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For years the Falins and Tollivers, hill families of Kentucky, have been feuding for reasons long forgotten. As another generation upholds the vengeful "code of the Lonesome Pine," city engineer Jack Hale comes to mine the coal on their land and bring the railroad to the area. When Hale first arrives at the Tolliver home, he finds Dave, a visiting nephew, dying of gangrene and saves his life. Dave plans to marry his cousin June, but she quickly becomes infatuated with the educated Hale. Judd Tolliver refuses to sign Hale's contract when he learns the railroad will cross Falin land, but acquiesces when Hale promises financial prosperity for his indigent family. June visits Hale frequently with her young brother Buddy, who idolizes the engineer. When Hale encourages June to get an education, she insists on following him into Gaptown, hoping to become sophisticated there. Dave, believing Hale's business deals are a subterfuge for stealing June, goes after the couple with a rifle, but comes into trouble with the Falins, who wait for him in Gaptown. After defending himself against Dave, Hale fights the Falins, while Dave escapes with June. When June refuses to return home, Hale sends her to his sister's home in Louisville. As winter descends upon the hills, Buddy learns the alphabet from Hale, but Dave, resistant to change, leaves the Tollivers. When the Falins dynamite the bridge to the mine, Buddy is accidentally killed, and June returns for the funeral. Hale then swears his love for June, who is now the sophisticated lady she always had wanted to be, but when he refuses to avenge Buddy's death except through the law, she rebukes him. Dave, who also has returned for Buddy's funeral, then goes to the Falins' unarmed, and Buck Falin, the father, apologizes to Dave for Buddy's death. When he leaves, however, Wade Falin, who is still angry about Dave's earlier murder of his brother, shoots him in the back. Before carrying Dave home, Buck wounds Wade. After Dave tells his aunt and uncle he fell on his own gun, the fathers make peace before he dies, leaving June free to marry Hale.