While Lucas is riding to Red Creek, two men who are in hiding see him. One of the men shoots Lucas in the head, knocking him off of his horse, and almost killing him.
On his way to visit the gunsmith in a nearby town to get a new spring for his rifle, Lucas is ambushed by two men hiding in the bushes. One of the gunmen is a notorious outlaw, George Vale, who takes Lucas' horse leaving his own behind along with his personalizes six-shooter. When Lucas awakens, he has no memory but from what information is available to him, thinks he might be George Vale. As word spread through the community that Vale is in town, a lynch mob decides to take justice into their own hands.
- Riding near the town of Red Creek, Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) is grazed by a rife shot and knocked unconscious.
Two bushwhackers emerge from the woods.
While the shooter brags about his marksmanship, his partner swaps his horse for McCain's to appear "less conspicuous." But then he gets an even better idea.
Since he has Wanted posters on him "up north," he leaves his horse, his holster and "fancy" gun--engraved with his name, George Vale--with Lucas to make it appear as though George Vale has been killed. Then they leave McCain for dead.
Mark and his pa have been staying with grandfatherly Mr. Stevens (Roy Barcroft). Stepping outdoors, Mark bids Mr. Stevens good morning.
Mr. Stevens: Good morning, young fella. I see you're finally up.
Mark: It sure does feel good to sleep late after the roosters have been crowing.
Mr. Stevens washes his face over a bucket and then Mark takes his turn at refreshing himself.
Mark: I see pa hasn't gotten back from the yearling sale yet.
Mr. Stevens: Eh, he'll be a might late, unless his rifle needed a new spring and he's gonna stop at the gun shop in Red Creek.
Mark offers to do chores and Mr. Stevens says the stalls could use more hay. Mark agrees.
Lucas McCain awakens, groggy and in pain. He struggles to mount the horse the gunman left behind and rides into town. Dr. Jay Carter (Stanley Adams) bandages McCain's head.
Lucas says his head "pounds like a sledge" and the doctor tells him to remind himself how lucky he is to be alive every time he feels pain. Lucas asks the doctor if he knows who is, if he's ever seen him before.
Dr. Carter: Can't say that I have.
McCain says he can't remember anything that happened more than an hour ago. The doctor isn't surprised, since the rifle went off at such close range. He assures Lucas that loss of memory isn't permanent and that he'll start remembering little things as the concussion wears off in two or three days. Then the doctor looks at the pistol on McCain's hip and removes it from its holster.
Dr. Carter (reading the gun handle): Well, there shouldn't be much mystery as to who you are: 'George Vale.'
The doctor tosses the pistol on the examining table with a look of disgust.
The handyman, overhearing this, quickly sneaks out the door.
McCain expresses some relief that at least he knows his name. The doctor makes clear his contempt for Vale and killers like him and refuses to accept his ill-gotten money in payment.
McCain doesn't understand. He continues to express genuine confusion and asks for help. But the doctor is finished. He hands McCain his hat and coolly bids him "good day."
When McCain steps outside the doctor's office, the men idling about scatter at the sight of him. Across the street, the handyman points McCain out to Red Creek's sheriff (William Woodson) and asks if George Vale can be arrested. The sheriff says nothing would delight him more than to see Vale at the end of a rope but that as far as he knows, he's not wanted for anything in the territory.
McCain stops at the stable. He tells the liveryman that he'll be staying overnight at the hotel and asks if he can put up his horse.
The liveryman amiably remarks that McCains mount "looks like one of the Weiden's horses."
McCain: Weiden? Maybe my name would mean something to you? George Vale?
Startled, the liveryman talks fast to avoid trouble. "Lots of horses looks alike, Mr. Vale. I wasn't questioning that being your horse."
McCain: Could there be any doubt?
Liveryman: None. None at all.
McCain walks off. The liveryman checks the horses brand--W.
Passing the gun store, McCain stares, as though trying to remember something. Puzzled, he walks on.
The liveryman exits the stable mounted on a horse. He looks after McCain fearfully, then bolts in the opposite direction.
McCain enters the sheriff's office: Hello, sheriff.
Sheriff (angry): What brought you to Red Creek, Vale?
McCain: I wish I had an answer to that, myself.
He says he was bushwhacked four miles east of town but that everything before that is a complete blank.
Sheriff: Too bad that bushwhacker didn't have a straighter aim.
McCain: Who am I? Who's George Vale?
He tells the sheriff that, just as he passed the town's gun shop, he thought it had a special meaning for him. But other than that, McCain says he feels as though he's just been born.
Sheriff: Are you trying to tell me, Vale, you don't know you're a wanted man?
McCain: Wanted man? What am I wanted for?
Sheriff: What you're not wanted for would be a shorter story.
The sheriff tells McCain there are Dead or Alive posters for him all over Wyoming for murder and robbery. He's just on his way over to the telegraph office to find out if he's justified in holding him.
McCain asks the sheriff if he has ever seen him before. The sheriff pulls out a Wanted poster with Vale's description: six-foot-five and 200 pounds.
Sheriff: Not too many men walking around here fit that description.
But most of all, "there's that murdering gun you're so proud of," with George Vale's name engraved on the handle.
The sheriff orders McCain to leave town by day's end. He says that if some hotheads don't do the public a service by stringing him up before then, he might forget he's a lawman and kill McCain himself.
Outside town, Mark waits at Mr. Stevens' spread for his pa to return. It's becoming clear that Lucas won't be back in time for lunch, either. So, Mark rides into town to see why.
"See you for supper," Mr. Stevens calls after him.
Mark meets his pa in town. When his father doesn't recognize him, Mark thinks it's a joke. But when he persists in telling him they're named McCain, his pa becomes surly and insists he's George Vale.
Alarmed, Mark runs for help to the same doctor who tended Lucas earlier. The doctor is now mending a patient's broken arm. Unaware of the situation, he tells Mark to take a seat until he's finished and can join him.
Weak and wincing in pain, Lucas makes his way to the stable, where he slides down the wall to the ground. The liveryman gallops up with the two Weiden brothers, who accuse McCain of shooting a 16-year-old boy in the back for his horse.
Calling him a murderer, they challenge him to a gunfight so he can prove himself against men.
McCain sees no reason for a fight.
The Weiden brothers ask him if he rode that horse (i.e., with the Weiden brand) into town and inform him that he killed their brother just an hour ago.
They taunt him into drawing his gun but McCain, weary and disoriented, repeats that he sees no reason for a fight.
But the Weidens are determined to see him hanged right away.
Mark runs over and shields Lucas. He shouts desperately that the man they've accused is his father, that his name is really McCain, not Vale, and he's innocent.
But no one believes him. The sheriff says that George Vale may very well have raised Mark under another name.
Mark says that Mr. Stevens can vouch for his father's true identity and that the two have known each other all the way back to their Oklahoma days.
The sheriff decides that justice can wait long enough for the liveryman to fetch Mr. Stevens. But the Weidens want McCain hanged immediately and form a lynch mob of several men.
While the mob waits quietly, Joe Weiden goes inside the sheriff's office to see where he stands on hanging Vale. He asks the sheriff what hell do if it turns out that McCain isn't Vale.
Well, that would mean that McCain would have to go free, the sheriff replies.
But the way Weiden sees it, such a story would have to be a lie, since the fact that McCain rode in on their dead brothers horse proves that he's guilty and deserves to hang. He says hes seen too many killers walk free because "they had better liars on their side."
The sheriff confronts Weiden and tells him that the rule of law will prevail. But Weiden quickly removes the sheriff's revolver at gunpoint, telling him that no harm will come to him but that "it looks as though you're going to be spending a little time in your own jail." Weiden locks the sheriff up.
Outside, Weiden says to the small mob outside, "Let's go." Carrying a rope, he returns to the stable, where his brother is watching McCain.
Mark is terrified. "What are they gonna do?" McCain: That rope out there means they want to get things over with quick. Mark: No, no, you're making a mistake! He rushes at the Weiden brothers. He's my pa! He's my father!
McCain and his son are struggling with the mob when the two bushwhackers ride into town. They hitch their horses nearby. Recognizing the "sodbuster," the real Vale is pleased by what he sees taking place.
Vale: "Appears we're just in time to see the good citizens of this town lynch George Vale."
"Amen, brother," his partner replies.
Mr. Stevens gallops up with the liveryman and exclaims, "Well, of course that's McCain."
He runs up to the crowd yelling out Lucas' name just as McCain grabs a pistol, pulls free, and backs off the mob.
McCain: I'll kill the first man who tries to stop me from leaving!
Mr. Stevens: It's all straightened out, Lucas. Now you can put down that gun.
Lucas: Stand back! Mark: It's Mr. Stevens, pa. Everything's all right.
Mr. Stevens: Lucas, you know me. Now put that gun down.
Lucas fires a warning shot into the ground.
McCain: That gun down, huh? Maybe have you change your minds that I'm George Vale. Now you stand back. I'm not gonna waste the next one.
At the gunshot, Vales partner says, "George, let's get outta here."
Mark: It's true, pa. Everyone believes who you are now.
McCain: You get on back, boy. I don't wanna hurt you. Go on.
Mark stands back with Mr. Stevens.
Stevens: It's best to let him ride out, son. He's been through so much that nothing makes any sense now.
Vale's partner is antsy to leave: "C'mon."
Vale: "Take it easy. Nobody knows us. We got the horses and we'll get out." They start to back away.
McCain goes to the horse he rode in on. But Mark spots his father's distinctive rifle, not far beyond it, in a scabbard on one of the horses the outlaws left tied up.
Mark: Pa, behind you. There's your horse and your rifle. Remember your rifle? You were coming in to get it fixed at the gun shop.
McCain grimaces, thinking. "Gun shop..."
At the same time, the outlaws approach the horses behind McCain, in plain sight of the mob. Vale's partner panics, pushes him to move, then draws his gun and fires at the townsfolk. Vale hits McCain from behind with his revolver, knocking him down.
"Looks like we made a mistake, Frank," Joe Weiden says to his brother.
They draw their guns. Shots are exchanged and Vale and his partner are gunned down.
Mark and the Weidens go to Lucas, lying on the ground.
Frank Weiden: I guess we owe your pa an apology, son.
Mark: I told you he was Lucas McCain. A rancher. And my pa.
Lucas: The way you say 'pa' sounds good to me, son. I'm a rancher?
Mark: Small place but we're sure happy there.
Lucas: After being wanted for robbery and murder, small rancher sounds good to me, too, son.
Epilogue: Back at the ranch, the McCains have just finished a good meal. Mark comments that his dad hasn't forgotten how to use a skillet and asks if his memory is coming back. Lucas says it is, little by little.
Mark sees an opportunity and asks if he remembers that they used to have an arrangement to take turns doing the dishes and that tonight was his pa's night to do the dishes.
Lucas responds that an important thing such as whose turn it is to do the dishes isn't something a man forgets and that one of the first things he remembered was that tonight was Mark's turn to do the dishes.
Mark: I guess your memory is coming back.
He takes the dishes, then tells his pa that he wasn't really going to take advantage of him.
Lucas: I know you wouldn't, son. Look, I'll do the dishes tonight. This is one time I'll take pleasure in doing the dishes.
Mark: All right!
Mark sits down to relax, beaming with satisfaction.
Cue happy-endings music. Pan to the crackling fireplace. Fade to credits.