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In Colorado, during the waning days of the American Civil War, a trigger-happy Union colonel, Owen Devereaux, orders his troops to attack a surrendering Confederate force at Jacob's Gorge. The unprecipitated attack is brutal and continues until Devereaux's unit decimates the Confederates, killing more than one hundered soldiers. Following the battle, Devereaux's second in command, Captain Del Stewart, discovers that the Confederates had signalled their surrender before the battle commenced. Later, following an announcement that the war has ended, Devereaux writes in his diary that the war made him "crazy" and that he could not stop himself from ordering the attack. The colonel's erratic behavior continues when he orders the arrest of one of his soldiers, Sgt. Jericho Howard, who was merely caught celebrating the end of the war. In his hometown, Devereaux is greeted with a hero's welcome and a parade proclaiming him "The Man from Colorado." Things appear to look up for Devereaux as he is reunited with his sweetheart, Caroline Emmett, and appointed to serve as a Federal judge. However, the colonel's troubled thoughts begin to consume him once again as he becomes jealous of Caroline's affections for Del. During a celebration for Devereaux, a Confederate soldier who survived the battle against Devereaux's regiment confronts the colonel at gunpoint and demands an explanation for his order to fire upon the surrendering army unit. Del and Doc, the town doctor, both witness Devereaux's angry reaction, in which the colonel beats the soldier and then shoots him dead. After Devereaux is sworn in as judge, he appoints Del as his Federal Marshal and assigns him to tend to Corporal Dixon, who, it has just been learned, has been pistol-whipped by a gang working for Big Ed Carter. During the war, Carter, the owner of the Great Star Mining Company, laid claim to land belonging to many of the absent soldiers, and is now using strong-arm tactics to keep the land. When Devereaux tells Del that he intends to marry Caroline, Del expresses his concern that he is mentally too "sick" to marry her, and Devereaux responds by striking Del. Jericho, meanwhile, has escaped from his detention and has formed a gang to rob the Great Star's safe. During the robbery, Jericho is shot in the hand, and his gun, bearing the inscription "J. Howard," is left behind. Jericho's brother Johnny is arrested for the theft, and although Del convinces Jericho to confess his guilt to save his brother, Jericho arrives too late to prevent Devereaux's execution of Johnny. The execution infuriates Del, who vows to "finish" the colonel. After escaping from a trap set by Devereaux, Del goes into hiding with Caroline, who married Devereaux, but has the diary and now fears him. Determined to find Del, Devereaux sets fire to the entire town to drive him out of hiding. Del finally emerges from a burning building, and Devereaux is about to shoot him when a building facade collapses on the colonel and kills him. Del and Caroline survive the fire, and Del leaves for Washington to take a new job.