When a powerful rich man tries to drive homesteaders off their land, it is up to a retired gunfighter to stop the injustice. Lance Kilkenny earned a reputation as a gunfighter, not by searching for trouble but by doing what he had to do. Trying to escape his past, he changed his name to Trent and started a new life as a rancher in Cedar Bluff.
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"King" Bill Hale was a rich and powerful man that ran Cedar Bluff as he saw fit. He looked upon all men as inferior and had never been on the losing side of anything. His son Cub, was his right hand man and a cold blooded killer that enjoyed carrying out his father's dirty work.
When Trent/Kilkenny came upon the burned out ruins of his neighboring rancher, Dick Moffitt, he also discovered his murdered body and his two orphaned children.
Hale decided that he wanted what he called all of the "nesters" out of the land surrounding Cedar Bluff even tho they had legally filed on the land and it was rightfully theirs. Killing Moffitt was a warning to all the other "nesters" that they had better clear out.
Knowing that on their own, the ranchers didn't stand a chance against Hale, Kilkenny convinced all the surrounding ranches to join forces and all move to the Hatfield ranch where they could stand together against Hale.
In an effort to cover his attempts at running off the "nesters" , Hale invites some politicians to Cedar Bluff for a celebration and Prize Fight in order to impress them and gain their favor. While there Hale planned to mention the problem he was having with the illegal squatters on "his" land so that if word ever got out the law would believe that Hale was in the right.
Kilkenny realizes that the only way to protect the ranchers is for him to speak with the politicians himself and explain what was really happening.
Knowing that he would be shot on sight if he tried to approach the town, Kilkenny arranges to be in the Prize Fight where he plans on speaking to the politicians from the ring.
After goading Hale publicly into accepted bets on the fight, Kilkenny defeats Tomball Turner which bankrupts Hale. Kilkenny then convinces the politicians of Hale's true intentions which infuriates them as they begin an investigation.
Upon realizing that he has for the first time in his life suffered a defeat, Hale commits suicide rather than be publicly ruined and go to jail. His son, Cub becomes enraged and swears vengeance on Kilkenny.
In a classic confrontation, Kilkenny and Cub have a showdown in which Cub is defeated.
With Hales influence and corruption now over, Cedar Bluff begins to rebuild. Kilkenny can now peacefully start his new life and marry his longtime love Nita Riordan.
Best part of story, including ending:
Apart form the obvious good vs. evil storyline, L'Amour really created the classic "underdog" character in Kilkenny and the way he is able to overcome all odds is inspiring.
Best scene in story:
Before the prize fight, Hale is on top of the world. Everything is going according to plan….right up until the unthinkable happens…Kilkenny actually defeats Turner and in one fell swoop destroys Hale's evil plan.
Opinion about the main character:
Kilkenny has a sense of justice. He could have ignored the needs of the other ranchers …he was a very capable gunfighter, he could have protected his own ranch and not bothered with the others but he knew the right thing to do for all is to stop Hale even at his own expense.