they leave, the posse finally tracks the gang to Dottie's house. With guns blazing, the outlaws are either killed or wounded and captured, then put in a horse-drawn cage. Meanwhile, Jesse has murdered Dottie and disguised himself in her dress, with Frank acting as his driver. Musing on their future, Jesse decides that they should invite Bob Ford to join their new gang. In town, the cage bearing the outlaws is driven through the booing crowd. The wounded Cole struggles to his feet, and his pride and stamina so impress the people that they cheer lustily as they accompany the men to the state penitentiary.