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In 1853, Maj. Ransome Callicut and his old Army buddy, "Monk" Walker, arrive in the port of San Pedro, California, which Callicut describes as a "maze of intrigue." Although Callicut is unable to disclose his secret mission to anyone, he enlists the aid of another former Army comrade, Olaf Swenson, who now drives a stagecoach in Southern California. Before boarding Olaf's stage to Los Angeles, Callicut informs his two friends that his undercover name is Rick Bryce. The other passengers include attractive and strong-minded schoolteacher Lora Roberts; state senator Bram Creegan, who believes that Southern California should become a separate, slave state; Sen. Mark Sheldon, who strongly disagrees with Creegan; and notorious gunman Vic Sutro. When Sutro tries to rob the stagecoach, Callicut outmaneuvers him, and later turns the outlaw over to U.S. Army captain Roy Giles in Los Angeles. Callicut then learns that Lora has come to Los Angeles to marry the captain and surmises that she is the teacher he has been sent to replace. Giles, however, identifies Callicut and accuses him of being wanted by the Army for desertion and murder. Later, Callicut, still posing as Bryce, visits Sheldon and his sister Phoebe. Sheldon plans to have the state indict Creegan for charging excessive fees for irrigation and drinking water. Callicut then visits Sheldon's guest, Lora, who tells him that Sheldon is investigating Buckley's Palacio, a local dance hall frequented by secessionists. At the Palacio that night, Olaf pretends to lift a 1,300-pound rock to win a $1,500 prize, while in the basement, Monk and Callicut use a post to surreptitiously lift the rock. After Creegan threatens Sheldon, the senator is shot dead just as the post breaks. Monk and Olaf are locked up in the garrison, while Callicut, who remains in the basement, discovers a cache of guns. Callicut hides in the room of singer and secessionist Chona Degnon. As he enters, he finds Giles kissing Chona but promises to keep silent if Giles releases Monk and Olaf. After Giles's departure, Callicut returns the prize money and then joins Chona in watching as Creegan is rescued from hanging by a gang of armed men. The next day, Chona offers the impressive new "schoolteacher" a high position in the growing secessionist army, explaining that its major objective is to control the water supply. She is about to reveal the names of the movement's leaders when Callicut unknowingly drops a card identifying himself as an undercover agent. Callicut realizes that Chona is now aware of his mission and is prepared when outlaw Joaquin Murietta, who has been dealing weapons for Chona, arrives to kill him that night. Callicut persuades the young outlaw to become his spy, then reveals his mission to Lora. The following day, Giles releases Monk and Olaf, and Callicut reveals to him that the man he is wanted for killing was a spy and that he is not a fugitive. Later, Callicut accuses Giles of conspiring with the traitors, but after Sutro fires at him and is shot to death, Callicut's trust in Giles is renewed. During the night, Sheldon, who faked his death, kidnaps Lora and takes her to the rebels' camp. Back at the Palacio, Chona sings "Adios, Mi Amor," signaling to the revolutionaries that it is time to take control of the reservoirs. In the basement, however, Murietta sets off a series of explosions which destroy the rebels' gun supply. Tipped off by a remark made by Sheldon's sister Phoebe, Callicut digs up the senator's grave and finds Creegan's corpse inside. Later, Chona meets Sheldon at his ranch, where Murietta promises to deliver more arms. After Lora unwittingly reveals that Murietta is secretly working for Callicut, Murietta escapes from the ranch and reports Lora's kidnapping to Callicut. On the way to Sheldon's camp, Callicut and Murietta encounter Buckley, who informs them of the new rebel plan: to dam the river canyon and dry up all the reservoirs. In the morning, Olaf and Monk, disguised as a settler and his wife, approach the mountain camp, while Callicut rides quietly behind their wagon. The disguise enables them to distract the lookouts so that Giles and his troops can surprise Sheldon in his headquarters. Just before Giles attacks, Chona threatens Lora with a knife, and the two fight. Lora finally gasps that she no longer loves Giles, and that if Chona testifies against Sheldon, she can have the captain. Sheldon overhears this, kills Chona and, realizing that his forces face defeat, tries to flee the scene, but is captured by Callicut. Later, Los Angeles celebrates the defeat of the secessionists with a big fiesta, while Lora welcomes her new pupils, and Callicut kisses her.