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Brothers Dan and Neal Hammond and their father's foreman, Tiny McGilligan, head for their ranch in Texas after fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Although Neal is eager to get back to ranching, Dan has grown bitter and restless. Along the way, they stop in Austin, which has grown astronomically with the influx of Northern capital, and Dan flirts with a beautiful stranger named Lorna, soon discovering that she is married to wealthy cattle rancher Cord Hardin. Meanwhile, Neal is delighted to see old friend Sally Eaton, who seems more interested in Dan. They continue to the ranch, where their father Ira and mother Martha rejoice to see their sons again. Within a few weeks, Dan confesses to Ira that he no longer has patience for ranching. He returns to Austin to ask the town commissioner, Frank Tarleton, to introduce him to moneyed businessmen, and that night receives an invitation to a poker game with Hardin. During the game, Dan is winning until Hardin, noting Lorna's interest in Dan, ups the ante and wins a $5,000 hand. When Dan explains that he cannot pay him yet, Hardin slaps him and throws him out. Incensed, Dan goes out to the range, where a group of war deserters has set up camp. After proving his mettle by fighting two of them and finding an old Army friend, Dandy Taylor, Dan convinces the men to work for him rustling cattle. Over the next months, they sell the stolen cattle for thousands of dollars to a renegade Mexican general in the border territory of Zona Libre. By the time of his parents' anniversary, Dan is wealthy enough to present them with the paid title to the ranch. That night, Sally informs Neal that she will give him a chance even though she loves Dan. Dan, meanwhile, finds Hardin in town and, after repaying the $5,000 debt, slaps him. Hardin, noting Dan's newfound riches deduces that he is the rustler who has been stealing cattle from him and others. He and his men abduct Neal and torture him to reveal Dan's secrets, and when Lorna sees them, she races to inform Dan. Dan, backed by his men, rescues Neal and beats up Hardin. Hardin falls to the ground and grabs a gun, and when he fires, Dan kills him. During the subsequent trial, Dan is declared innocent after Lorna defends him, and later that night the two fall into each others' arms. With Lorna by his side, Dan grows greedy and begins a reign of terror throughout the state, forcing small ranchers to sign over their deeds to him, and bribing or electing all the local politicians. Soon, the small ranchers gather to work against Dan. Neal tries to talk to his brother, but when he blames Lorna for Dan's corruption, Dan punches him and throws him out. Lorna begs him to leave town before the ranchers kill him, but he insists on saving his "empire." When he learns that Tarleton is leaving for the capital for help in reestablishing the Texas Rangers, Dan brings in Dandy to attempt to intimidate the commissioner. Dandy rashly kills Tarleton, and Dan is blamed. Neal, who has recently been named sheriff, takes Dan into custody. The local judge is one of Dan's cronies and supports him, but soon a lynch mob gathers outside the jail and Dan has Tiny hide Dan in the church. There, Dan kills his old friend, then escapes with Lorna to Zona Libre. Ira finds him there, and almost has Dan convinced to give up when Neal bursts in, unknowingly foiling Ira's plan. Holding a gun to his father's head, Dan almost escapes again, but is shot by a rancher as he runs. He falls into Lorna's arms, but his last words are an unfinished apology to his father. Later, Martha and Sally watch proudly as Neal and Ira round up their new herd and head to Abilene.