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In 1851, during the California gold rush, claim jumpers shoot prospector Johnny Barrett and kill his brother Bud. Jim Wales, a friend of the Barretts, treats Johnny's wounds, and when Johnny vows revenge on his brother's murderers, Jim advises him to let the law bring them to justice. Two years later, in the wake of lawlessness and vigilantism, Jim is elected sheriff of Sacramento and is stymied by a Spanish-speaking masked outlaw named "Spanish Jack," who has been robbing the Wells Fargo express stages. Johnny, now a dandy river boat gambler, has fallen in love with Belle Malone, the star of the River Belle 's revue. When Belle decides to leave the River Belle to tour the gold camps and then sail to Australia, Zebby Booker, her loyal companion and the owner of the local boardinghouse, begs Johnny to convince Belle to stay. However, Belle, who knows that Johnny has been masquerading as Spanish Jack, informs him that she must break off their relationship because his actions are in conflict with her moral values. In a mining town in the Sonora district, meanwhile, Jim and Eddie Dodge, the head of the vigilantes, set a trap for Spanish Jack. Suspecting that one of the vigilantes may be the outlaw's accomplice, Jim tells the group that the stage will take its regular route. Soon after leaving town, the stage, bearing Belle and Zebby as well as a rich shipment of gold, is attacked by Spanish Jack and his confederate Laramie. After Jack seizes the strongbox, he kisses, Belle who recoils and bites him on his shoulder. Immediately following the attack, Eddie convenes a meeting of the vigilantes, and when Laramie fails to appear, Eddie assumes that he must be Spanish Jack's accomplice. Meanwhile, Laramie, who is unaware of his partner's real name, takes refuge in the woods with Johnny. When they come upon a cabin owned by young prospector Sam Chase, Laramie assaults Sam and tries to rob him. Disapproving of Laramie's greed, Johnny trips him, thus allowing Sam to win the fight. After mounting their horses and riding off, Johnny ends his partnership with Laramie. Soon after, the vigilantes spot Laramie and Johnny, and shoot Laramie off his horse. After Johnny scoops Laramie onto the back of his own horse, Laramie knocks Johnny off the steed, leaving him stranded. Seeking cover, Johnny plunges into the rushing river while the vigilantes capture Laramie. Johnny makes his way to the town of Oak Flat, where he finds Belle performing and invites her to dinner. At the restaurant that night, Jim, leading the vigilantes, rides into town and joins Johnny and Belle. When Jim boasts that he caught Spanish Jack's accomplice, Belle abruptly bolts from the table. The next day, Johnny and Belle are about to board the stage bound for Sacramento when Jim questions Belle about biting Spanish Jack. After Belle lies that she bit the outlaw in the right arm, Jim turns to Johnny and asks him to roll up his right sleeve. Seeing no marks, Jim allows Johnny to board the stage. When Sam, also a passenger, greets Johnny in front of Jim, Johnny lies that he met Sam while canvassing mining prospects with his guide. Upon reaching Sacramento, Belle spurns Johnny and begs him to leave town before he is caught. Infatuated by Belle, Sam presents her with a team of horses and invites her to dinner, much to Johnny's amusement. Instead of dining with Belle, however, Sam loses his entire savings at the gambling tables. Learning of Sam's loss, Johnny informs him that Capt. Mark Slayter, the owner of the River Belle , runs a crooked operation and offers to advance him the funds for a new grub stake. That night after closing, Spanish Jack breaks into the River Belle and robs Slayter. The next day, Johnny, who was nowhere near the boat, is astonished when Jim tells him about the robbery. Jim then informs him that Laramie will be arriving that night to identify Spanish Jack, and Belle pleads with Johnny to leave town. Afterward, Zebby, convinced that Sam is the outlaw, confides her suspicions to the sheriff, who places Sam under house arrest until Laramie's arrival. Fearful that Laramie may bear a grudge against Sam and thus name him as the outlaw, Belle begs Johnny to help Sam. Surmising that Sam donned the guise of the Spanish Jack to rob Slayter in reprisal for cheating him, Johnny persuades Sam to divulge the location of the money. That night, as they await Laramie's arrival, Johnny relates the legend of Spanish Jack to Belle, and how the masked rider turned against the law to avenge the murder of his brother. When Laramie, accompanied by Eddie, arrives in the pouring rain, Belle finds herself incapable of exposing Johnny in order to save Sam. Impulsively, Johnny asks Belle if she would go away with him if Sam were free, and when she replies yes, he runs out into the rain. Just as Laramie confirms that Sam is indeed Spanish Jack, Johnny, wearing the guise of the outlaw, bursts into the room, brandishing Slayter's stolen money bags. Laramie fires his pistol, but Johnny shoots him and flees into the street. Following, Jim calls Johnny's name and then guns him down. Belle then races to Johnny, who dies in her arms. After running Slayter out of town, Jim, who knows that Sam stole the gambler's money, lectures him about honesty, then frees him to join Belle.