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In 1896, cattle driver Jeff Webster arrives in Seattle and greets his partner, good-natured Ben Tatum. With Jeff is the herd he has driven across the country, and two cowboys, who have been tied up for attempting to steal steers. Although Jeff killed their cohorts in self-defense, he lets the two hands go free. Jeff and Ben then board a paddleboat heading for Skagway, Alaska, where they plan to sell the herd. Just as the boat leaves the dock, however, the two hands show up with the sheriff to arrest Jeff for killing the cowboys, and Capt. Benson promises to lock Jeff up and have him arrested upon returning. Hearing this, Jeff flees the captain's men, escaping into the cabin of Ronda Castle, who saves him by pretending he is her lover. Ronda, who tells Jeff she may soon need a friend herself, hides him for the rest of the trip, but as soon as they reach Skagway, more trouble awaits. Jeff avoids an unfair cattle tariff by driving the herd through the streets, interrupting a hanging presided over by crooked politician Gannon. Upon learning that Jeff is wanted for murder, Gannon calls an impromptu trial in the local saloon, which Ronda owns. Gannon hears "testimony" over a bottle of gin, then acquits Jeff, but seizes his cattle for disturbing the peace. Later, Jeff witnesses more of Gannon's genially corrupt practices, and turns down his offer to serve as deputy. When Ronda asks him to transport her supplies to her new saloon in the gold rush settlement of Dawson, however, he accepts, knowing that Gannon is having Jeff's cattle transported in the same trip. That night, he meets Renee Vallon, a French Canadian who, in order to send her father to school, collects gold dust spilled on the saloon floor by gold miners. Although Renee is smitten with Jeff, he dismissively refers to the young woman as "Freckle Face." The next morning, Jeff, Ben and their drunken friend Rube set out, along with Ronda and her workers. As soon as everyone is asleep that night, Jeff instructs Ben and Rube to round up the cattle, and Renee spots them as they head back to Skagway. When Gannon hears about the ruse and pursues them, Jeff rushes to cross the Canadian border, where Gannon's jurisdiction ends. Gannon laughs at Jeff's cleverness but swears to hang him as soon as the harsh winter weather begins and forces him to return via Skagway. When Jeff rejoins his group, he finds Renee among them, to his chagrin. While talking along the trail, he warns her never to trust others. The group soon finds Ronda, who, knowing Jeff can lead her team through the rough country, agrees to go along with him. Soon after, however, she ignores his instructions to take a longer route around the snow-capped mountains, and is hit by an avalanche. Although Jeff at first does not want to turn back to rescue her group, Ben and Renee insist, and that night, Renee watches jealously as a grateful Ronda wraps Jeff in a kiss. After arriving in Dawson, Jeff allows Ronda to outbid locals Hominy, Grits, Luke and Dusty for his cattle, and Hominy's restaurant customers flock to Ronda's saloon. Jeff then buys a land claim and begins working it feverishly, and within weeks he has sacks of gold. Ignoring the news that several gold rushers have been killed while trying to leave town, Jeff learns of a trail he can take that avoids Skagway, and prepares to leave Dawson behind. That night at the saloon, after two more dead bodies are brought in, the citizens discuss their need for a sheriff. They urge Jeff to accept the post, but when he refuses, they choose Rube. Soon after, Gannon appears in town, and his men immediately begin to usurp the locals' land claims. When one of them shoots Dusty, Rube tries to stand up to him, and Jeff, seeing Rube outnumbered, takes Gannon's side. Although the older man's life is saved, his pride is mortally wounded, and soon he is drinking ceaselessly. Jeff informs Ben they will leave that night, but when Ben inadvertently tips off Gannon's men, they are followed to the river. There, Ben is killed, while Jeff is shot twice and their gold stolen. Jeff barely makes it back to town, and only Renee will bother to help him. Days later, an abashed Jeff asks Renee why she would bother ministering to him, and she retorts that people must help others in need. When Ronda visits to notify Jeff that Gannon was behind the attack, she asks him to go away with her, but he demurs. Over the next few days, Jeff, whose shooting hand is still injured, witnesses Gannon's men terrorizing the town. Worn down, the citizens decide to leave town. When Jeff urges them to stay and fight, they spurn him. Furious at his helplessness, he tears off his bandage and straps on a gun. In the street outside the saloon, Jeff kills two of Gannon's henchmen, and then calls out for Gannon. When Ronda, afraid for Jeff's safety, runs into the street, Gannon shoots her and then turns his guns on Jeff. In the ensuing gunfight, Gannon shoots Jeff in the leg, but Jeff finally kills his nemesis. Gannon's men begin to file out of the saloon menacingly, but stop short. Jeff turns to see Rube leading the townspeople, their guns raised, toward the saloon. After the beaten outlaws flee, Renee races to support Jeff and he embraces her.