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In 1861, Western Union engineer Edward Creighton is surveying a telegraph line when he is severely wounded in an accident. Bank robber Vance Shaw, on the run from a posse, comes upon Creighton and saves his life while eluding his pursuers. After Creighton recovers, he returns to Omaha, Nebraska, where he intends to build a telegraph line to Salt Lake City, Utah. There is much opposition to the line from Confederate soldiers, Indians and outlaws, but Creighton intends to get the job done with the help of his sister Sue, foreman Pat Grogan and assistant Homer Kettle. Unaware of Shaw's past, Grogan hires him as a scout, and Creighton allows him to stay, as Shaw has professed a desire to reform. They are joined by tenderfoot Richard Blake, a Harvard-educated engineer whom Creighton hires as a favor to Blake's father. Blake and Shaw compete for the affections of Sue, but their romantic rivalry is short-lived, for on 4 July 1861, construction of the line begins. The work is arduous, but the company makes progress until a mysterious attack, reportedly by Indians, devastates the camp. Shaw is suspicious, however, saying that he does not think Indians would be interested in their cattle, which have been stolen. Shaw leaves to investigate and follows the culprits' trail to the camp of Jack Slade, his former cohort. Slade and his gang, which Shaw quit after the bank robbery, admit to dressing as Indians to rustle the company's cattle. Unable to betray his former comrades, Shaw tells Creighton that a large band of Dakota Indians stole the cattle, and that it would be better to replace them than to risk a fight. Soon after, men working on the forward line are approached by a band of drunken Indians, and the nervous Blake shoots one despite Shaw's orders to remain calm. While they are distracted by the Indians, who mean no real harm, the main camp is attacked by Slade's men, who are again disguised as Indians. The company discovers the ruse when one of the wounded "Indians" is revealed to be white, and Creighton grows suspicious of Shaw's involvement when they are forced to buy back their stolen horses from Slade, whom Shaw admits knowing. Creighton then must convince Chief Spotted Horse to allow them to build the line through Indian terrritory, even though the man Blake wounded was Spotted Horse's son. After Creighton persuades the Indians, work continues until the company is almost at Salt Lake City. Slade's men strike again, however, after luring Shaw from the camp and tying him up. Shaw escapes and returns to the company's camp, which has been nearly destroyed. Convinced of Shaw's complicity, Creighton fires him, but before he leaves, Shaw reveals to Blake that Slade is his brother. Shaw then finds Slade and his men in a nearby town and is killed in a gunfight with them. Shaw's death is avenged by Blake, who follows him and kills Slade. Soon after, the line is completed, and as Creighton and Sue celebrate, he tells her that Shaw can hear them.