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In the town of Cottonwood Springs, Texas at the turn of the century, Marshal Frank Patch is an Old West style lawman in a community determined to be modern. When Patch kills drunken Luke Mills in self-defense, the town decides it is time for the marshal to resign. But Patch refuses, reminding the citizens that when he took he job, the agreement was he could have it as long as he wanted. Afraid of Patch because of his knowledge of their misdeeds in the town's wilder days, the city fathers then decide the only way to remove Patch from office is by violence.
Patch humiliates one of town's councilmen, a cowardly shopkeeper, by slapping him. The man plans to kill Patch, but when Patch faces him down, he turns the gun on himself. The man's son swears revenge, supported by local leaders. They plot to ambush Patch. Aware that he will probably be killed, Patch marries his long-time girlfriend, the local brothel madame. The marriage is on the same day as the shopkeeper's funeral, after which Patch's death is planned. The dead man's son attempts to kill Patch on his own, but is shot by Patch. Patch explains to the dying youth that his father had murdered a man many years ago. Patch covered it up because he had agreed to raise the dead man's child. Patch pursues one of the instigators of the plot to kill him. He wounds and captures him, but then insists on going back out, knowing he will be gunned down. He is shot by hidden gunmen on the rooftops.