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As Wyoming is settled in the late 1800s, cattle barons attempt to keep newcomers off the public lands by invoking the "Maverick Law" to declare all cattle, branded or unbranded, as their own. In the town of Sweetwater, crooked Jim Averell competes with land baron Reece Duncan to be named governor. Averell promises the settlers that he will fight for them, and brings in his old sweetheart, Kate Maxwell, and her dancers to start a casino for them. He tells the innocent Kate, who loves him even though he tricked her into participating in a crooked scheme in Texas, that he is setting her up as a cattle owner and has registered a brand to her name. He also admits that he wants to become President, and will take her with him. Over the next weeks, inexperienced sheriff Stan Blaine watches suspiciously as Kate brands the cattle brought to her by maverick cowboys, all of whom take their payment in casino chips instead of cash. Averell secretly has rustlers stealing Duncan's cows in the hopes that Duncan and the settlers will kill each other off in a range war, leaving the land to him. He is pleased when Duncan attacks the settlers, and grows impatient with Stan as he tries to keep the peace. Although he suspects that Kate is in league with Averell, Stan is attracted to her and informs her that night at her ranch about the upcoming range war. He then reveals that he has been drifting ever since his family, who tried to stay clean, was killed in a range war. After a jealous Averell calls Kate away from Stan, his henchmen bring rustled cattle into Kate's pen and, noticing Stan there, knock him out. Kate hears them and convinces Averell not to kill Stan, but he informs her that he has re-branded Duncan's cows with her brand, and she will hang if she tells anyone, as the whole operation is in her name. Desperate, Kate almost convinces Duncan that she will sway the settlers to vote for him if he allows them to herd unbranded cattle, but just then, his men announce that they have captured some rustlers, and he denounces Kate as an outlaw. She pulls a gun and forces Duncan to free the "rustlers," who are actually innocent settlers, Hal and Matt Jessup. That night, as Stan tries to figure out if Kate is honest, Hal is shot. Kate calls an emergency meeting and suggests that the settlers form a cattlemen's association to gain strength in numbers, and Averell immediately names himself the leader, prompting Stan to accuse her of setting up the whole idea. Over the next days, the settlers round up all the unbranded cattle. Kate, an expert rider, helps them, and one night Stan admits to her that he is unhappy about having to protect a land baron and has decided to leave. Kate encourages him to put down roots, and they kiss. Meanwhile, Averell schemes with his men to rustle more cattle to incite the war. When Duncan arrives with his men, Stan takes control and declares a truce, but a stray gunshot causes the cattle to stampede, and after the settlers recover the cows, they throw out Duncan. The roundup ends peacefully, but at the party that night, Duncan arrests Kate for murdering his foreman. Stan tries to protect Kate in jail, but Averell, the real murderer, rouses the settlers to break her out. He then tells Duncan that Kate will send "her" men to attack him, and all travel to the jailhouse, where Kate has convinced the settlers that Averell is behind the troubles. There, Stan, who has overheard Averell's plan, announces that Averell has planted his secret rustlers in the hills and ordered them to attack when he sends a smoke signal. To prove this, Stan forces Averell to light the fire, and everyone watches as the bandits answer the signal. A gunfight breaks out against the rustlers, and Averell shoots Stan. Kate captures Averell in the saloon, but cannot bring herself to shoot him, and cries when Stan crawls in and kills his rival. Days later, while Duncan promises to share cattle with the settlers, Kate tries to explain to Stan why she cried for Averell and her true love for him. He stops her with a kiss and puts her on his horse, describing the ranch he would like to settle.