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Gannon, a saddle tramp, hops aboard a freight train leaving Kansas City, and when the train stops, he rescues Jess Washburn, a young runaway tied to the tracks by an angry lineman. Gannon allows Jess to accompany him to the small town of Union Wells, where Jess becomes a willing student in the ways of the West. After Gannon has renewed his relationship with Matty, one of the local prostitutes, he and Jess sign on as hired hands for Beth, a young ranch widow. Anxious to move to the city, Beth intends to make herself wealthy in one season by bringing in 1,500 cattle and selling them before winter. The neighboring ranchers, however, are determined to stop her before the cattle destroy the grazing pastures they need for their winter cows. As the ranchers threaten to close off the grazing fields with barbwire fences, Beth pleads with Gannon to help fight the opposition. When he refuses to take her side, she seduces young Jess into helping her. Gannon tries to ward off the bloodshed by delaying the arrival of a trainload of barbwire; when this fails, he sides with the ranchers against Jess by helping put up their fences. During the showdown, Jess begs his former idol to stay out of the fighting and shoots Gannon in the arm when he refuses. Enraged, Gannon throws a rope around Jess, humiliates him by dragging him through the dirt, and then lectures him on the senselessness of gunfighting. Embarrassed and tearful, Jess watches Gannon ride away.