Black Jack Hollis was a daring outlaw before he was shot down. In the wake of his death, it’s discovered that Hollis left behind an infant son. Elizabeth Cornish, co-owner of the Cornish Ranch alongside her brother, Vance, takes it upon herself to raise the child as her own.
Elizabeth names the boy Terry Colby and gives Terry a fictitious aristocratic background, believing the way the boy is raised will determine the man he will become. But Vance is convinced that Terry is destined to become an outlaw himself, and that it will be impossible to overcome the lawlessness that runs in his blood.
Vance only cares for the finer things in life, and he believes that his sister will leave the prosperous ranch to him when she dies. However, Elizabeth informs her brother that on Terry’s twenty-fifth birthday, he will become the sole heir of the Cornish Ranch. Vance will stop at nothing to sabotage his sister’s plans and ensure he will inherit the family’s wealth, even if it means inviting a famous lawman to Terry’s birthday party— the man who shot Black Jack Hollis!
Peter Dunstan is a big rancher who wants to become bigger, to control more land. So when he buys Dr. Henry Morgan’s ranchland that has been unsuccessfully converted to farming, it is his intention to return it to open range. The only stipulation the doctor makes is that Dunstan must retain Sandy Sweyn, who has more or less been Dr. Morgan’s ward. Though the man is of age, he is generally considered a half-wit, even by the doctor. Still, Sandy has a fabulous gift: he can communicate with animals. The most refractory and savage bronco will yield to his subtly persuasive methods even when expert horse breakers have failed.
After Sandy gentles the totally recalcitrant gelding that Dunstan has been trying to break to the reins, he claims that his mare, Cleo, though used only for drudgery, could easily outrun the gelding in a race. Dunstan is so contemptuous of this boast that he bets $5,000 and ownership of the gelding if he loses the race. As it turns out, Cleo readily wins.
Rather than indulging his anger, Dunstan decides to use Sandy’s gifts to his advantage by getting him seemingly impossible tasks. The problem is that after each of these incredible tasks is accomplished, some personal misfortune befalls Dunstan. Finally Dunstan drives Sandy into the mountain wilderness, where his prowess eventually becomes legendary. But banishment is no solution for Dunstan when he comes to need Sandy more than ever, and his only way of getting him back is to resort to trickery.
After his mother died he took a job as a clerk working for Chandler, the trader at Fort Bostwick. But during a visit from the district marshal he learns of Chandler’s crooked ways so Cross decides to head East. His strength and skill with a gun make Cross both friends and enemies on the boat he is taking down the Mississippi.
He is saved one night from a fatal stabbing by Charles Granville, a well-to-do Southerner, who recognizes a startling resemblance between himself and Cross. He proposes that Cross repay him by taking part in a daring deceit. Feeling indebted to Granville, Cross agrees and heads to New Orleans.
But can Cross actually pull off the masquerade? And what is behind Granville’s desire to have Cross take on the role of himself?