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Slaughter Trail

Slaughter Trail(1951)

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In 1882, a San Francisco-bound stagecoach, carrying mail down the "Slaughter Trail" through New Mexico, is held up by three masked bandits, who kill the guard. Vaughn, the bandits' leader, takes jewels from a package in the mail sack and hands them to his accomplice, Lorabelle Larkin, who has been posing as a passenger. During their escape, Vaughn and cohorts Heath and Levering steal fresh horses from some Navajo Indians, whom they kill, save for one, who escapes, wounded. When the stage arrives at Fort Marcy, Captain Dempster, the commanding officer, informs Lorabelle that he is delaying the stage's onward journey until the guard can be replaced. Dempster, suspecting that the Vaughn gang may be responsible for the holdup, assigns Lt. Morgan to bring them in. Lorabelle persuades Dempster to allow the stage to proceed by telling him that her grandmother is dying in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the wounded Navajo reports the attack to Chief Paako, who declares war and attacks the stagecoach. However, Morgan and his troops come to the rescue and all return to the fort. Dempster is surprised by the Indians' attack as he and Paako have been friends for a long time. In an attempt to get away from the fort, Lorabelle strikes up a friendship with Dempster's young daughter Nancy. Morgan and Dempster ride out to meet Paako, who tells them that white men have killed his brothers and that because their treaty has been broken, he will seek revenge. Anxious to maintain peace, Dempster promises Paako that he will catch the culprits, and Paako gives him two days to do so. In the meantime, Vaughn, posing as a cattleman, returns to the fort to rescue Lorabelle. Dempster informs Vaughn that all civilians are confined to the fort due to the uprising. After Vaughn tells Lorabelle that they will sneak away at night, Lorabelle apologizes to Dempster for her behavior, and he thanks her for being kind to his daughter, whose mother was killed during the last Navajo war. Dempster tells Lorabelle that he can only appease Paako by handing over the three outlaws, but that he could not do that even if they were proven guilty by a federal court. At the regular Saturday night social, a traveling companion of Lorabelle recognizes Vaughn's laugh from the stagecoach robbery and informs Dempster. As Lorabelle participates in a vigorous square dance, the small bag of jewels fall out of her dress. Vaughn takes it and, at gunpoint, makes Nancy his hostage and orders the fort gates to be opened. Lorabelle, however, refuses to go with him. Vaughn escapes, dropping Nancy off outside the fort, and meets up with Heath and Levering. However, they are seen by the Indian they wounded, and Paako attacks, forcing them to return to the fort, where they are then arrested. Paako comes to the fort under a flag of truce and demands that Dempster hand over Vaughn and his men within a few minutes. Dempster sends an Indian scout to another fort for reinforcements, but the scout is killed by the Navajo. Dempster then has three volunteer soldiers, along with the Vaughn gang, go outside the fort to create a perimeter of defense. When the Navajo attack, Lorabelle helps defend the children inside the fort. The Navajo kill Vaughn and his men and call off the attack. Lorabelle walks back into her cell and refuses to come out. When Dempster visits her, he finds Nancy there, and she asks her father not to send Lorabelle away. Dempster tells Lorabelle that she is free to go, and although a romance has started to blossom between them, she leaves. She is hopeful, however, that she may meet Dempster and Nancy again some day.