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In 1847, toward the end of the war with Mexico, United States soldiers led by Angus Clyde McKane attack the hacienda owned by Mexican captain Don Miguel Sebastian. After McKane and his soldiers overtake Sebastian's forces, Pardee, one of McKane's henchmen, lowers the Mexican flag that flies over the hacienda. A courier then brings word that Mexican general Santa Anna has withdrawn his forces, signaling an end to the war. Soon after, Sebastian disappears and is assumed dead. With Sebastian gone, McKane and his men take control of his vast estate, which stretches from West Pecos to the Rio Grande and from Chihuahua to Santa Fe. Three years later, the Mexicans who once farmed Sebastian's land have been uprooted by McKane and his men, who have renamed the area "McKaneville." One day, Scott Johnson, one of McKane's men who is sympathetic to the plight of the Mexicans, stops Pardee from killing a defenseless Mexican and is banished from the gang. Soon after, Judge Ward and U.S. Marshal Faron Young arrive in town, sent by the U.S. government to investigate McKane's rights to the land. Pardee defends his boss, saying that McKane bought the title to the land from Sebastian and paid the farmers for their property. Later, however, Diego, one of the uprooted farmers, tells the judge that McKane tricked Sebastian, who was a drunkard, into selling the deed to him. To prove that he rightfully owns title to the land, McKane sends Pardee to ask Scott, who has settled down and married Julie, and had witnessed the original signing of the deed, to corroborate his story. When Pardee threatens to harm Julie, Scott agrees on the condition that McKane give the land back to the people. Later, at his ranch, as Scott is talking to the judge and the marshal, McKane and several of his men appear. In the ensuing gun battle, Scott is shot and, believing that he is about to die, reveals that Sebastian is alive and was recently seen by Diego. The doctor later reassures Scott that he will recover from his wounds. Having overheard Scott's words, Pardee finds Diego and promises him that he will be given title to his land in exchange for revealing Sebastian's location. When Diego refuses, Pardee coerces him into talking, then kills him. Faron then goes to comfort Diego's bereaved wife, who tells him that Sebastian is in Los Cresta, Mexico. As Faron rides toward Los Cresta, he is spotted by Pardee and two henchmen, who are about to shoot the marshal when they see some Indians on his trail and decide to let them finish the job. When the Indians attack, however, Faron fends them off and continues on. While Pardee and his henchmen ride toward Los Cresta, one of their horses goes lame so Pardee tells the men to double up while he rides ahead. Soon after, Faron catches up to the henchmen, and in the ensuing gunfight, kills one and wounds the other. In Los Cresta, Pardee locates Sebastian, who has become the town padre, and is about to shoot him when Faron arrives and kills Pardee. Upon learning that Faron has found Sebastian and is bringing him back to testify in court, McKane sends four of his thugs to ambush them. Although Faron manages to kill two of them, the other two escape and report back to McKane, who then plans to disrupt the hearings by stampeding his cattle into town. At the trial, Sebastian testifies that after losing the war, he wanted to make amends for his life. He then reveals that McKane threatened to execute him as a traitor unless Sebastian agreed to sign over the land, which was granted to his family by King Phillip of Spain. Sebastian continues by testifying that when Scott objected that McKane was resorting to extortion, McKane threatened to kill him unless he witnessed the signing of the deed. Once McKane assured Sebastian that those living on the land would be treated fairly, Sebastian relates that he signed the document and rode off with a courier. Sent by McKane to eliminate Sebastian, Pardee shot the courier, then fired at Sebastian, knocking him off his horse and over a cliff, leaving him for dead. When Sebastian finishes his story, Ward dismisses the jury, explaining that although the transfer of the title was legal, the rules that prevent a U.S. soldier from bargaining with the enemy renders it void, and thus the title still belongs to Sebastian. The judge then remands McKane to Faron's custody to stand under military trial for high treason. As they leave the courtroom, McKane gives the signal to stampede the cattle and is trampled in the street by the herd. With McKane dead, his men disperse and Sebastian deeds his land to all those who made their living from it.