Lin McAdam and 'High-Spade' Frankie Wilson, on the trail of a man named Dutch Henry Brown with whom Lin has a personal score to settle, arrive in Dodge City, Kansas just in time to see a man forcing a saloon-hall girl named Lola Manners (Shelley Winters) onto the stagecoach leaving town. Lin confronts the man but backs down once he learns that he is standing up to Sheriff Wyatt Earp (Will Geer). Earp informs the two men that firearms are not allowed in town and they must check them in with Earp's brother Virgil. Lin and Dutch lay eyes on each other in the saloon, but are unable to fight due to the persuasive presence of Earp.
Lin enters a shooting contest, competing against Dutch, and many others. They end up the two finalists for a highly coveted "One of One Thousand" Winchester 1873 rifle. Lin wins by betting that he can shoot through a stamp placed over the hole of a round piece from an Indian necklace. After losing, Dutch claims that he is leaving town, but instead goes to Lin's room at the boarding house, ambushes him and steals the rifle. Dutch and his two cohorts leave town with Lin and High-Spade in hot pursuit.
Dutch and his compatriots ride to Riker's Bar. Because they left town in a hurry, they did not retrieve their guns from Earp. This puts them in a bad position because of the Indians in the area. When Indian trader Joe Lamont (John McIntire) sees the perfect Winchester rifle, he is determined to get it and raises the price of his supply of purchasable weapons high enough that Dutch and his men cannot afford them. Dutch's only option is to trade the perfect rifle for Lamont's three hundred dollars in gold and their choice of weapons from the pile that Lamont is going to sell to the Indians. Dutch has been consistently losing to the trader playing cards, but decides to lay down one more bet – the three hundred in gold – in a last-ditch attempt to regain the rifle. He loses.
Lamont takes his guns to meet his Indian buyers, but their leader Young Bull (Rock Hudson) doesn't like the old, worn-out merchandise he is offered; he wants the guns that Crazy Horse used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Young Bull sees the perfect Winchester and wants it. When Lamont refuses to sell, he is robbed and scalped.
Shelley Winters and James Stewart
Lola and her fiancé Steve Miller (Charles Drake) are in a wagon heading to the site of their new home. As they are pursued by Young Bull and his warriors, they realise that they will not be able to outrun the Indians. Panicking, Steve jumps on his horse and rides off, claiming he is going ahead to find help; Lola is stranded. Not far along, however, Steve sees a small encampment of soldiers and goes back to retrieve her. Lin and High-Spade, chased by the same Indians, ride into the encampment that night.
The soldiers are new to the territory and have no experience fighting Indians. Lin gives their sergeant (Jay C. Flippen) tactical advice and they prepare for an attack they expect early the next morning. When the morning comes, Lin gives Lola his revolver, and implies that she should commit suicide with the final bullet to avoid capture. After a fierce battle, the Indian leader is killed. When everything is over, Lin and High-Spade leave to continue their search for Dutch. They ride past the Winchester where Young Bull had dropped it when he fell. It is found by Doan (Tony Curtis) and the Sergeant who, not wanting the young soldier to lose the gun to an officer, gives it to Steve.
Screenshot of Stewart
Steve and Lola reach the Jameson house, which is set to become theirs. He wants her to stay there with Mrs. Jameson and her two small children while he goes to meet Waco Johnnie Dean, much to the disapproval of Lola. Waco (Dan Duryea) and his men show up at the Jameson house unexpectedly, on the run from a posse led by Sheriff Noonan (Ray Teal). Once Waco sees the Winchester, he covets it. He repeatedly insults and humiliates Steve in an attempt to provoke him into a gunfight. Steve draws his gun and Waco kills him. Waco and Lola escape the posse and ride to Dutch's hideout. There, Dutch manages to take custody of the rifle by suggesting that if Waco does not return it, Dutch will deny the outlaw a partnership in an armed robbery he is planning in Tascosa, Texas.
After everyone is filled in as to their role in the crime, they make their way to the town. Waco is stationed in a saloon to provide cover for the gang's escape after the robbery. In the meantime, Lin and High-Spade have arrived. Lola warns Lin about Waco. Lin uses violence to force Waco to agree to take him to Dutch. Waco attempts to shoot Lin and Lin kills him, while around them the robbery goes awry and Lola is wounded. High-Spade reveals to Lola that Dutch is Lin's brother.
Lin follows Dutch out of town, confronting him on a rocky hill, calling him by his real name, Matthew. They shoot it out on the hill with rifles before Lin finally finishes the stand-off with a bullet that causes Dutch to fall from the hill.
High-Spade tells Lola that Dutch robbed a bank and a stagecoach and ran back to the family home, looking to hide out. When their father refused to help him, Dutch shot him in the back. Lin swore revenge on his brother.Exhausted, Lin returns to town with the Winchester and Dutch's body. Lola runs to him and he puts his arm around her. Lin and High-Spade look down at the silver plate on the rifle in Lin’s other hand.
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