White hat:Rowdy Yates, a young rough-and-tumble trail foreman played by Clint Eastwood, above left, must face the troubles of the trail. He and mentor Gil Favor, played by Eric Flemming, above, ride the trail, trusting their horses and their common sense. They see bandits, mysterious self-driven stagecoaches and distressed townspeople in need of rescue. All the while Gil is training Rowdy to someday take is place as trail boss, a role Rowdy earns despite bottled anger from the Civil War and a predilection for beautiful, sometimes dangerous women.
Black hat: The trail and its travails play the black hat. Winding through the new west from San Antonio, Texas, to Kansas City, Mo., the trail illuminates ghostly stagecoaches, wolves, anthrax-induced plagues, racism and former-war soldiers battling addiction to morphine. The trail even magnifies greed, at one point costing Gil nearly 3,000 cattle and almost his career.