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In Kansas in the 1890s, a Cherokee convict named Joe Bearclaws escapes from the state penitentiary and decides to return to see his wife Mary Bluebird. Unaware that he is being followed by ranger Steve Howard, Joe steals a horse from a fellow traveler. After some distance, Steve finally catches up to Joe and takes out his rope to tie him up. Before his hands have been secured, however, Joe grabs the rope and ties Steve up instead. Joe then goes to the town of Buckskill, where he tells Sheriff Jug Mason that he was attacked by a stranger, whom he left tied up on the trail. Jug accompanies Joe to the place where Joe claims to have left Steve, but Steve, who has untied himself, hides in the bushes nearby when they approach. Jug and Joe decide to cross the border into Cherokee territory, and Steve follows closely behind. When he sees a sniper take aim at Jug and Joe, Steve knocks the gun from his hand and convinces Joe to continue with him to Eagle Junction and go to the Sequoian Saloon. There, patron Will Rogers tells Joe and Steve that Chief Charles Hunter is upstairs meeting with the "boss," Randolph McKinnon. McKinnon sees Joe waiting downstairs, and quickly scribbles a note, tossing it to his henchmen outside the window. When Joe leaves the saloon and is attacked by McKinnon's gang, Steve comes to his aid. Later, Steve and Joe advise the chief not to lease his land to McKinnon and his men. Meanwhile, McKinnon's henchman, Mark Sanders, persuades a hat salesman, Eric Parsons, who is also known as "The Mad Hatter," to disguise himself as Joe. After Mark and Parsons, dressed as Joe, stab the chief, they forge Joe's signature on some documents and claim that he is involved with the gang. When they see Mark leave later, Steve and Jug follow him to Mary's house, where they find Joe being held hostage. They free Joe, who then races to town and begins fighting with Mark. After Joe and Steve escape from the gang, Steve places Joe in jail for his own protection. Steve learns that Parsons is wanted for forgery and grand theft, and Jug takes him to the gallows and threatens to hang him unless he reveals Mark's involvment with the gang. Later, Steve and Joe return to the saloon, where Tokata, an Indian servant, tells them that Mark is planning to drive some cattle across the border the following day. When McKinnon overhears Jug pretending to beat Mark, he rushes in with a gun. Meanwhile, Mark sets off a loud explosion, which causes the herd to stampede. Thinking quickly, Steve ignites some dry brush to scare the cattle into retreating. After Steve captures Mark and the gang, Jug delivers Joe to Mary's custody.