In San Francisco, Paladin is attending the opera and meets with a woman. She explains that her guardian Uncle Ned arrived in San Francisco to kill Paladin for his involvement with niece. The woman suggests that Paladin leave for a few days so that she can convince Ned that their relationship is platonic.
Paladin is soon on the road and his stage stops in the town of North Fork. The stage driver notes that there's a storm ahead so they're going to stay over for 24 hours. When some locals pass, the driver explains that it's a Mennonite community and haven't made many friends. The Mennonites family--the Bruckners--go to the local saloon and grocery store and the driver recommends that Paladin try the saloon if he wants a meal.
Inside, Paladin hears the owner Milo Culligan haggling with some local farmers because of the recent wheat-blight infection. Milo refuses to pay them more then minimum wages, and then greets Paladin. The farmers have no choice but to take Milo's offer. Milo then tells the Bruckner elder, Maxim, that he's not going to sell them a thing. Maxim points out that they're residents like anyone else, but Milo says that the Mennoites don't care anything about the town or the townspeople. When he points out that the Mennonites didn't help the townspeople against a recent Indian raid, Maxim says that their religion forbids them from fighting. Milo tells him that he's offered a fair price for their farm but they insist on staying where they're not wanted.
When Milo says that the Mennonites cause trouble everywhere they go, Paladin defends the Mennonites. One of the farmers, Tom Ferris, says that Milo is wrong and the Mennonites aren't bothering anyone, but Milo warns that he'll cut the farmer off as well if he supports them. Another man, Jud Polk, is there and says that he'd run them out of town if it was up to him. He points out that they stole one of the women, Tildy Buchanan. Tildy says that she chose to live with them and her father Marty is a weak drunk. Marty is at the bar and objects, and Jud offers to teach Tildy some manners. Tildy's husband, Johann Schmidt, objects and Jud slaps him, daring him to strike back. Tildy tells Jud to stop and accuses the townspeople of cowardice.
When Jud says that Tildy was the town bad girl until a few weeks ago, Jud grabs her and Paladin tells him to leave her alone. Jud starts to go for his gun, but Milo says that they'll be no shooting in his establishment. Paladin invites Jud to go outside, but Jud wisely backs down and Paladin gives him his card in case he wants to fight him later. Milo warns Paladin that they won't have a room for him at the hotel because he owns it. Maxim offers Paladin a room with them and he accepts.
That night at the Bruckner farm, Tildy brings Paladin dessert after dinner. She wonders what will become of the Mennonites, and Paladin assures her that they have courage. Tildy blames herself, explaining that Jud likes her and hates the Mennonites for taking her in. She didn't want to leave Marty, but he sold her to Jud for $50. Everyone was so scared of Jud that no one would take her in except for the Mennonites.
The corn in the field start burning and Paladin calls out Maxim and Johann. The next morning, they return with what they've salvaged and Paladin points out that at least they saved the house, even though they lost the barn. Maxim figures that the fire is a sign and has decided to sell to Milo and move to Canada. Paladin has found a coal-oil can and figures that someone set the fire. Maxim figures that it's still a sign, and explains that all that stands is his mother Baba's garden. Unlike the other local wheat, it's clean of blight. Johann brings the buckboard around, and Paladin asks Maxim to let him do the dealing with Milo. Maxim agrees but makes him promise that there will be no violence. Paladin only promises that if there is violence, it won't be of his making.
Later, Paladin rides to the town. Marty approaches him and Paladin, disgusted, says that he sold the right to call her "daughter." Paladin barges into Milo's office and Milo reaches into a desk drawer, while insisting that he didn't burn the crops and ruin the property. The gunfighter advises him to remove his hand from the drawer. Once Milo does so, Paladin says that Milo's offer of $5 an acre is cheap, but he'll recommend that the Bruckners take the offer. Milo says that without the standing crops, he'll only pay $3 an acre. Disgusted, Paladin says that Milo is a vulture and he's going to give the townspeople an excuse to tear him down. Unimpressed, Milo says that the townspeople will stick with him over a stranger, and Paladin admits that he's never found it harder to keep a promise like the one he made to Maxim.
Once Paladin leaves, Milo tells his clerk to bring Jud in. When Jud arrives, Milo berates him for letting Paladin walk away. He figures that Jud burned down the crop and says that he burned something valuable. Milo tells him to get out of North Fork, but Jud demands $500 and Tildy or he's not going anywhere. The shopkeeper points out that Paladin is the only thing in their way, and agrees to pay the $500 and Tildy if Jud gets rid of Paladin. He tosses in another $100 for Jud to buy a backup gunman, and Jud agrees.
Later, Marty approaches Paladin and warns him that Jud and another man, Gus, are gunning for Paladin. He figures that Paladin is Tildy's last hope, and Paladin tells him to bring the local farmers around. Marty goes to get them, and the Bruckners. As Marty returns, Paladin tells the Mennonites that Milo is trying to steal their land but says that Milo may not get it at all. As Marty tries to apologize to Tildy, Jud peers out of the saloon. Paladin spots him and Gus down the street moving in. Marty insists that he helped Milo in the hopes that Tildy would leave with the Mennonites.
Gus steps out, and Paladin shoves Marty out of the way and shoots Gus down. He then takes cover as Jud opens fire, and Jud runs over and grabs Tildy as a shield. Paladin tells Tildy to freeze and then shoots Jud's hat off, and tells him to release her. He shoots again, wounding Jud in the shoulder, and he releases Tildy and begs for his life. Paladin holsters his gun and gives it to Marty, and then comes over and fights Jud hand-to-hand.
As the townspeople watch, Paladin takes down Jud and then calls everyone over. He tells the whole townspeople that they're a mob, not a town. Paladin then has Tom relate how he lost most of his wheat to the blight. The gunfighter says that the Mennonites are using a wheat seed that resists blight, and explains that they used seed from the Crimea where the blight is unknown. Paladin asks Milo how much he would charge for the wheat, and Milo claims that he'll sell it for a fair price. Maxim says that he'd give it away for free to be a good neighbor, and Milo says that anyone who takes Maxim's offer won't get anything from his store. Ferris speaks for the townspeople, saying that they'll take their chances but Milo is through in the town. As Milo storms off, Paladin asks who is for a barn-raising to help the Bruckners and everyone cheers as Marty gives Paladin his gun back.
Later, Paladin is boarding the stagecoach and Tildy gives him a kiss for luck. Baba gives Paladin a kiss as well, and Paladin leaves North Fork.
Written by Gadfly on Dec 18, 2016