Clem Rogers, known as "the Hanging Judge" has come to Stone Junction, Kansas in 1889 to preside over the murder trial of Pete Stone, son of town ruler "Big Tom" Stone. Things are made more difficult when Rogers learns that Joe Rile, the man who killed his father, is working for Stone. The latter, in an effort to discredit Rogers, has his henchmen leave the unconscious, beaten and half-dressed Ellie Irish in his hotel room. On the day of the trial the town slowly fills fills with strangers, all in black and all hired to fill the courtroom. Stone tells Rogers that everyone in the courtroom is related to someone Rogers has hanged and is armed, and defies Rogers to send his son to the gallows.