Cast & Crew
Don "red" Barry
Just after the death of wealthy estate owner Don Jose Toreno, the strong box containing his will is mysteriously broken into, the will stolen and later replaced. A short time later Sheriff Ben Jeffers and ranch manager Stan Borden attempt to evict two peasants from their property on the ranch, accusing them of rustling. When the younger, Miguel, protests, he is beaten, and when his father tries to intervene he is shot and killed. Bitter, Miguel takes to disguising himself in black garb, calling himself El Lobo and stirring the local peasants to fight for their rights. On his way to Rancho Toreno for the reading of the will, Don Jose's ward, Jim Lawrence, reminisces with the stage driver about growing up on the ranch years before. Just then, Jeffers and Borden, masquerading as bandits representing El Lobo, attack the stage, but the real El Lobo breaks up the fight, saving Jim. At the ranch, Elanita is suspicious of Jim and introduces him to Don Jose's lawyer, Eric Motley, who is to read the will. Pancho, the steward, recalls Jim fondly and tells him about problems that have arisen with the peasants on the ranch since Don Jose's death. Later, Jim is visited in his rooms by Miguel, dressed as El Lobo. The two were boyhood friends and Miguel explains that he has taken up the identity of El Lobo to avenge his father's death and to try and save the ranch's peasantry from ruin. He warns Jim that it is clear someone is trying to prevent the reading of the will and that if Jim is thought to have any connection to the inheritance his life is in danger. When Borden and his men find El Lobo's horse outside the ranch house they begin looking for him, and Jim helps Miguel escape. Suspicious of Jim, Jeffers insists he accompany them the next day to hunt down El Lobo. Back inside the house, Jim finds Motley unconscious in the hall and Elanita, coming upon them, believes Jim has attacked the lawyer. She accuses Jim of plotting to take over the ranch. The next day Jim goes out with Borden and Jeffers to look for El Lobo, but manages to warn Miguel in time to prevent his capture. The group splits up, acting on a prearranged plan to kill Jim and blame it on El Lobo. The plan is foiled by the appearance of the real El Lobo, but in the subsequent shootout, Miguel is badly injured. He tells Jim it is up to him to save the peasants, then dies in his arms. Jeffers and Borden begin spreading the word that Jim is responsible for killing El Lobo. Angry, the peasants set off to the ranch seeking revenge, but Pancho warns Jim and gives him El Lobo's disguise. Dressed as El Lobo, Jim rides out across the range and is spotted by Jeffers and Borden as well as the peasants, who are inspired by the return of El Lobo. Back at the ranch, Borden informs Elanita that Jim has killed El Lobo and is responsible for the attack on Motley and tells her that she is not safe staying on the ranch. He offers to marry her and she reluctantly agrees. As Borden readies the horses for their departure, El Lobo attacks him, but before he is knocked out, Borden pulls off the scarf and recognizes Jim. Still disguised as El Lobo, Jim tells Elanita that Borden has departed and that she is better off at the ranch. The next day, to prevent the reading of the will, Borden tells the peasants that Jeffers is coming to run them off the ranch as Jim has accused them of rustling. He encourages them to arm themselves and in the middle of the squirmish with Jeffers, El Lobo appears, and Borden exposes him as Jim. The peasants turn on Jim, but he breaks away to get the recovered Motley and force the reading of the will. In a panic, Borden accuses Jim of trying to cheat the peasants out of their inheritance, revealing he knows the contents of the will. Realizing his error, Borden immediately implicates Jeffers and they shoot each other dead. Later the ranch is passed on as intended to Elanita, Jim and the peasants.
Don "red" Barry
Working titles of the film were Bad Man from Rio and Two Gun Sheriff, which was the title of another 1941 Republic release starring Don Barry. The Phantom Cowboy was reviewed by Motion Picture Herald under the title Bad Man from Rio. Modern sources add Frank Ellis, Art Dillard, Jack O'Shea and Chuck Baldra to the cast.