When Runt Shelby is released from prison, his second sentence, he knows what he did wrong the other times - going it alone. He will organize a gang, and nobody will send him back to prison. After stealing a horse, he rides into a small town and immediately befriends an orphan in his mid-teens, Luke Carter. And the gang is started.
At the Double Bar W ranch, Ben is concerned about his grandfather's increasing forgetfulness and tells his sister, Charity. After driving a wagon into town to pick up supplies, Ben successfully assists a lady who is being accosted by two drunks. After finding out that the woman, Fiona Sullivan, will be his new teacher when school starts, he invites her out to the ranch. She and the kids' grandfather take an immediate liking to each other. Ben is thrilled. But Charity suspects something is wrong, and she will watch the woman. Unknown to Charity, her suspicions are correct. Miss Sullivan is a blackmailer and a murderess. And Andrew Wright will be her next victim.
Runt Shelby adds more people to his gang. Patch Harris and a gunman known only as "Puma" join up with Runt. A bar maid, Big Sal Hudson, also joins. Only problem, Luke is having second thoughts about being an outlaw. But he knows Runt would kill him before letting him leave. Luke is eventually able to sneak away from the gang. He is replaced by a renegade Indian, "Sioux Nape."
Ben has no prejudice toward Mexicans or Indians. When he finds a wounded Apache boy a couple of years older than him, Ben takes the boy, Gray Wolf, to a cabin on the ranch and begins to nurse him back to health. He brings the boy food every day, and the Apache begins teaching Ben words in the Apache language. Gray Wolf wants to go to Canada, where he can live in peace. But Ben wants him to remain on the ranch until spring. Gray Wolf agrees.
Ben's first encounter with Shelby's gang is partially successful for him. When he comes upon a stagecoach being held up, he runs them off with accurate rifle fire, but not before they abscond with the contents of the strong box.
After pulling a few more jobs, the Shelby gang attacks Little Black Water, taking some kids and their teachers hostage. Charity was helping out, and she is one of the hostages. When Ben finds out that the gang will be leaving the town with seven hostages - one of them Charity - he and his best friend, Kwahu (a full-blooded Hopi boy two years older than Ben), set an ambush. But can two boys, one thirteen and the other fifteen, defeat five outlaws who just as soon kill the boys as look at them?