Paladin's stagecoach pulls into Bridesville, and he sees a man Joe Peavey beating another man, Joseph Whitehouse, while the townspeople look on cheering. Joseph tries to fight back, but Peavey finally knocks him down as his boss Clyde McNally encourages him. The sheriff arrives and breaks up the fight, and McNally says that Joseph has diseased stock. Someone shot Joseph's horse, and Peavey tells the sheriff that they warned Joseph. McNally tells Joseph that he'll continue getting beaten until he kills every cow he owns.
Once McNally and his men ride off, the sheriff tries to help Joseph up but he refuses. Paladin comes over and puts his card into Joseph's pocket while "accidentally" bumping into him.
Back on his property, Joseph is washing off his wounds and Paladin arrives as Joseph finds the card in his pocket. The gunfighter says that it's his card, and Joseph tells him that he doesn't have the money to hire him. Paladin offers him a ride on his spare horse, and Joseph says that he doesn't hold with gunfighters. As they ride, Joseph explains that ten of his cows are dead and a vet won't come out. He's a Cherokee mission Indian, and has no friends among his own people or the townspeople. His neighbors have a quarantine around his land, and he has to sneak out to get supplies. Only one man in town, Rheinhart, will sell to him. Joseph explains that his father sent him to mission school because it was the only way they could have a life on their land. He met his wife Martha when they were both there.
Peavey and two of his men ride up, firing their guns. Joseph tells Peavey that he'll have to pay for his horse, and warns Peavey not to spook Paladin. Peavey asks Paladin if he's working for Joseph, and Paladin assures him that he hasn't been hired... yet. When Joseph offers to continue on foot, Paladin says that he expects a man who rides his horse to rub it down and invite him to dinner.
When Paladin and Joseph reach Joseph's weight, they find another dead cow. Joseph doesn't know why, and says that McNally's father and brother were scalped by Indians 35 years ago. Paladin examines the grass, and then rides to the ranch house with Joseph. Martha serves dinner and tells Joseph that all they need is time to find out what's sickening the cows. She wants Paladin to scare off McNally and his men, but Joseph refuses to hear it. Martha warns that he's been beaten three times and won't use his gun. She respects his beliefs, and Joseph says that his father would have killed but he was taught not to kill. Martha offers paladin part of their land, but Joseph refuses and explains that Martha is carrying their first child and is easily upset. Paladin tells her that he chooses not to own land, and offers to collect the money for the dead horse and collect his fee from him.
Later, Paladin is riding across the land. Peavey draws a bead on the horse. His man Kelso objects, pointing out that Paladin hasn't tried to leave the Whitehorse lands, but Peavey figures they're there to keep Paladin contained. Paladin dismounts to examine the horse, and Peavey fires a shoot at the ground. The gunfighter sends off his horse and walks over to say that he's taking one of their horses. When Peavey refuses, Paladin punches him unconscious and draws his gun on Kelso. Kelso doesn't object, and Paladin rides into Bridesville. He goes to the pharmacy and offers Rheinhart some gold. Rheinhart agrees and makes it clear that he's tired of McNally's bullying ways. He tells Paladin that he's proud to do business with Joseph, and Joseph asks him to test the grass from the Whitehorse lands.
McNally and his men spot Peavey's horse outside of the pharmacy. Paladin comes out and says that he disciplined Peavey, and he settled the debt for Joseph by taking the horse. When McNally tells him to leave town, Paladin invites him to make him go. Paladin says that he wants to be hired to deal with Joseph, and McNally insists that he offered Joseph the price of the land for his property. He confirms that the offer still holds, and Paladin tells him to decide how willing he wants Joseph to be. McNally asks his men if they're with him, and they agree. Paladin tells McNally to withdraw the funds to pay Joseph and $2,000 for his fee. When McNally objects to handing the money over, Paladin says that he can come along and McNally agrees.
Paladin goes back inside the pharmacy and Rheinhart says that he's happy to have a scientific challenge after years dealing with the superstitious locals. Paladin already suspects what he'll find.
Later, Paladin rides back to the Whitehorses while McNally's men wait at the boundary. Joseph insists on staying, but Paladin insists that the land should belong to McNally. Martha figures that Paladin is turning on them because they're different, and insists that they want to live in peace. She slaps Paladin and then tells Joseph to sell the land and then they can leave. Joseph signs the bill of sale and Paladin tells them that McNally won't be there for more than a few minutes.
Paladin signals to McNally, and they ride in and kill he cows. Disgusted, Paladin tells the Whitehorses that he didn't think McNally was that stupid. Martha goes back inside, furious at Paladin, and Joseph wonders how he figured Paladin wrong before going after his wife. McNally rides up and Paladin points out that he's killing his own cattle. He invites McNally and Kelso in to get the bill of sale, and McNally gives Joseph the money. Paladin demands his $2,000 fee immediately, and McNally pays up.
Once Paladin has the money, he tells the Whitehorses that the land is poisoned. McNally promises to burn everything down. Paladin says that there's molybdenum in the ground, and when the cattle eat the vegetation they die. McNally doesn't believe him, and Paladin tells him that he should have waited. He says that McNally could have saved the cattle, and he took the money before Rheinhart confirmed his guess. McNally refuses to take back the money he paid for the land, but is ready to take the $2,000 from Paladin. Kelso warns against it, but McNally insists that he won't be swindled. He goes for his gun but Paladin easily wings him and orders him out. As they go, Kelso offers Joseph some of his land to buy... and he can come by his house to make the deal.
Once McNally and Kelso leave, Paladin apologizes for giving the Whitehorses some bad moments. Martha tells him that she was going to shoot him before he left, and Joseph laughs as he points out that he never loads the gun.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 5, 2017