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In St. Louis, nine-year-old Larry Havens is told by two welfare workers that, as his mother has just died and his father lost his life in the Italian campaign, he will be sent to an orphanage. Larry's dog, Shep, will not be allowed to go with him. The workers want to put Shep in a pound, even though the dog won a Purple Heart medal when he saved Larry's dad's life at Anzio. Larry and Shep run away and end up in rural California where they hitch a ride with an itinerant Mexican, Manuel "Mike" Ortiz, to the small town of Los Mochis. While Manuel gasses his truck, Larry goes to a restaurant run by Martha Langley and asks for work in exchange for food. There the boy meets Martha's boy friend, Mark Folger, who works for the immigration service and has been alerted by the sheriff about several missing Mexican nationals who jumped the fence at a labor camp. Another of Martha's customers, Sheriff Weatherby, admires Shep but spots the St. Louis license and asks Larry not to leave town until he can check on him with St. Louis authorities. Because Larry doesn't want to do that, the sheriff takes him and Shep to the jailhouse. There they are shortly joined by Manuel, who has been unable to find his passport which Mike had requested to examine. A short time later, criminals "Swifty" Lewis and "Chance" Martin who killed a cashier in a bank robbery, are on the run and stop at Los Mochis for gas. The sheriff is suspicious of their car's Kansas plates and is shot by Swifty. Meanwhile, Shep has helped Larry and Manuel to escape by bringing them the cell keys, and they leave town in Manuel's truck. While Martha tends to the wounded sheriff, Mark deputizes a posse to hunt for Larry and Manuel, whom he suspects have shot the sheriff. By now firm "compadres", Larry and Manuel take a wrong turn and find themselves in a ghost town where they decide to spend the night. There Manuel finds his passport inside his coffee pot. When their car runs out of gas, Swifty and Chance come to the same town and seek hospitality from Larry and Manuel. The bank robbers are about to leave in Manuel's truck when Mark and four posse members arrive and spot the vehicle. Swifty orders Manuel to give himself up and reveal nothing about the others while he holds Larry and Shep as hostages. Mike then arrests Manuel for shooting the sheriff. While Swifty leaves to get gas for their car, Chance is left to guard Larry and Shep, but Shep attacks him and Larry ties him up. While Mark is concerned that some of the townspeople might try to lynch Manuel, Swifty drives into town as Larry and Shep's prisoner. Larry then returns the stolen money and tells Mark where he can find Chance. For his capture of the bank robbers Larry gets a $5,000 reward which he wants to share with Manuel. The sheriff recovers and Martha, who had spurned Mark's previous marriage proposals as she felt he would be away from home too much, relents and agrees to marry him when he gives up his job and returns to ranching. The couple then adopt Larry and Shep and hire Manuel to work with Mark on the ranch, allowing the "compadres" to remain together.