As the story begins we see Marshall Dillon capture Virgil Bonner, younger brother of Jude Bonner, leader of the "dog soldiers".
Virgil is tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Brother Jude though angry at his younger brother vows to keep him from hanging. To do this he goes to Dodge and kidnaps Kitty to trade for Virgil's life. Festus and Newly are beaten by Bonner's gang and Festus also gets shot. Jude leaves word with the town that if his brother hangs Kitty will die.
Newly goes to find Matt and let him know what happened. Matt tries to get a stay of execution from the governor to save Kitty's life. Though the governor is sympathetic with Matt he cannot grant a reprive.
Matt then goes to Virgil to try and get him to get word to his brother to let Kitty go. Virgil refuses and Matt attacks him before being stopped by the local sheriff.
Virgil is hanged and it is reported in all the papers. Jude finds out that his brother is dead and he and his gang beat and abuse Kitty. Jude brings Kitty back to Dodge and tells the citizens that this is for his brother. As Kitty struggles to get to the Long Branch, Jude shoots her in the back.
Matt returns to find Kitty in very bad shape. Doc tells him of the beating and abuse and says she's lost her will to live. Matt takes Kitty's hand and tells her "I need you". Matt stays with Kitty through the night. In the morning Matt takes off his badge, he is going after Bonner .... outside the law.
Festus and Newly want to go with Matt but he says no, it's something he has to do on his own. Festus, Newly, and half the town follow Matt just the same.
Kitty wakes asking for Matt. Doc tells her he's gone after Bonner. Kitty tells Doc she can't live without him. Doc tells her to believe that Matt will be back.
Matt finally catches Bonner and wants to fight him with his hands not a gun. Bonner tells his men to stay out of the fight unless he loses then he says to kill Matt. We see a fury in Matt such as we've never seen before and in the end he gets the upper hand. Just as Matt is about to crush Bonner's head with a rock, one of his gangs draws his gun to kill Matt but Festus, Newly and the people of Dodge have them surrounded.
Matt drops the rock and watches as his friends lead the outlaws away.