A stagecoach travels through Apache country with an escaped convict looking for revenge, a fleeing prostitute, a pregnant woman, an alcoholic doctor, a gambler, a whiskey salesman, and a marshal.
Buck (Andy Devine) brings in the stage and learns that the Ringo Kid busted out of prison. Sheriff Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) joins to catch him in Lordsburg. Dr. Josiah Boone (Thomas Mitchell) leaves his hotel owing rent and accompanies Dallas (Claire Trevor), who is being expelled by women. Alcoholic Josiah meets whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek). Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) boards too and looks at gambling Hatfield (John Carradine). Lt. Blanchard (Tim Holt) provides an army escort and warns Geronimo is on the warpath. Hatfield joins to protect Lucy. At the edge of town the stage picks up banker Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill) with a bag of money. Ringo (John Wayne) stops the stage, and Curly arrests him. Josiah implies that Hatfield shot a man in the back. They find no soldiers to relieve the escort, and Lt. Blanchard says they must go back. Curly takes a vote, but only Peacock wants to go back. Ringo is courteous to Dallas as Hatfield is to Lucy while they eat. The army escort leaves the stagecoach. Curly tells Buck that Luke Plummer and his brothers will kill Ringo. Buck takes the cold road to avoid Apaches. Josiah drinks.
At the next stop Lucy learns that her husband may have been hurt, and the soldiers left. Lucy faints, and Josiah drinks coffee to sober up. Four vaqueros ride off on the spare horses. Dallas shows them Lucy's baby. Ringo tells Dallas that his father and brother were shot by the Plummers. He asks her to live on his ranch across the border. Dallas asks Josiah about marrying Ringo. The Mexican is married to an Apache, who sings in Spanish. Gatewood wants to leave soon. Dallas tells Ringo to escape and gives him a rifle; but he sees Apache smoke signals and stays. The stagecoach goes on with Ringo in handcuffs. At the ferry Curly uncuffs Ringo. An arrow hits Peacock, and Apaches pursue the coach. Ringo and Curly use rifles to shoot Apaches; Hatfield and Josiah use pistols. Buck is wounded and drops the reins. Ringo climbs on the horses. Josiah runs out of bullets; Hatfield saves one for Lucy, but he is shot. The cavalry arrives, and Hatfield dies.
In Lordsburg Dallas hands over the baby, and wounded Peacock invites her to visit his family. Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) is told that Ringo arrived. Gatewood is arrested for embezzling. Ringo asks Curly for ten minutes and has three bullets. Luke is joined by his two brothers at the bar. Ringo tells Dallas to wait. Josiah makes Luke give up his rifle, but he gets another. On the street Ringo faces the three Plummers but survives the gun battle, embraces Dallas, and surrenders to Curly, who lets Ringo and Dallas go to his ranch.
This landmark western established the genre as more than
B pictures. Yet other than the Mexican's wife the Apaches are
only attackers, who seem to represent alien enemies Americans
must fight in inevitable war. Ringo foolishly risks his life for
revenge to show his manhood and surely would have been killed
if it were not a movie.