A tall man is nearly hanged by Judge Roy Bean and tries to mediate the conflict between the cowboys and the settlers.
In west Texas cowboys cut barbed wire put up by farmers. Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan) hangs a farmer for shooting a cow. At his bar Bean drinks to Lily Langtry and lets the undertaker Mort (Charles Halton) have the body. Cole Hardin (Gary Cooper) is brought in for horse stealing. Jane Ellen Mathews (Doris Davenport) asks about the farmer. Cole says he bought the horse, and Jane Ellen tries to defend him. Cole buys drinks and tells Bean that he knows Langtry and has a lock of her hair but would have to send for it. Bean sentences Cole to hang but suspends it for two weeks. Cole asks Evans for the $60 owed him. They fight, and Cole takes it. Cole says Evans sold him the horse, and Bean shoots Evans as a horse thief, fining him for his money. Cole and Bean drink.
Cole wakes and tells Bean he won the horse playing poker. Bean rides after Cole, who takes his gun and leaves. Jane Ellen, her father Caliphet Mathews (Fred Stone), and Wade Harper (Forrest Tucker) have supper with Cole, and Jane Ellen gets him to stay. Cole learns that Wade and farmers are going to lynch Bean and warns him. He takes their rifles and tries to resolve the conflict; but Bean makes them leave. Cole advises Bean to make peace and offers the lock if they round up the cattle. Wade calls Cole a liar, and they fight. Cole clips a lock from Jane Ellen's hair. As cattle are rounded up, Cole gives Bean the lock. Farmers pray thanks and celebrate. Jane Ellen shows Cole land he could claim, and he kisses her. Cowboys start fires in the corn and houses. Farmers try to put them out, and Cole rescues Wade. Caliphet Mathews is trampled by cowboys. Bean names the town Langtry and celebrates. Devastated farmers depart. Mourning Jane Ellen tells Cole she is staying and blames him.
Bean tells Cole that Langtry is coming to Fort Davis. Cole asks him about the fire and gets Bean to admit he did it. Cole goes to get a warrant and is deputized at Fort Davis. Bean goes to see Langtry and attends the show alone. On stage Cole says he is arresting Bean. They hide and shoot. Bean is badly wounded, and Cole carries him to meet Lily Langtry (Lilian Bond). Bean walks, meets her, and dies. In the final scene in 1884 Jane Ellen shows Cole settlers arriving, and they kiss.
This drama of a wild west legend shows the conflict
between cattle ranchers and farmers over the land. Cole represents
the voice of reason trying to resolve both points of view, Bean
an obsessed criminal masquerading as a judge.