Clayton Jane, a war-weary ex-Confederate from Georgia, heads west to Wyoming, where he reconstructs his life as a ranch foreman and right-hand man for an English cattle baron. When the Englishman's sister, a promising Surrey painter, visits along with her husband and young son, the ranch hands soon learn that this reunion is more than a family gathering. The brother-in-law, who provided most of the investment money for the Rolling F Ranch, has come to take over the ownership and management. As the crew ponders its shift of loyalty to such a man, they begin to see signs that he is a wife-beater. When Clayt attempts to interfere in this suppressed spousal abuse, he finds himself in an awkward position with his present employer and future employer. His dedication to protecting this headstrong artistic woman leads to a surprising bond between ranch foreman and celebrated painter, a relationship that totters between mutual respect and romance.
With these complications in place, Clayt is treated to a new level of troubles. A Pinkerton detective is sent to Laramie to investigate anonymous threats from a would-be president-assassin. President Grant is due to come into town on a political tour, and Clayt--an ex-Southerner--finds himself on the Pinkerton's list of suspects.