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While traveling alone to the town of Iron Wells to pick up a herd, horse trader Clay Santell is surprised on the trail by a stranger who collapses at his feet, begging for water. Unknown to Clay, the man is a notorious bandit and killer named Travers, and as soon as Clay helps him, Travers punches him and steals his horse. Clay manages to shoot Travers' hand as the outlaw flees, causing him to drop his rifle, which bears a distinctive design on its handle. Rifle in hand, Clay walks to the nearest town, Sutterville, which appears deserted. He finally locates a blacksmith, who explains that the whole town is attending the funeral of a recently murdered family. When the blacksmith notes Clay's bag of gold pieces and rifle, he assumes Clay is Travers, and secretly sends word to Marshal Deckett, who is in town to search for the outlaw. While Clay tries to buy a new horse, news spreads of "Travers'" appearance, and three townsmen, Moon, Gamble and Perrick, arrive to lynch him. Despite Clay's protests of innocence and a telegram stating his real identity, Moon and Gamble begin to beat him, convinced that only Travers carried such a rifle. They are stopped by Deckett, the sole man to have seen Travers before. After falsely identifying Clay as the outlaw, Deckett ties his hands and insists on taking him to Denver for sentencing. On the trail, Clay, who assumes that Deckett is conspiring to protect him from the angry citizens, thanks the marshal and asks to be untied. Deckett, however, reflects that he will look foolish if he fails to capture Travers, while his continued assertion that Clay is the outlaw will bring him acclaim. Realizing that Deckett plans to hang him as Travers, Clay slips from his horse and flees into the woods, stopping to hide at a farmhouse. Inside, townswoman Janet Gifford is watching the Sutterville children while the adults attend the funeral nearby. Janet spots Clay, noting his rifle, just as Deckett informs the townsmen of his disappearance and a posse gathers outside the farmhouse. With no other choice, Clay forces Janet to tell the men that the farmhouse is empty, and after the men leave, he makes her drive him away in a buckboard. They are soon spotted and followed, but when Janet tries to grab Clay's rifle, their ensuing struggle causes them to tumble off the buckboard, which the posse continues to follow, unaware that it is now empty. Clay pulls Janet along the rocky hillside, and when they stop to rest, he explains his true identity, which can be proven if he can reach Iron Wells alive. Meanwhile, the posse enlists a local Indian, William, who helps track Clay into the hills. Although Perrick believes that Janet is a hostage, the other men think that, just as her father became a criminal, she is in league with Clay. The posse members assume that the ridge ahead of Clay is unpassable, and so head into the hills to trap him. Soon after, Clay releases Janet. Although she is not sure if she can trust him, she promises to tell his story to Perrick, who is fair and kind. On her way down the hill, however, she is captured by Deckett, who refuses to wait for Perrick and instead forces Janet to reveal Clay's position. When Deckett cannot find Clay, he attacks Janet, compelling Clay to leave his hiding spot and confront the marshal. During their struggle, Deckett calls Clay "Santell," which proves to Janet that Clay has been telling the truth. Clay, although unarmed, manages to rescue Janet from Deckett, who then lies to the posse that Clay and Janet are partners. The men shoot at Clay and Janet as they scale the dangerous ridge, barely making it over the hill. At the top, Janet leads Clay to safety, noting that the posse will now have to circle around to catch them on the other side, a four-hour trip. That night, a sudden rain causes them to seek shelter in an abandoned cabin. There, Clay apologizes to Janet, who urges him to continue on while she awaits her fate at Deckett's hands. Clay is confounded until Janet describes her past: She grew up in this very cabin with her father, who ran a way station until it was destroyed by a flood. After her mother then died, her father tried to make a living in Sutterville, but upon failing, began to steal small items. Finally, the citizens chased them both out of town, and shot him to death as they fled up the ridge. The Perricks took Janet in, but now that Deckett has turned everyone against her, she feels that she has no more allies. Her tale is interrupted by the arrival of three drunken vagabonds, led by Ambrose, whose leg has been shattered by buckshot. Recognizing this as one of Travers' trademarks, Clay questions Ambrose and deduces that Travers is in the nearby town of Paradise. Ambrose and his men threaten to assault Janet and force her to tend to his wound. When Clay offers Ambrose gold for his horse, the greedy tramp agrees, but once outside, his two thugs attack. Clay outmaneuvers them and escapes with Janet. Hours later, as they approach Paradise, Deckett reaches the cabin and beats Ambrose in order to learn if he met Clay. Ambrose remains silent, but his henchman Shad reveals Clay's destination. In Paradise, Clay signs the hotel guestbook with Travers' name. As he has expected, the outlaw soon approaches the hotel, his rifle drawn, but is scared off by the arrival of the posse. Travers flees up the mountainside, followed closely by Clay and Janet, then the posse. Among the rocks, Clay spots Travers' shadow, and calls out to Deckett that he will make a deal. He convinces Deckett to drop his gun, but before Clay can retrieve it, Travers steps into the open and states that Deckett is a coward, deputized by a desperate Colorado town, forced by a wound inflicted by Clay to remain in America. Deckett tries to persuade Travers to kill Clay and escape, and although Travers agrees, he then kills Deckett with one shot. When Travers attacks Janet, Clay grabs Deckett's pistol and shoots Travers. The shots alerts the posse, who try to arrest Clay but finally realize their mistake. Although Perrick apologizes for the town, Clay and Janet walk off together without a word.