On the morning before Christmas, Paladin rides to the Beecher Ranch.
The ranch hands and their families ignore him when he wishes them a
Merry Christmas. One of the cowboys finally explains that Nathaniel
Beecher runs the place, and directs Paladin to the boss. Beecher is
beating up Jesse, a ranch hand who lost some cattle. Beecher's foreman,
Tater, claims it was an accident, but Beecher fires Jesse and orders him
off the ranch. Paladin introduces himself and explains that Beecher
wired him to recover his son, Robbie. Beecher tells him that they've
already recovered Robbie from the Pawnees, and he has no intention of
paying Paladin's travel expenses. When Paladin threatens to cut out
three cows from the herd in payment, Tater intervenes and notes that
Paladin can speak Pawnee, and they need an interpreter. Paladin agrees,
but charges Beecher $100 a day.
As they go to the main house, Tater explains that they're not sure if Robbie is Beecher's missing child. The Sioux abducted Robbie six years ago when he was a toddler, and they're not even sure if the boy they've found is really an Indian. One of the housekeepers, Maudie, comes up and asks Tater if he can convince Beecher to let the families celebrate Christmas and Tater says he'll do what he can.
At the house, Robbie runs away from Tater's wife, Maggie, when she tries to dress him in civilized clothing. Beecher tries to get through to him, first with pleas and then the threat of violence. Maggie stops him before he can hit the boy, and Beecher explains that he built the entire ranch for his son. He asks Paladin to talk to the boy. Paladin speaks to Robbie in Pawnee and learns that the boy considers himself Chewa, and his father is Cah-la-te, the Pawnee chief. Robbie says in translation that Cah-la-te is going to come for him. Beecher says that he should have hung Cah-la-te when he took Robbie, and will kill the chief if he comes after the boy. He has no intention of giving up what belongs to him. They're interrupted when a cowboy comes in and informs Beecher that the Pawnee have set up camp on the ranch lands. Beecher tells the cowboy to guard Robbie while Tater builds a gallows to hang Cah-la-te.
Paladin goes to see Cah-la-te and introduces himself as Ula Chate, "He who rides with many tribes." Cah-la-te has heard of him and respects his deeds among the Indian tribes. The chief explains that they received Robbie from the Sioux, and that he considers the boy his own since they mixed blood. Paladin warns that Beecher will open fire on any Indian who comes for the boy, and that so far the Pawnee have kept their side of the treaty. Cah-la-te says that his people, deprived of their lands, are already dying and if his son is taken from him, he has nothing left to lose.
As Paladin returns, Beecher and his men finish working on their gallows, mounted on a wagon. Beecher plans to have it taken to the field near the Pawnee as a warning.
That night, the Beecher workers arrive at the ranch's small church for the Christmas ceremony. Paladin attends as well, hanging up his gun belt at the door. Beecher arrives and tells him to have Robbie brought from the house. He complains that they've put out too much food, and that the workers are slacking off. Beecher warns that if there is any damage done because no one in the fields, they'll work double the next day. Paladin suggests that they sing and the workers begin a carol. However, one of the cowboys comes in to tell Beecher that the Pawnee have abducted Robbie.
Beecher orders his men to come with him and bring their guns, but Paladin says that the Pawnee have nowhere to go and will stand their ground. Disgusted, Beecher tells him to say what he has to, but at the end of the day his people will follow his orders or starve. Paladin addresses Beecher's workers and reminds them that the Pawnee might have given Robbie up if they had been approached peacefully. It's too late now, and the Pawnee have nowhere else to go. When he's done, Beecher says that it's time for them to go with him and kill the Pawnee. Tater and a few others refuse, but the others choose to follow their boss' orders. Beecher tells Tater that he and his wife are fired and leaves.
Paladin gets his gun belt but Maggie accuses him of being a hypocrite, talking about peace during Christmas but willing to kill. She reminds him that killing is never acceptable, even in defense of a few poor Indians. Paladin admits that she's right and puts his gun belt back, and says that if the others will follow him and walk past Beecher and his men, he can give them something tonight.
Paladin goes to the camp, where Cah-la-te and Robbie are reunited. Beecher and his men arrive bearing the gallows, and the chief says that he won't fight. He explains to Paladin that if Robbie sees Beecher gun down helpless Indians, the boy will never choose to be with the rancher. Before Beecher and his men can open fire, Tater and the others arrive with the food from their Christmas feast. Paladin explains to the chief that they are honoring Christmas, a ceremony where the white men honor their children one time during the year. Paladin invites Tater and the others in to celebrate with the Pawnee.
Everyone gathers at the ranch and Robbie admires the Christmas tree, and says his word in English: "Christmas." Cah-la-te shows Paladin a ring that he found on the boy: a ring with the name Robbie Beecher on it. Paladin says that the chief should reunite the son with his true father, and that Beecher isn't an evil man at heart. When Cah-la-te says that Paladin should kill him, Paladin says that the Pawnee children depend on the chief for leadership, and that dying would do them no good. As they talk, the white children and the Indians sing Christmas carols together while Paladin encourages them.
Tater gives Beecher the ring and relays Paladin's message that the Pawnee deserve 500 acres of land and 500 head of cattle. The gunslinger wants his fee paid to Cah-la-te. Tater says that he'll stay on to make sure that Beecher raises Robbie properly, and tells the rancher to go with his son. Beecher tells his men to put down their guns and join in the celebration, while Paladin cuts down the rope from the gallows.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 26, 2019