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A covered wagon serving as an unofficial stagecoach carries convicted murderer Ben Trask, Sheriff Chadbourne, who is transporting Ben to El Paso, former sea captain Theodore Bess, and Laura and Jerome Niblett, a married city couple seeking to make a fortune. After a brief stop in Gila, they continue into the desert where they rescue a lone Indian, who has been assaulted by his tribe for committing murder. When the wagon comes under attack by the tribe, Chadbourne releases Ben from his handcuffs at the urging of Bess, who observes that Ben will be more adept at handling a gun than Jerry. In the battle, the wagon overturns and the horses escape. After fending off the attack, Ben intends to escape but returns to help Bess free the sheriff, who is trapped under the wagon. Although Chadbourne is unharmed, Jerry was killed when the wagon overturned. Laura's grief over Jerry's death is fleeting and she immediately thinks of her own survival. After they leave the wreck, the Indian displays a gold nugget found in a nearby riverbed and offers to lead the group there in exchange for letting him keep his horse. Moments later, trader Joshua Tinnen appears and forages through the wagon. When he rummages through Bess's bag, he finds papers indicating that Bess lost his captain's license. Shortly afterward, the group confronts Tinnen and negotiates to use his horses and supplies in exchange for including him in their gold discovery. After reaching the riverbed, the Indian rides away and they are then approached by two Mimbreno Indians. Ben, the only person who speaks their language, obtains permission to pan for gold as long as no one crosses a boundary, marked by spears, into the tribe's burial ground. The Indians depart after disarming the travelers, and Bess takes command of the group, ordering them to share everything equally. After setting up camp, Laura fends off Bess's unwanted affection, which he forces on her in exchange for protection from the others. He then apologizes, hoping that Laura will fall in love with him. Later, Laura and Bess demand Ben's release, but Chadbourne protests that Ben is dangerous because he murdered his own brother. Ben vehemently denies the charge, claiming that the jury that convicted him was rigged and the real murderers were after his land claim. Ben then attacks the sheriff, but releases him when Laura gives him the keys to the handcuffs. Afterward, Ben separates himself from the group and refuses to share his gold. The next day, Ben thanks Laura by showing her how to pan properly. Tinnen, disgruntled by the paltry amount of gold he finds, becomes convinced that the burial ground holds greater treasure and urges Bess to cross the boundary. When Bess declines, Tinnen threatens to reveal that he lost his license, but Bess refuses to comply. When Tinnen later finds a gold nugget that he believes rolled downstream from the burial ground, he suggests that Ben made his own secret deal with the Indians. Ben, meanwhile, has become friendly with Laura, who believes he is innocent. Laura agrees to partner with him in operating a "rocking box" he has constructed and in sharing the proceeds. That night while everyone is asleep, Tinnen, unaware that he is being observed by an Indian, sneaks into the burial ground and brings back a gold-bearing rock to the camp. Tinnen then awakens the sheriff, shows him the gold and urges him to cross the boundary with him, but they are seen by Ben, who stops them. Tinnen feigns innocence and turns suspicion on the sheriff. Unaware that Tinnen trespassed onto the burial ground, the group decides to stay on and sends Tinnen and the wagon's driver, Carney, to ride to Gila for supplies. Later, Ben, who has fallen in love with Laura, urges her to escape with him. Bess overhears their conversation and after he advises her against marrying the convict, she reluctantly agrees with him. Before Ben can leave, however, he discovers that their horses have been stolen and an Indian arrow has been left as a warning. Ben returns to camp with the news, after which Chadbourne admits that Tinnen crossed the boundary once. A greedy Tinnen, meanwhile, murders Carney after they stock up on supplies. When he returns to camp, he blames Carney's death on the Indians. When Tinnen shows the sheriff his stash of weapons and tells him of his plans to steal more gold from the burial grounds, Bess intervenes and discovers Carney's watch in Tinnen's jacket. Bess strikes Tinnen repeatedly with a dead rattlesnake, but is prevented from killing him by Ben. After seeing the large sack of gold Tinnen has taken from the burial ground, Ben fears for his life and decides to leave immediately. Laura asks to join him, and when the sheriff orders Ben at gunpoint to accompany him to El Paso, Ben complies. When the sheriff is killed moments later by an Indian arrow, Tinnen, Ben, Bess and Laura flee the campsite. While Laura hides in a cave for safety, Tinnen searches for Carney's shortcut through the desert, but is killed by Indians. Bess then sacrifices his life to save Laura by drawing the Indians' fire. Ben then sends Laura ahead into the desert on horseback, promising to meet her in El Paso. After fending off more attacks, Ben also escapes into the desert.