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Albert Johnson "Lat" Evans, an earnest young cowboy determined to better his situation, wins a job with a cattle drive by busting a wild horse. Befriended by cowhand Tom Ping, Lat fantasizes about owning his own ranch and being rich one day, unlike his father, who died "broke, a failure." When the drive reaches a small Wyoming town, the cowboys congregate at the saloon, where Jehu, an unscrupulous rancher, proposes racing one of their horses against his swift steed. Lat accepts the challenge, and is in the lead when his opponent throws a blanket at his face, causing Lat to lose his balance and fall from his horse. Conrad, the town's upstanding banker, intervenes, however, and declares Lat the winner. That night, Tom and Lat celebrate with saloon girls Jen and Callie. With their winnings, they decide to leave the cattle drive and hunt wolves for their hides. After bidding his cowhand friends goodbye, Lat, feeling melancholy, gets drunk and visits Callie. When Lat recalls a traumatic incident from his childhood in which his father beat him for being alone with a girl in the woodshed, Callie feels empathy. Some time later, Lat and Tom's wolf hunting career ends in disaster when they find themselves snowbound in the dead of winter and their tempers flare. Denouncing Lat's lust for success, Tom dissolves their partnership and leaves. Now alone, Lat is approached by a band of Indians, who try to steal his horse. When he resists, the Indians shoot him, but Tom comes to his rescue and drives them away. Tom leads the wounded, delirious Lat through the frozen, barren wilderness to town, where Callie nurses him back to health. Restless and impatient to become successful, Lat asks Conrad for a loan to buy a ranch. After Conrad turns him down, Callie gives Lat her life savings to buy a piece of land, which he then uses as collateral for a loan to purchase a herd of cattle. Lat makes Tom a partner in the venture, and after a hard winter, Lat prospers while the other ranchers falter. As his fortunes improve, Lat begins to shun Callie for Conrad's niece Joyce. When Tom tells Lat that he plans to marry Jen, Lat questions his decision and calls Jen a tramp, causing Tom to angrily renounce their partnership. One night, while Lat is dining at Conrad's, the banker proposes that he enter politics by running for the school board. Callie, who has baked a cake for Lat, anxiously awaits his arrival, and when Jehu appears instead, she fights off his crude advances. After dinner, Lat goes to Callie's house and informs her that there is no place in his life for her. Soon after, Lat and Joyce are married and start a family. After Lat decides to run for U.S. Senator, he is visited by Jehu and rancher Frank Chanault, who use the promise of their votes to coerce him into joining a group of rancher vigilantes on the trail of some horse thieves. The ranchers corner the thieves at their mountain hideout, and after a gun battle, the two surviving rustlers surrender, and Lat is shocked to discover that Tom is one of them. After Tom confesses, he accuses Lat of worshiping the tin god of money. Jehu sentences Tom to hang, and when Lat protests that he be allowed to stand trial, Jehu knocks him unconscious and then hangs Tom. Riddled with remorse, Lat returns home and Joyce hands him a distress note from Callie. Although Joyce jealousy forbids Lat to see Callie, Lat contends that he owes her a debt and proceeds to her house. There, Lat learns from her servant Happy that Jehu has savagely beaten Callie. Outraged, Lat goes in search of Jehu. After finding Jehu at the saloon, the two begin to fight and their brawl spills onto the street as the townsfolk watch in consternation. Pulling a rifle from a saddle, Jehu aims it at Lat just as a gunshot fired by Callie rings out, killing Jehu. Later, at home, Joyce forgives Lat, and when he informs her that he intends to testify at Callie's trial, she graciously gives her consent.