Set in the late 1860s in the Kansas Territory shortly after the American Civil War, Buck and the Preacher follows a former soldier named Buck (Sidney Poitier) as he leads wagon trains of African Americans from Louisiana west to the unsettled territories of Kansas. In order to ensure safe passage and food for his company, Buck negotiates with the Native Americans in the area. He pays them, and in turn they allow him to kill limited numbers of buffalo to eat, and to pass through their land providing they do it quickly.
A group of violent white men are hired by plantation owners in Louisiana to raid the African American wagon trains and settlements to either scare them back to Louisiana or kill them. The raiders attempt to kill Buck by setting a trap at his home. However, warned by his wife, Ruth (Ruby Dee), he escapes. While in flight he chances across Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford (Harry Belafonte), a shady individual masquerading as a preacher, and forces the Reverend to switch horses with him.
Although the Preacher initially had a desire to get even with Buck, he changes his mind and decides to work with Buck after seeing the carnage the white raiders inflict on the African American travelers. Buck, Ruth and the Preacher do whatever it takes to get the wagon train west, including ambushing some of the raiders in a brothel, robbing a bank, and when necessary taking on the entire band of raiders going up against them.
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