Based on William Gulick’s novel, two former raiders from the Missouri-Kansas border take a wagon train and separate approaches for a new life in Oregon.
Wagon-master Glyn McLyntock (James Stewart) sees Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy) about to be hanged and rescues him. In the evening Laura Baile (Julie Adams) is shot by an Indian. Glyn and Cole sneak up and kill the Indians.
They arrive in Portland, and Tom Hendricks (Howard Petrie) offers to take Glyn up river. Captain Mello (Chubby Johnson) takes an arrowhead out of Laura. Trey Wilson (Rock Hunter) plays poker with Cole and Grundy. Trey accuses Grundy of cheating, and Cole kills Grundy. Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen) learns that Cole was a raider in Kansas. Hendricks in the riverboat takes Glyn and Jeremy up to the rapids. They start a ranch, but Hendricks by October had not brought the supplies he promised.
Glyn and Jeremy ride to Portland. Captain Mello says a gold strike changed Hendricks’ plans. Glyn hires men to load his supplies on the boat. Glyn sees Cole and Laura, who says she is staying in Portland. Hendricks raises prices and argues with Glyn, starting a fight. Cole and Trey defend Glyn in a gunfight. Glyn tells Captain Mello to get the boat moving, and Laura comes with Cole.
Glyn has the wagons unloaded before they reach the rapids. Glyn offers the men a grubstake to help them cross the mountain. Glyn pushes hard to stay ahead of Hendricks and his men. Red and the men plot to steal the supplies. At night Hendricks and his men attack, but Glyn, Cole, and Trey shoot down on them, killing Hendricks.
Prospectors says they will pay $100,000 for the food, but Jeremy says no. While changing a wheel, Red and his men take over; but Cole has a gun. Cole knows that Glyn was a border raider and suggests they sell the supplies because he will be rejected. Red beats up Glyn, and Cole intervenes. He says they will leave Glyn with a little food. Laura picks up a gun and turns against Cole, who disarms her.
They head for the gold camp. Glyn is walking but follows them. Cole learns that Red went after Glyn, who gets his gun and tells them to turn back. Men go after Glyn, and Cole gets the wagons moving. Glyn ambushes them by the river. Cole beats up Jeremy for cutting a horse loose for Glyn. Trey intervenes and is wounded by Cole, who rides to get help from the gold camp.
Glyn takes over the wagons with Jeremy and Laura driving. Cole and men attack them. Glyn fights Cole in the river, and Cole drowns. Jeremy learns that Glyn was a raider and admits people can change. They take the supplies to the ranch and are thanked.
This scenic western entertains by emphasizing the violence and greed that cause dramatic conflicts; but despite all the killing the heroes still value saving human lives and keeping promises while the ruthless and brutal get killed.