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When Mexican-American laborer Jesus Cisneros witnesses his fellow brasero, Juan Martin, beaten to death by foreman Ed Yates in the toolshed of Virgil Renchler's Golden Empire ranch, he timidly reports the murder to sheriff Ben Sadler. At first reluctant to confront Renchler, the most powerful man in the county, Ben finally decides that it is his duty to investigate the charges, even though his deputy, Ab Begley, tries to dissuade him. After ascertaining that Cisneros will seek refuge at his friend Aiken Clay's ranch, Ben drives to the Golden Empire to question Renchler. Ben is met with hostility by the arrogant Renchler, who belittles his concern for a "wetback" and implies that the sheriff's job will be in jeopardy if Ben continues his investigation. After Ben leaves, Yates admits to Renchler that he killed Martin, and Renchler then phones Herb Parker, the county commissioner. Soon after, Chet Huneker, an employee of the Golden Empire, comes to Ben's office and claims that he hit Martin with his car. At the ranch, meanwhile, Skippy Renchler, Virgil's attractive young daughter, questions her father about the sheriff's visit and recalls hearing a blood-curdling scream the previous night. After declaring that she was only dreaming, Renchler orders Skippy to her room and posts a guard outside her door. Defying her father, Skippy slips out the window. At the office of coroner Jake Kelley, Cisneros, meanwhile, identifies Martin's body. When Ben tells Cisneros Chet's story about hitting Martin with his car, Cisneros claims that Chet helped Yates beat Martin to death. After imploring Ben to drop his investigation, Kelley phones Renchler to apprise him of the situation. Upon returning to his office, Ben finds Skippy waiting. When she learns of Martin's death, Skippy asserts that Yates killed Martin because he was jealous of his friendship with her and reveals that she heard a man's scream on the night of the murder. Their conversation is interrupted by Herb, who demands that Ben immediately cease his investigation. Ignoring Herb's threats, Ben obtains a warrant to search the Renchler ranch. At the ranch, Ben goes directly to the tool room, where he finds a patch of blood embedded on a board. As Ben slices the blood from the board, Yates, outside, loosens the lugs on the wheel of the sheriff's car. While driving home, Ben's car wheel falls off, but he is thrown from the vehicle before it crashes into a tree. Upon regaining consciousness, Ben is driven back to town by a passing motorist. There, he finds a drunken Ab, who admits to telling Renchler that Cisneros is at the Clay ranch. Realizing that Cisneros is in danger, Ben speeds to the ranch but arrives too late, for Cisneros has been mortally wounded. At home, Ben receives threatening phone calls, and a rock is hurled through his window. As his wife Helen pleads with him to drop his investigation, Herb, Kelley and the other town officials meet to force Ben from office. When an anonymous caller promises to divulge the truth about the murders if Ben will agree to meet at a deserted shack on the outskirts of town, Ben drives off to the meeting despite the warning of his only ally, barber Tony Santoro. At the shack, Yates and Chet beat Ben unconscious, tie him to the back of their truck and drag him through the town streets as they drunkenly shoot out the shop windows. After Ben is freed and bandaged, he wrathfully pulls a rifle from the gun rack in the sheriff's office, rips off his badge, denounces the town and vows to bring Renchler to justice. Joining Ben on his quest, Clay crashes his truck through Renchler's gate. When Ben proclaims that he is taking Renchler into custody, Renchler unleashes his vicious watchdog on the sheriff, and Chet hurls a knife into Clay's chest. Just as Renchler and his thugs are about to silence Ben forever, the townsfolk arrive, guns in hand. After a violent skirmish, Ab arrests Renchler and his men and then returns the sheriff's badge to Ben.