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Farmer Milt Dominy and his son Daniel, who is called "Snug," commiserate with each other about their loathing of Judith, Milt's second wife, and her brutish son Stretch. Unable to endure Judith's sarcasm, Milt decides to return to the sea and, in the presence of neighbors Robert "Roarer" McGill and Tony Maule, makes out a will designating Snug as his beneficiary. Snug agrees to work for Roarer, despite his loud, overbearing manner, and the next day, accompanies him to examine two mules for sale. While Roarer negotiates with the owner, a stablehand confides in Snug that the mules, named Crowder and Moonbeam, will "drive" for only one man, and he still in the Army. Snug is impressed by the handsome animals, however, and the next day, offers to buy them himself when Roarer cannot control them. Roarer agrees but warns Snug that ownership of the mules will revert to him if Snug misses even one payment. Snug then takes Crowder and Moonbeam to Tony's farm, and Tony, who was once a dedicated mule driver before falling down on his luck and becoming an alcoholic, is thrilled by them. While learning about the mules, Snug also deals with Judith and Stretch, who are trying to take over the Dominy farm, and Roarer's flirtatious daughter Rad, who entices Snug and Stretch to compete for her affections. Eager to help Snug, Tony introduces him to logging foreman Mike Malone, who offers him a well-paying job, that will start when Snug learns how to drive the mules. Tony teaches Snug the commands "scudda hoo" and "scudda hay," which mean "gee" and "haw," country slang for "left" and "right," and one night, Snug drives the animals as they pull a heavy log. Soon after, Rad, who is upset that Snug has been spending so much time with the mules, tells Stretch that Snug can guide the animals and will soon be working at the lumber camp. Hoping to hurt Snug and make money, Stretch apprises Roarer of the situation and offers to beat Snug, after which Roarer can fire him and regain control of the mules. Roarer's younger daughter, Bean, overhears the discussion and warns Snug about the vicious scheme, and soon after, Snug confronts Stretch when he sees him try to force a kiss on Rad. Stretch appears to be winning the ensuing fistfight, but Snug prevails over his stronger stepbrother and gives him a sound beating. That night, Rad apologizes to Snug for her behavior, and the couple affirm their love with a kiss. The next day, Snug's deliberate insolence prompts Roarer to fire him, and Snug goes to work at the lumber camp. Snug intends to use his first week's pay for another installment on the mules and is devastated when Tony, who was holding the money, returns home drunk and broke. Snug begs Roarer to accept a double payment in a few days, but Roarer refuses and asks Sheriff Tod Bursom to enforce his right to reclaim the mules. Seeing this, Roarer's wife Lucy finally stands up to her over-bearing husband and loans the money to Rad, who gives it to Roarer and chastises him for his avarice. Shamed by his family's reaction, Roarer tells Stretch that their deal is off, but Stretch vows that if he cannot have the mules, then neither can Snug. Meanwhile, Snug learns that his father has died, leaving him the Dominy farm, and Tony promises to consult Judge Stillwell about evicting Stretch and Judith. Soon after, Stretch places a wire snare in Crowder and Moonbeam's stall in an attempt to cripple them. Snug and Rad, who are out on a date, are forced by rain to return to Tony's house and there catch Stretch as Crowder is crushing him against the barn wall. Snug rescues Stretch from Crowder then throws him off Tony's property. Later, Judge Stillwell and Sheriff Bursom evict Stretch and his mother from the Dominy farm. As Snug, Rad and Tony are riding back to Tony's, they pass Roarer, whose tractor is stuck in the mud. Snug bets Roarer that if Moonbeam and Crowder can pull the tractor free, Roarer will forget Snug's debt, but if they fail, Roarer will reassume possession of them. Snug also asks for Roarer's blessing of his marriage to Rad if he succeeds, and Roarer reluctantly agrees. Snug expertly drives the animals and soon the tractor is free. Finally, as a happy Rad joins Snug, Roarer concedes that at least the mules will still be in the family.