Adapted from Niven Busch's novel, a half-breed appeals to the lust of a selfish cowboy, who shoots others interested in her.
In Texas, Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) shoots his Indian wife and her lover and then pleads guilty. His daughter Pearl (Jennifer Jones) visits him in jail and cries. She gets off a stage, and after verbal sparring, Jesse McCanles (Joseph Cotton) takes her to the ranch of Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), who does not like her Mexican qualities. Pearl tells Laura Belle McCanles (Lillian Gish) she is a good girl, and she wants to learn from the lawyer Jesse. His brother Lewton McCanles (Gregory Peck) goes into Pearl's room and kisses her. Jesse asks Lewton to leave her alone. Lewton dares her to ride his horse bareback, chases her, and gives her the horse.
Jesse tells his father he let the railroad surveyors on his land. Lewton watches Pearl bathe in the sump until dark. Pearl in a blanket is summoned by Laura Belle and meets the Sinkiller (Walter Huston), who prays over her. Senator McCanles tells Sid (Scott McKay) to rouse all the men in the area to stop the railroad building. Mr. Langford (Otto Kruger) tells his lawyer Lem Smoot (Harry Carey) to read the writ. McCanles threatens to shoot the workers, but Jesse changes sides. Then the cavalry arrives to protect the railroad. McCanles sends the men home and falls off his horse.
Lewton comes home and finds only Vashti (Butterfly McQueen) and Pearl. In her room they kiss. Jesse tells Laura Belle he is leaving. He finds Lewton in Pearl's room and says goodbye to her. Pearl says she hates Lewton, and Jesse says he loves her. Lewton calls Jesse a yellow dog, and Jesse slaps him.
Pearl sees Lewton break a stallion and wants him to marry her. During a party Senator McCanles warns Lewton not to be serious about Pearl. She says if he won't marry her, she will leave. She meets Sam Pierce (Charles Bickford) and dances with him. Sam asks Pearl to marry him, and she consents. Sid tells Jesse, who plans to marry Helen Langford (Joan Tetzel). Lewton challenges Sam and shoots him. At the funeral a reward is offered for Lewton. McCanles blames his wife Laura Belle for bringing the Indian girl there. He gives Lewton money and tells him to stay away.
Lewton causes a train to go off the track and explode. Lewton goes to Pearl at night. The sheriff (Charles Dingle) calls on McCanles and looks for Lewton. Pearl wants to go to Mexico with Lewton, but he leaves her. McCanles remembers courting Laura Belle, and she dies. Jesse comes home and clashes with his father. Vashti tells Jesse that Pearl is not eating. Jesse offers to take Pearl away to Helen and make her a lady. Sid tells Jesse that he came for Pearl. Jesse says he will meet Lewton alone. Jesse has no gun, and Lewton shoots him. Lem tells McCanles that Jesse will come back. Pearl tells Helen that Jesse is recovering. Sid tells Pearl where Lewton is. She rides to meet him. Pearl has a rifle and shoots Lewton, who shoots back and wounds her. He asks her to come to him, and she crawls up to him. They kiss, and he dies.
This western reflects the macho cowboys and their prejudice
against and desire for mestizas while some attempt to bring law
and advancing civilization west.