Based on Rex Beach's novel, two miners in Alaska fight to keep their valuable mine from being taken over by a conspiracy of officials.
At Nome in 1900 Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) calms down miner Flapjack (Russell Simpson), whom she staked, and she gets an affidavit from Gold Commissioner McNamara (Randolph Scott). A ship arrives, and Bronco (Richard Barthelmess) takes her to greet Roy Glennister (John Wayne), who arrives with Helen Chester (Margaret Lindsay). Roy intervenes in a gun battle to defend Flapjack. Helen wants to marry Roy; he kisses her but likes Cherry too. Roy's partner Dextry (Harry Carey) wants Roy to stay with Cherry. Roy finds her dealing cards in the saloon; but she puts him off, and McNamara comes in. Three men challenge McNamara; he slugs two, and Roy hits the third.
Stuve (Charles Halton) and Galloway serve notice on Roy and Dextry, who scares them away with his rifle. Helen arrives and tells Roy that law is important; her uncle is the new judge. Cherry is angry at Roy and slaps him when he kisses her. Roy leaves, and Bronco offers himself to Cherry, who declines. Stuve comes back to Roy's mine with McNamara and Judge Stillman (Samuel S. Hinds). Roy agrees to cooperate, but Dextry leaves Roy. Cherry tells Dextry to stay with Roy. Bronco tells Dextry his safe was taken to the bank. Cherry takes Dextry to lawyer Wheaton (William Farnum), where Roy says he has a strategy. Cherry tells McNamara to get in line behind Bronco. Judge Stillman gave Flapjack his claim back, but he postpones Roy's case for ninety days. Roy can't get a loan. Stillman and McNamara laugh and plan to take $250,000 from the mine; but Helen takes Roy's side. Roy asks Stillman to release his funds. McNamara tells Stuve to make sure that Wheaton misses the boat to Seattle. Roy arranges with the captain to pick up Wheaton at sea.
Roy agrees to use Dextry's methods despite Cherry's offer of $4,000. They dynamite the bank and take their safe. Bronco hides and shoots the marshal. McNamara with men asks Bronco where Roy is and says Bronco was seen. McNamara tells Cherry that Roy is wanted for murder and finds him in her room. Helen calls Stillman and McNamara spoilers. McNamara suggests they get rid of Roy. Cherry finds Helen packing and learns Roy will be shot escaping. Cherry persuades Bronco to help her, and they take a drunk to the jail and tell Roy to escape out the front. Cherry tells McNamara that Roy was shot. Roy and Dextry use a train and men to take back their mine in a gun battle. Bronco joins Roy but is shot and dies. Stillman and Helen are leaving. Stuve pulls a gun and is killed by Dextry. Roy finds McNamara with Cherry, and they fight to exhaustion. Cherry says Roy won and can collect.
Crooked lawyers and judges in a frontier region give
miners justification for using violence to protect their claims.