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Parched and on foot following the death of his horse, a lone cowhand finds a shiny gun in a fancy holster buried near a waterhole. After strapping on the gun, he continues on until reaching the town of Dutch Flat. Ragged and exhausted, he enters the bar of the local hotel and is warily greeted by Fran Dare, the owner of the hotel. Buckstorm Corley, the nephew of Justin Corley, the man who runs the town, notices the gun and offers to buy it for a dollar. When the man turns him down, Buckstorm's henchman Nick suggests tossing the dollar coin into the air, and when it drops, the stranger and Buckstorm will shoot it out for the weapon. As the coin hits the floor, the stranger outdraws his opponent, but seems astonished by the outcome. Fran offers the stranger "the best in the house," then explains that when her father, who helped found Dutch Flat and built the hotel, was alive, the town was law-abiding, but after his death, the corrupt Corley family carved out their own brand of lawlessness. When Fran asks the man's name, he replies "Smith" and mentions that he is interested in buying a farm, and as a look of disbelief comes over her face, she responds "Maybe Smith." Moments later, elderly sheriff Jim Jackson arrives and after telling Smith that there was a $2,000 reward on Buckstorm's head, explains his philosophy of the law, which is to let the troublemakers kill each other. After Smith leaves, Fran informs her paramour, gambler Mike Ferris, that she believes Smith is actually notorious gunfighter Scott Yancey, and that she plans to manipulate him into killing the Corleys so that law and order can be restored to Dutch Flat. After sweetly offering Smith a horse, Fran directs him to a farm that he might be interested in buying, then warns him that Jack and Billy Corley will seek revenge for the killing of their cousin Buckstorm. The next day, Ferris puts Fran's plan in motion by riding out to the Corley ranch to tell them that Smith shot Buckstorm. As Jack and Billy prepare to ride to town for revenge, their superstitious father Justin warns them about "the power of the gun." To insure that Smith will be forced to confront the brothers, Ferris rides to Smith's farm and tells him that the Corleys are on their way to town. Fran smiles smugly when the Corleys enter the saloon, positioning themselves so that one brother sits in front while the other hides in the back. Smith, who believes that peace, not lawlessness, will build the land, asks the sheriff to intervene, but Jackson protests that he is too old to fight. With no other choice, Smith walks toward the saloon, and when the brothers draw, he guns them both down. Later, Justin comes to claim his sons' bodies, and after taking a good look at Smith's gun, tells him their accounts have not yet been settled. The Corleys have built a dam to force the farmers to buy water from them, and as Smith starts to dismantle the structure, the Indian wife of Pinch Corley, who has been disowned by his father Justin for miscegenation, asks to see the weapon. After touching the gun, Pinch's wife explains that she has rendered its spirit harmless against her husband. Soon after, Smith rides into town leading a horse with a dead body draped across its back. Ferris is disappointed to discover that the dead man is not Justin, but rather Justin's foreman Jake, who tried to shoot Smith at the dam. After telling Smith that Fran has asked to see him in her room, Ferris warnshim that Fran belongs to him. In her boudoir, Fran seductively proposes that Smith take over the job of sheriff. Angry at her blatant manipulation, Smith accuses her of trying to take over the town and tosses her the gun, telling her to "do her own killing." When Pinch returns home after a month's absence, Ferris offers him $3,000 to kill Smith, whose real name, he says, is Scott Yancey. Pinch surprises Ferris by maintaining that he saw Yancey shot in the head six months earlier. Now convinced that the gun possesses magical powers, Ferris demands that Pinch give him the weapon as part of the deal. At the hotel that night, Ferris informs Fran that Pinch has accepted their offer. When Ferris mentions that Yancey was killed months ago, Fran realizes she has misjudged Smith and rides to his farm to warn him about Pinch. After returning the gun, she urges Smith to run away with her, but he refuses. Early the next morning, Ferris directs Pinch and two of his henchmen, Diego and Dodd, to Smith's house. As they plan their ambush, Dodd and Diego ask to keep the gun, and Pinch agrees to give it to whomever kills Smith. After breaking into the house and finding it deserted, as Dodd and Diego step onto the front porch, Smith springs out of the woodpile and shoots them both. Pinch then comes out of the house, and after admitting that he never met Yancey, goes for his weapon, but Smith beats him to the draw and shoots the gun out of his hand. In town, Ferris, certain that he will soon possess the gun, breaks into Fran's room and, boasting that he plans to take over the territory, tries to rape her. Hearing Fran's screams, Swede, the bartender, runs into her room and tries to restrain Ferris. As Ferris and Swede fight, Justin, accompanied by several henchmen, climbs onto second-floor balconies overlooking the town's main street, waiting to ambush Smith. Smith then rides into town and runs into the hotel to confront Ferris. Wrenching the gun from Smith's hand, Ferris tosses it over the stairwell, and after clubbing Smith unconscious, picks up the weapon and walks into the street. When Pinch rides into town, Ferris takes cover and Fran tosses the now-conscious Smith a gun to defend himself. As he paces toward Smith, Pinch notices the men on the balconies and, pushing Smith aside, shoots the assailants. After Ferris shoots Pinch in the back, Smith grabs the gun from his hand and throws it into the street. Smith then runs to help Pinch, who warns him that Ferris is aiming a rifle at his back. Smith turns and fires at the exact moment as Fran, who kills Ferris with Smith's gun. Hurrying to her husband, Pinch's wife sees that he is carrying the good luck charm she has given him and declares that he will live. After Justin reconciles with Pinch, the sheriff offers to buy Smith's gun for one dollar. When Smith gladly hands it over to him, the sheriff sticks it into his belt and strides off with newfound confidence and authority.