Based on W. R. Burnett's novel, a Texan becomes marshal in Kansas and defends against plundering raiders during the Civil War while falling in love.
In 1859 Doc Grunch (Gabby Hayes) pulls teeth after Bob Seton (John Wayne) punches them loose; they arrive in Lawrence, Kansas and meet Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor) and school-teacher Will Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon), who wants to marry her. Bob gets in a fight, and Fletch McCloud (Roy Rogers) helps him. Bob tells Fletch he wants to marry Mary and then talks to her. Southerner Angus McCloud (Porter Hall) nominates Will for marshal, but Doc urges Bob. Will agrees to teach Bob how to write. Mrs. Cantrell (Marjorie Main) mistrusts Will and doesn't want anyone to know she is his mother. Will speaks that knowledge of law is needed, but Bob says he can catch outlaws. Bob is elected marshal and tells Mary he loves her, kissing her. Will fights to keep slavery out and runs guns. Bob, Fletch, and many men capture wagons as Will flees. Bob asks Will the penalty for smuggling guns and warns him.
After a quarrel about the South, Hale hits Fletch, who shoots Hale dead. Bob tells McCloud he won't let Fletch out on bail. Mary pleads, but Bob is firm. Will and his men wearing masks threaten jurors. In court Will argues for Fletch, who is acquitted. War begins, and Will has men fight for plunder. Will uses Confederate uniforms, and Bob organizes a militia. People fear that banker McCloud sent their money South. McCloud says they'll get their money, but he is shot. Fletch blames Bob. Mrs. Cantrell reprimands Will and declines his booty. Mary packs and tells Will she does not love him but weds him as a friend.
Will, Fletch, and raiders ambush Bob's wagon, but he escapes by jumping into a river. Judge Buckner (Raymond Wallburn) removes Bob as marshal. Bob protects Mary from a mob. She says she is going to Will, and Bob takes her. In Missouri Mary is welcomed by Fletch and Will, who has a nice house. Bob is brought in as a prisoner; but Will says he is his guest. Fletch gives Bob a gun; they knock out Will and flee with Mary in a wagon. Fletch is wounded, and Doc treats him as Bob rouses Lawrence. People shoot against Will's raiders, and Will uses a burning wagon to start a fire. Mrs. Cantrell with a rifle stops Will; but she is shot. Bob comes in. Will shoots, but Bob kills him. Raiders flee the approaching militia. In the final scene Fletch recovers, and Mary takes Bob's hand.
William Quantrill's raiders did wear uniforms of both
sides and burned Lawrence in 1863 as 150 men were killed. This
fictionalized film incorrectly refers to Pierce being President
in 1859 when he left office in March 1857. Illiterate Bob defends
law and order while he tries to win over Will's wife. His honesty
is contrasted to the violent raiding of Will.