Jason McCord is traveling through the desert when he comes upon a dead horse. He follows the trail of footprints and comes across a tired, thirsty man. His name is Colbee and he and McCord strike out together to make the next town before their water runs out. He's a family man with a wife and daughter and his fear of not seeing them again forces him to steal the horse and water and leave Jason in the desert.
Ned Travis is a reporter for the New York Herald who's made something of a career for himself writing about Jason McCord and Bitter Creek. He wants McCord to tell him the truth about what it's like to be the most hated man in the territory and what really happened at Bitter Creek. McCord won't talk so Travis goes to Mrs. Pritchett whose husband Lt. John Pritchett was killed at Bitter Creek. She shows him letters which could tell the true story of the incident once and for all but McCord has reasons of his own for not wanting the truth to be revealed.
Attacked by drunken Commanches while traveling alone, McCord seeks shelter behind a wagon driven by a local priest. McCord kills 3 of the assailants, which puts the padre in a dangerous position: his mission has a school for the tribe's children. Ex-Cavalryman McCord and the minister are both named Jason, and immediately strike a bond when the pacifist Father Durant reveals he rejected Cavalry life for the cloth.
Jason rides into McKinnley one day to see an old friend, but he becomes personally involved when Charlie Vance begins talking rough to her and ordering her around. Then after Vance is killed, Jason is accused of murder.
The whole town runs to a silver mine to get rich and leaves the town practically abandoned. A gang of robbers find it a convenient time to rob the bank, and the leader orders Deputy Marshal Clay Holden to allow it to happen. Deputy Holden is still wet behind the ears and agrees to go along with them in order to keep the gang from burning down the town. When he goes to get Jason McCord's gun, however, Jason forces him to tell him everything. Jason then asks Deputy Holdon to trust him.
A chain of events leads Jason McCord to the White House standing in front of President Grant, and it all starts when an old flame comes back into his life. She announces that her father, Senator Lansing, has a job for him.
President Grant gives McCord an important mission in Mexico. The mission is highly secret, and when over, will deem him both a coward and a traitor. Jason takes the job, but soon learns the mission will be much more difficult than he thought.
A West Point cadet maintains that McCord wasn't a coward, leading the USMA to sentence the youngster to be drummed out, unless he apologizes to Professor Beecher, his history teacher. Given a 30 day sabbatical to decide, Cadet Bain tracks down McCord to a failing silver mine, which the Great Stoneface hopes to revive. But extracting answers from McCord about the disastrous Battle of Bitter Creek, may be as tough as solving the mystery of the mine's constant flooding.
At a well, which young bucks on the warpath may have poisoned, McCord and a female doctor are surrounded by the warriors. McCord was escorting her to a colleague's desert office, but they came across the male physician, killed by arrows. The pair have used up almost all their water, caring for the wounded cavalryman they found with Dr. Marshal. Already at the oasis are a duplicitous pair of prospectors, and a tiny old man with kyphosis.
Lucy Benson wants to hire Jason to help her develop her town, but Jason soon finds he is now wanted there when he's beaten, then later robbed of a large some of money and his horse. He insists on staying, even though everyone seems to be encouraging him to leave.