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When a huge buffalo herd charges directly through his Dakota grazing lands, Sandy McKenzie can only watch helplessly as all of his cattle are killed in the stampede. Buffalo hunter Charles Gilson asks Sandy to join him in hunting buffalo, but Sandy, an ex-buffalo hunter who had abandoned the trade after growing weary of all the killing, is anything but eager to return to that line of work. Charley, a dark and volatile character, remarks that killing, as he learned during the war, is both natural and pleasurable. Realizing he has little choice, Sandy finally agrees to become Charley's partner, and in town, he hires two men to round out the party: Jimmy O'Brien, a red-headed "half-breed" who has decided to leave the reservation and live as a white man, and Woodfoot, a peg-legged alcoholic who once was known as the best mule skinner in the territory. Before the men depart, however, their mules are stolen. Charley pursues and kills the Sioux thief and his companion, then takes a beautiful woman who was with the men and her infant son back to camp, where he orders her to prepare a meal and later kisses her roughly. On the following day, Charley locates a herd of grazing buffalo and, from his position on the nearby hill, shoots until the meadow is filled with carcasses. Sandy kills even more of the magnificent beasts, but he spares a white buffalo because the animal is sacred to the Sioux. Charley, however, nonchalantly kills the beast, and when the Sioux woman sees the slaughter, she bitterly declares, "You take away our food and now you kill our religion." Unperturbed, Charley leads the woman into his shack for the night, upsetting Sandy, who loves her. The next day, Jimmy's friend Spotted Hand offers to trade his horses for the buffalo hide, but Charley refuses and then challenges the young man to a gun battle. Spotted Hand is killed, and that night, the woman secretly gives Jimmy the sacred hide. At some distance from the camp, Jimmy uses the hide in a burial ritual for his friend. Later, Sandy asks why the woman remains with Charley, and she replies that because her people are starving, she must do whatever is required to keep the child alive. Feeling jealous of Charley and guilty at his own role in the killing of the buffalo, Sandy rides into town to sell the hides. He then gets drunk and starts a fight in the saloon, and later he inadvertently insults Peg, the dance hall girl, by suggesting that she is part Indian. Upon his return to camp, Sandy tells Woodfoot of his intention to free the Sioux woman. Several days pass, but few buffalo appear. Driven half-crazy by his desire to kill more animals, Charley mistakes the sounds of a passing thunderstorm for pounding buffalo hooves and sets out in pursuit of his prey. That night, Woodfoot gets Charley so drunk that Sandy is able to ride quietly away with the woman, but when daylight comes, Charley goes after them in a rage. Woodfoot drives Charley's horse away, an act that prompts Charley to kill him. After arriving at the reservation, Sandy learns that the Army never delivered a promised shipment of food and supplies to the Indians who live there. He and the Sioux woman ride to town for the supplies just as bitterly cold weather sets in. In town, Charley nearly kills Jimmy for refusing to speak ill of Sandy, and soon afterward, Jimmy sees Sandy and warns him of Charley's presence. Sandy, Jimmy and the woman drive a supply-laden wagon and a small herd of cattle back toward the reservation. The cold drives them into a cave for the night, but Charley arrives and shouts that when morning comes, he will kill them. The blizzard worsens, and Charley kills a buffalo and wraps himself in the hide for warmth. In the morning, however, Sandy emerges from the cave to find that Charley has frozen to death.