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At the New York parade in memory of the death of legendary performer Texas Guinan, Texas's father Mike, and former husband Tim Callahan, recall when Texas first ran away from her family in 1909 to join a Wild West Show: On 12 Sep 1909, while Mike is preoccupied with buying Texas potato futures in the hope of cornering the market, his tomboy daughter Texas attends Cherokee Jim's Wild West Show with her mother and siblings. Texas sneaks away and, pretending that she is a male ranch hand, enters a bucking bronco contest. When she realizes the saddle was loosened, Texas demands a second try and wins the contest. She is then offered a job in the show by Romero Kilgannon, whom she calls "Bill," who recently won proprietorship of the rodeo in a card game. After the potato crops are ruined due to an early frost, Mike stands to lose the family home, so Texas joins the rodeo and sends her income home. Texas soon becomes the highlight of the Wild West Show, and after she surprises and delights an audience by saving an infant from sure death under a wagon, Bill headlines Texas and doubles her salary. When journalist Tim Callahan discovers that Texas' rescue was phony, as the "infant" was actually an adult midget, he convinces Bill to hire him as the show's press agent by threatening to leak their secret to the public. Although Tim falls in love with Texas, she is in love with Bill, who, unknown to her, is bound to an institutionalized wife. Texas leaves the show when she learns that Bill is married and marries Tim, who instigates her Broadway career. Although Texas starts out as a chorus girl, she is soon made a featured performer with the Ballinger stage show. Tim is frustrated with his own stagnating career, and leaves Texas when he realizes her heart still belongs to Bill. Some time later, Texas' family moves in with her, and Cherokee Jim visits Texas in New York and tells her the truth about Bill's wife. Texas breaks her contract with Ballinger in order to join Bill in Hollywood, where he is making Western motion pictures. Texas invests in Bill's studio, and plans to wait for him until he is free. After Bill's wife dies, his romance with Texas meets with another obstacle, as her father's phony stock is being investigated by a district attorney. In order to protect Texas from fraud charges, Bill buys her and Mike's shares in the company, and she assumes that his affection for her is purely mercenary. Heartbroken, Texas returns to New York, unaware that Bill has narrowly escaped arrest on her behalf. By chance, Bill meets his old friend Joe Cadden, a liquor racketeer, who hires him to be his front man. As Ballinger has blacklisted Texas for breaking her contract, she is unable to find work, but Tim inspires her to bring Nick the Greek's failing nightclub back to life by throwing a farewell party for gossip columnist Louella Parsons and charging patrons. At first, the patrons resist paying for their pleasure, but are so delighted by Texas' performance that the evening becomes a hit, and the newspapers dub Texas the "incendiary blonde." Later, Cadden and his thugs beat up Nick until he agrees to sell the nightclub, and Texas switches her contract to Cadden after he buckles to her demand of an exorbitant salary and renames the club "Texas Guinan's." However, Texas refuses to have anything to do with Bill. One night, Cadden rousts rival gangsters, Gus and Charley Vettori, from the club, and they vow retribution. One day during rehearsals, the Vettori brothers make good on their promise and try to kill Texas at the nightclub, but Bill saves her life. Mike finally tells Texas how Bill saved them from arrest, and she and Bill reunite. Cadden is murdered by the Vettori brothers, but Bill and Texas refuse to allow them to take over the nightclub. Not long after, Texas learns that a heart condition will take her life in a couple of years, thereby confirming her lifelong belief that she would die young. Unaware of Texas' condition, Bill plans their wedding on New Year's Eve, but the Vettori brothers hold the Guinans hostage and he is forced to kill the gangsters in self-defense. Although Bill is wounded during the gunfight, he recovers and is arrested for murder. Bill refuses to marry Texas until he is released from prison. Realizing that she will die before marrying, Texas reflects on her full life.