Ex-lawman turned rancher Jed Cooper (Clint Eastwood) is moving a small herd of cattle when a group of nine men on horseback, led by Captain Wilson (Ed Begley Sr.), ride up and accuse him of having stolen the cattle and killed their owner. Refusing to believe his account, they string him up by the neck and leave him for dead, but they don't do the job right. Cooper is dangling there, barely alive, a few minutes later when Deputy U.S. Marshal Bliss (Ben Johnson) spots him and cuts him down. He survives the next few days in Bliss' tumbleweed wagon with the other prisoners, and is later cleared of any wrongdoing and released by Judge Fenton (Pat Hingle), just in time to witness the hanging of the man who really murdered the owner of the cattle and took Cooper's money. Cooper still wants revenge on the nine men who tried to hang him, but Fenton insists that he leave the bringing of them to justice to his deputy marshals.