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In the late 1800s, on a train bound for the Denver jail, May Madison, who has been wrongfully convicted of crimes perpetrated by her ex-boyfriend and fellow prisoner, Newton Cole, jumps out the window. Unknown to May, Cole then knocks out the marshal transporting them, Ed Daggett, and trails her to the town of Timberline. There, May, under the name Vermilion O'Toole, finds a job singing at her old friend Rose's dance hall and attracts the attention of the men from the nearest small town, Pine Top. Pine Top is also home to widower lumberjack Will Hall and his three small sons, Cornelius, Petey and Bucket. After Will heads off for logging camp, leaving his sons alone for a week, the boys realize that spinster Mrs. Edna Stoffer has her sights set on marrying Will, and rush to Timberline to procure a better prospect. Meanwhile, Vermilion discovers Cole in her dressing room and throws him out, and although he laughs at her, he spots Daggett outside the dance hall and quickly goes into hiding. Just then, the boys sneak into the dance hall and, seeing Vermilion perform, declare her perfect for Will. Vermilion gently discourages their subsequent proposition of wife- and motherhood until she notes Daggett's presence and chooses Pine Top as a convenient hideout. Vermilion is spied by Edna, who races to Will's camp to inform him of his visitor. He returns to Pine Top and, though impressed with Vermilion's cooking, remains impervious to her charms and instructs her that she must leave the next day. As soon as Will departs in the morning, Corney tells a half-dressed Vermilion that Bucket has been cornered by a bear. While she rushes to him with a rifle, Corney, who has arranged the incident, also seeks help from his father. Vermilion joins Petey in a tree, and watches as Bucket wanders out of safety and into the path of the bear. Vermilion closes her eyes and shoots, killing the bear. As soon as she and Petey make sure Bucket is safe, Vermilion faints. A grateful Will arrives and carries her home, entreating her to stay on until he returns. Before leaving, Will discusses his late wife, and Vermilion, envious of the depth of their love, realizes that she has not demanded enough from the men in her life. That night, Rose informs Vermilion that she has fallen in love with Daggett and plans to convince him to give up his badge and settle down. By the time Will returns from logging camp, the town spinsters have united against Vermilion. Will, however, enters town just in time to watch her swim with the boys in suits she has sewn. That Sunday, she learns that Will is also the town preacher. He brings her to the clearing that currently serves as a church, where many of the townspeople disdain Vermilion. When Will hears one man call her a tramp, he beats him up and then delivers a sermon on tolerance. Apparently unimpressed, Edna and her friends visit his home later and implore Will to set a better example for the town. Although Will sticks up for Vermilion, she overhears them and prepares to leave, admitting to him that she is wanted by the law. Will is disappointed in her past but urges her to stay and prove she can become the person she wants to be. She agrees and soon attends the women's meeting to raise money for a new church. Her suggestion that they raise money by putting on a show is met with horror by Edna but excitement by the rest of the community. As rehearsals progress, Will grows more impressed with Vermilion's leadership skills, and that night, he takes her in his arms and asks her to marry him. Although she is worried about her past affecting them, she accepts, to the joy of the boys. The day of the show, Rose informs Vermilion that Daggett is turning in his badge. He shows up, however, and refuses to believe that Vermilion knows nothing about Cole's whereabouts. When she enters her dressing room, Cole is there, and Daggett finds them and attacks Cole. Vermilion holds Cole at gunpoint but he escapes into the hills, knocking out Daggett. Will, hearing a gun go off, races backstage and chases Cole into the hills. The two struggle but Will finally knocks out Cole, who tumbles down the hill to his death. Within weeks, Vermilion is married to Will, and cherishes her new identity as schoolteacher and mother.