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In 1861, Lt. Brian Culver, newly commissioned in the Confederate army, rides to the Allerby plantation near San Antonio, Texas, to propose marriage to Julia Allerby. Julia accepts, but when she spots Chino Figueroa approaching, runs off to meet him secretly. Chino, whose family once owned the land surrounding the plantation, but now works for the Allerbys, informs Julia that he and his family are leaving for Mexico to fight with Benito Juarez. Determined to keep the Figueroas as her servants, Julia seductively provokes Chino to kiss her and then claims that he attacked her. A lynch mob forms rapidly, despite the efforts of Col. Allerby, Julia's father, to intervene. Before the lynching can be carried out, however, wealthy cattleman Carl Miller stops the mob at gunpoint. Carl, who is Chino's best friend, left the area three years earlier as a poor man and has returned to deliver orders to Culver. Although Carl does not believe in the war, he has agreed to carry out a cattle drive on behalf of the Confederacy. Anxious for battle, Culver is outraged to learn that he has been assigned to lead a squadron in support of the drive. To make matters worse, Carl, although a civilian, will be the man in charge. Later, when Carl criticizes Julia for her actions toward Chino, she tries to seduce him and he slaps her. She then vows to have Culver kill him. Carl pays a visit to the Figueroas before they leave for Mexico, and he and Chino's sister Mistania affirm their love for each other. Afterward, Carl learns that his father, a German immigrant, will be in Germantown for the duration of the war. From the beginning of the cattle drive, Culver and Carl are in conflict with each other because Culver resents the fact that he is not in the midst of a battle. Three weeks after the beginning of the drive, Carl leads the men and the cattle through a pass. Expecting the pass to be ambushed by Union soldiers, he directs the men to travel at night, and as soon as the men come under gunfire, Culver deserts. Outmanned, Carl's troops are captured by Union soldiers, and because he is leading them, Carl is taken prisoner, even though he is a civilian. After the war ends, a group of former Confederate soldiers under the leadership of Gen. Shelby decide to offer their services to the French in their fight against Juarez. When Carl returns to San Antonio, he meets Bob, Dobe and Jim, three of the men who accompanied him on the cattle drive, and they sign on with John Chisum to round up wild cattle and deliver them to market. Carl then sets out to look for his father, and at his father's cabin, finds Mistania waiting for him. She informs him that Chino has captured a group of marauders led by Culver and is holding them for ransom. Later, Carl learns from Julia that Culver killed his father during a raid on Germantown. Determined that Culver will pay for his father's murder, Carl decides to ransom the men whom Chino is holding. Julia begs Carl to take her with him, but he refuses, knowing how much Chino hates her. Along with Bob, Dobe, Jim and Mistania, Carl rounds up the cattle necessary to ransom the Americans and heads into Mexico. Julia manages to cross the border, and when Carl and Mistania encounter her in a cantina, Carl agrees to take her only as far as Monterrey, where she may be able to find an escort back to the States. His plans change, however, when he learns that Monterrey has fallen to the French. To bypass the city, the herd must go through hostile Apache territory. Hoping to avoid contact with the Indians, Mistania leads the group through waterless territory. Julia continues to behave seductively with Carl, and although her wiles have no effect on him, she rouses Mistania's jealousy. When they finally reach the waterhole, they discover that it has been poisoned and head farther into Apache territory. That night, they successfully fight off a raiding party. Knowing that the Apaches will return, Julia professes her love for Carl and suggests that they desert the others and save themselves. Again rejecting Julia, Carl prepares for battle. In the morning a war party arrives and a fierce battle ensues. The group is saved by the arrival of some of Chino's men, who have discovered the cattle. At Chino's encampment, Carl fights Culver, but decides not to kill him. Learning that the French have refused Shelby's offer of military help, he sends Culver back across the border with Julia, sure that the two will punish each other. Finally free to be together, Carl and Mistania embrace.