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The James gang, led by the notorious outlaw Jesse James, is in the midst of robbing a bank when the teller sounds an alarm, sending the outlaws scurrying amid a flurry of gunfire. After Bob Ford, a member of the gang, is wounded in the crossfire, Jesse treats his injuries and takes him to recuperate at his home in St. Joseph, Missouri, where Jesse lives under the alias of Tom Howard. Six months later, Bob is still living at the James house, prompting Jesse's wife Zee, who distrusts both Bob and his brother Charlie, to voice her fears to her husband. When Bob discovers that his longtime sweetheart, actress Cynthy Waters, is appearing in St. Joseph, he hurries to town to see her. Cynthy is engaged in coversation with an admirer, prospector John Kelley, when Bob interrupts them, causing Kelley to leave. Knowing that Cynthy longs to marry and settle down to an honest farm life, Bob promises to leave the James gang and go straight. Upon returning to Jesse's house, Bob learns from Charlie that the governor has offered a $10,000 reward and amnesty to anyone turning in Jesse. Recognizing the governor's offer as a path to a new life with Cynthy, Bob determines to betray his friend. When Jesse presents Bob with a pearl-handled pistol as a gift, Bob aims it at Jesse's back, but guilt-ridden, is unable to pull the trigger. One day, while alone with Bob, Jesse voices his dream of leading a peaceful life. When Jesse turns around to straighten a painting, Bob aims his pistol and fires, shooting him in the back. Sentenced to hang for Jesse's murder, Bob is pardoned by the governor and awarded the paltry sum of $500 for his heinous act. With his reward, Bob buys an engagement ring and hurries to present it to Cynthy. When Cynthy, repulsed by Bob's betrayal, refuses the ring, Bob accuses her of being in love with Kelley. Fearing for Kelley's life, Cynthy begs him to leave town, and to placate her, he packs his bags and flees. Afterward, Bob apologizes to Cynthy and informs her that Harry Kane, her manager, has hired him to reenact the killing of Jesse James on stage. In his theatrical debut, Bob freezes, unable to pull the trigger, and is booed off stage, humiliated. Retreating to the saloon, Bob is further shamed when a wandering minstrel serenades him with a ballad detailing his cowardly deed. Seeking refuge on a deserted street, Bob finds himself the target of a young boy trying to make a name for himself by killing the "man who shot Jesse James." Now a magnet for every would-be-gunfighter, Bob leaves the territory to mine a silver strike in Colorado. In the town of Creede, he meets Kelley again when the two are forced to share a hotel room. Well liked by the townsfolk, Kelley is offered the job of marshal but turns it down to continue prospecting. That night, during a saloon fight, Bob prevents a thug from gunning down Soapy, an unarmed drunken prospector. The next morning, Bob awakens to find both Kelley and Cynthy's ring missing and assumes that Kelley robbed him. In gratitude, Soapy makes Bob his partner, and some time later, Cynthy receives a telegram from Bob, notifying her that he has struck silver and wants her to join him in Creede. With trepidation, Cynthy journeys to Creede, accompanied by Kane. As Bob and Cynthy talk, Kelley bursts into the room to turn over the thief who stole Bob's ring and is surprised to find Cynthy there. Unaware that Cynthy has come to end their relationship, Bob gives her the ring, and Cynthy, afraid of angering him, accepts it. Now broke, Kelley takes the job of marshal. Soon after, Kelley visits Cynthy and she admits that she no longer loves Bob. Overhearing their conversation, Frank James, Jesse's brother, strides into the room, but Kelley overpowers and arrests him. Freed because he is not a wanted man in Colorado, Frank seeks out Bob and vengefully informs him that Cynthy is in love with Kelley. Insane with jealousy, Bob goes gunning for Kelley. Coolly walking out to the street, Kelley turns his back to Bob, then swirls around, rifle in hand and tries to reason with him. Unwilling to listen, Bob fires at Kelley, and Kelley retaliates with a blast from his rifle. Bob dies in Cynthy's arms, voicing remorse for his betrayal of Jesse.