The trail crew meet up with a troop of buffalo soldiers - usually freed slaves recruited post Civil War for the US cavalry out west. A rebellious, former sergeant (played by Woody Strode), repeatedly busted down to private for various infractions, is befriended by Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood). Killing a fellow soldier in self-defense, the distrusting rebel runs, taking Rowdy's horse. Rowdy is forced to pursue him, hoping he will give himself up.
Robert Culp plays as a Civil War veteran named Craig Kern, who has become addicted to morphine after it was used on him during treatment of a war injury. The head of a Kansas veteran's hospital asks the trail boss to take Kern on as a drover so he can reconnect with the world. Kern decides to try and kick his addiction on the trail. Oh, and the men are trying to stay ahead of a vicious winter storm. As an added complication, Kern's fiancé (Jan Shepard) joins the drive, determined to be with him despite the repeated warning that a cattle drive is "no place for a woman."
The drive reaches Sedalia but Favor's problems are just beginning. A bank crash back east has wiped out all the cattle buyers and the only viable grazing land is owned by embittered widow Emma Cardwell who is intent on bankrupting Favor.
Gil & crew reach trail's end in Sedalia, but Gil's hard drinking is not to celebrate: his fiancée has married another. Waiting for one drover is his own beautiful fiancée, closely tracked by a short-tempered bounty hunter. Gil's approached by another trail boss with a local ranching opportunity. Will Gil return to Philly, stay in Missouri, or meet his men at Chickenfeather Siding for another drive ?
Gil visits his girls encountering an Indian on the train. Gil sees the Indian from the train in a wagon with handcuffs on. He discovers the man is a prisoner. With help they decide to break him out. Both Gil and Eleanor learn about raising the girls.
Favor is ramrod instead of trail boss to save his men's jobs. The trail boss is an older rancher trying to prove he is "king of the hill" to everyone including his young wife. He won't listen to Favor and his wife leaves with a drover.
While herding strays, Quince comes across a man altering brands. Before Quince can pursue him a posse comes upon the site and charges Quince with rustling. Gil and Rowdy have only hours clear him before Quince faces a vigilante court.
A dry water hole forces Rowdy and Dan Fletcher who knows the area to investigate. A dam has temporally cutoff the water adding to the feud between Cal Fletcher and Frank Travis. Dan's return ignites Cal's hatred for Dan and love for Flora.
Entering dangerous Commanche Territory is a herd bound for Australia, whose only drovers are a wizened Ozzie, his stunning fiancée, and a huge Aboriginal. Gil helps strike a bargain with the Commanche chief for safe passage, but when a cowboy, having escaped from prison, is rejected as a drover, he offers the chief a scheme to seize both herds. The cowboy's half Commanche, and the Australian fiancée's his former grifting partner.
Pete Nolan takes an injured Wishbone to Mineral Springs for some rest only to find himself in the middle of a romantic feud between a paralyzed rancher, his wife and brother when Pete is asked to escort the wife to a barn dance.
Favor and Rowdy looking for grazing and water in the Lost Mountains find their path blocked by Indians and an old white man. They hire a guide but he is killed after a lost woman joins them. She has friends that put the group in danger.
At a river the drovers are startled by a bugle and stopped by a group of Jayhawkers wanting $5 per head to cross the river. They are lead by a Judge who has conned his son-in-law into thinking they own the land and are acting legally.
The drovers come across a teenage brother and sister and their ill dying mother, alone on the trail. The family had planned to relocate to the East to elude the outlaw father who had just escaped from jail and is evading bounty hunters.
Favor's herd is held for ransom by a town who lost $15,000 to Texas drover Thad Clemens. Favor finds him in a nearby town where it appears he lost the money to lady saloon owner. However, Favor finds the situation is much more complicated.
Rowdy and Pete are taken hostage by Kiowas who want safe passage to Black Pass from the Army for their Chief. A scared fortune telling drover causes problems when tells on Favor to the Army and a rancher wanting revenge for his wife.
When the law refused to act against his wife's murderer because she was the wife of an Indian, Dr. Sky Blackstorm turned to a life of crime. Now he is returning to town and uses Pete and Mushy as pawns to regain custody of his son.
A femme fatale sues Gil for part of his herd. The widow's foreman, fast gun Rance scares everybody, while her tricky lawyer Lewis Lewis hogties Gil in court. The drovers itch to shoot their way out, but Gil sets another scheme off.
Favor has been hired to drive a new herd but the appearance of Rowdy's dad is an unpleasant surprise for Rowdy. His dad frames Rowdy to force a local bandit with a $5000 reward into the open. He collects but Favor loses his herd over it.
While gathering mavericks in deep brush, Favor discovers the remnants of a wagon train destroyed by Comanches along with 12 graves. Some are looking for a a survivor including a woman whose son was killed and the man helping her.
Favor pushes the men hard to shake out those who won't make it. This time the old hands may be the ones who can't cut it compared to a group of young and eager hands he hired. The old hands quit and the new hands show how green they are.
Drover Jim Quince's niece begs for his help in keeping her fiancé from being tried for murder by her bitter father. Her father has become a hanging judge, following the accidental shooting of his wife. When Judge Quince sent a posse to keep the young couple from eloping, a member of the group fired at the fiancé, who killed him in self defense.
With Rowdy, Quince, Hey Soos, and Nolan who was married to one of them earlier as their reluctant guide, a breakaway group of Cheyenne Indians flee an oppressive reservation and head for Mexico - with a posse in hot pursuit.
Favor picks up 750 head from a cattle dealer but a single drover arrives with the herd. He is a talented drover who rubs the men the wrong way. He and the dealer plan to steal Favor's herd until he meets a runaway woman on the drive.
Rowdy escorts an injured sheepman and his flock to a nearby town. However, when the town's residents think he is one of the sheepmen, Rowdy finds himself on the receiving end of the same kind of treatment he used to dish out to sheepmen.
A lost circus with an elephant and lion is scaring the herd and horses. Favor sends Wishbone to guide the circus to their destination. Wishbone becomes involved in a fiery romantic triangle as he guides them to Brailey.
As Favor picks up 700 cattle, the owner tells him a financial crisis in the east will make the whole herd worthless unless Favor beats the news to Abilene. Favor can't tell the men as a man with fish distracts the men from their jobs.
A woman wanders into camp needing help. She is an actress who one of the men recognizes later. She worked as a Union spy during the war. Although most of the men hate her, one even more so as he was court-martialed due to her.
When his Lord dies after being rescued by Favor, a valet assumes the same role for Favor creating havoc on the drive. The buffalo hunter who shot the Lord is creating problems for Favor and the herd. The valet may be the key to the issues.
A conman and his wife con the drovers into pooling their efforts to prepare a Christmas celebration for a sickly Mexican boy. The boy isn't sick and Rowdy ignores Favors orders to move the herd across a river trapping the herd.