Not knowing the Civil War is long over, a Confederate battalion defends an isolated canyon, as Gil's drive approaches. Following the cattle drive is a U.S. cavalry squadron, dispatched to stop mysterious raids on local farms. The green, young cavalry don't know the raiders are CSA veterans who are well dug in and itchy for serious battle. The much older U.S. cavalry sergeant looks suspiciously familiar to drover Jim Quince, who fought under flamboyant rebel General Jeb Stuart.
Aztec Mitla saves Gil's life from a dust storm, in the last steps of his 1500 mile walk to find a legendary princess to save his village in Mexico. Gil accompanies Mitla to the nearest town, and both seem to discover what they desperately need: water for Gil's dying cattle, and a gorgeous raven-tressed b-girl wearing a necklace of Mexican coins. But the saloon dancer's married lover, the town's mayor, stands defiantly in the way of both quests.
Favor is taking a short but very tough route which the men question. Another trail boss John Cord tells Favor he is wrong. When Favor becomes sick, he asks Cord to take over but the men question Cord's motives.
Following the death of his mother, 12 year-old Joey Gardner sets out in search of the father who left him at birth. The only clues he has to his identity are that he is a drover, has a scar below his left ear and his initials are G.F.
Confederate prison commandant is shot by a wife whose Union soldier husband disappeared after the War Between the States. She tracked the ex-warden down because she believes her spouse is still alive, so he tries to soothe her, saying he released all his POWs. Trail boss Gil, who fought for the South, intervenes between the livid woman and the reptilian jailer turned wealthy cotton planter, but then Gil's drovers find the woman dead.
Reformed thief Ralph Bartlett is determined to repay all his victims. Gil Favor is the second last name on the list. The last victim lives in a nearby town where unknown to Bartlett, he is wanted for murder.
Wishbone finds an old Indian who has been left in a cave to die by his tribe. Against the advice of others on the drive, he takes the man out and tries to bring him back to his tribe. But the tribe feels that their custom has been insulted and won't take him back, putting the blame on the entire cattle drive.
Rowdy and Jim, approached by a makeshift posse, are asked a lot of questions but not given many answers. Taken to the town they were headed anyway it is mostly burnt; the bank robbed, a local priest killed and they look good for all of it.
Mushy's no-nonsense mom foils a stage robbery on her way to see him. Martha Mushgrove pulled down one highwayman's mask to slap him, so the robbers track her to eliminate a witness. Meanwhile her son, all-thumbs Harkness Mushgrove III begs Gil to train him to be a drover, to impress Mom.
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 2 daughters in Philadelphia. On the train, he encounters an Indian. Gil sees the Indian from the train in a wagon with handcuffs on. He discovers the man is a prisoner. With help from Pete and Wishbone, Gil decides 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.