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At the turn of the century, French Canadian trapper Jules Vincent canoes to a riverside town and cheerfully adopts a stray cat. In the town saloon, Jules is attracted to a Chippewa Indian girl who sings there. While they are talking, a boorish drunk named Max Brody asks the girl for a hug. Jules knocks Brody out after a scuffle, and later drunkenly promises to take the girl north to her people. The next day, Jules does not remember his promise, but tells her that he will honor it. As the pair and the cat, whom Jules names "Ajidaumo," are leaving, Brody runs after them to apologize, then asks to come along, saying that he is good at navigating the rapids. After Jules agrees, they push off, but when they land in McQuarrie, Brody is not with them. Jules takes the girl back to her village, where they tell the chief that Brody was acting recklessly on the rapids. He was accidentally killed when Jules fired a warning shot that went awry because of the movements of the canoe. While they are in the village, North Western Mounted Police officer Constable Pedley arrives to seize some stolen horses. Although Pedley is only looking for horses, the chief advises Jules to go north into the wilderness. Back in McQuarrie, Pedley's sergeant tells him that Brody's body was found and Jules is suspected of his murder. After failing to get information from Callahan, the local store owner and a friend of Jules, Pedley goes to Jules's cabin, where he finds the girl and Ajidaumo. The girl denies knowing where Jules is and says that he is innocent of murder, but Pedley says that running away makes him look guilty. Some time later, as Jules is trapping, he sees his old friend, Father Simon, half frozen in the wilderness. He takes the priest into his shack, but Simon dies after telling Jules that he is too good a man not to go back. At the same moment, Pedley appears. Jules tells him that Brody's death was self-defense, and offers him hospitality, even as Pedley places him under arrest. After helping to bury Simon the next morning, Pedley tells Jules that he is a good man, but must face the charges. They then start out on the trail to McQuarrie, with a handcuffed Jules walking ahead of the dogsled. Along the way Jules makes attempts to undermine Pedley's confidence in his ability to get them back to McQuarrie, but Pedley remains firm and the two men grow to respect each other. One night, two strangers, Ruger and Sloan, approach their campfire after losing their own dog team. Ruger, who recognizes Jules and sees his handcuffs, secretly suggests that they get rid of Pedley. The next morning, Jules tells Pedley about Ruger and Sloan's plan, and when they try to execute it, Jules helps Pedley to overpower them. Ruger and Sloan are then sent away, but given directions to Jules's shack to keep them from starving. Some time later, Pedley leaves Jules at camp while he tries unsuccessfully to get his bearings. On the way back, he catches his leg in a beartrap and Jules comes to his rescue. Pedley must release Jules from his handcuffs to free the leg, prompting Jules to start to leave. He changes his mind, though, and Pedley lets Jules stay without the handcuffs. The next night, wolves attack the campsite. Jules is able to frighten them off with a shotgun, but not before Pedley is badly wounded. Jules cautorizes the wound, but Pedley is so traumatized that he cannot speak or act rationally. Jules takes over and guides him to McQuary, then takes him to his own cabin, where the girl and Ajidaumo are waiting. After helping Pedley to bed, the girl chastises Jules for bringing him back, but he tells her that he could not let Pedley die or be disgraced. A few days later, while the girl is shopping at Callahan's, he tells her that the sergeant has come looking for Jules and that it is just a matter of time before he, like most of the village, deduces that Jules has returned. Jules now realizes that he must do something to help Pedley, a lonely man who earlier said that Jules was lucky to have a home, a girl and a cat. Hoping that facing death once more will snap Pedley out of his malaise, Jules buys an old canoe and takes Pedley to the rapids. As they try to navigate, Jules feigns reckless disregard for their safety, thus bringing Pedley back to life. When Jules fails to be more careful, Pedley fires a warning shot and the two tumble into the water. Onshore, Pedley pulls Jules to safety and thanks him. Later, at a hearing, Pedley testifies that in the rapids he feared for his life and had used his rifle against Jules just as Jules had against Brody. Hearing this, the sergeant lets Jules go free. Jules and the girl walk toward the river, but Jules turns back and gives Ajidaumo to Pedley so that he can build his own home around her.