Stewart plays Jeff Webster, who arrives in Skagway, Alaska with a herd of cattle during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Jeff and his partner, Ben (Walter Brennan), mean to drive the cattle to Dawson, Yukon Territory, and sell beef to the gold miners for a fat profit. However, Jeff runs afoul of Skagway's self-appointed "Judge" Gannon (John McIntire), who is really the local crime boss. Gannon seizes Jeff's cattle as "government property".
Local saloon owner Ronda Castle (Roman), Gannon's business partner, is taking the seized cattle to Dawson, and hires Jeff as the cattle driver. Jeff agrees, but under cover of darkness he steals the cattle and sets off to Dawson for himself. Jeff gets the herd to Dawson and sells them to Ronda, who is setting up a new saloon in Dawson. Everything seems well for a time, until Gannon and his goons also come to Dawson. With Dawson a disorganized mining camp that lacks law enforcement, Gannon and his men are free to take over the town—until Gannon forces a confrontation with Jeff.
- Affably Evil: Gannon is a cheerful sort who keeps saying how much he likes Jeff. He smiles and wishes Jeff good luck on the trip to Dawson, before promising to hang him when he gets back to Skagway.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Ronda is sobbing as she says she loves Jeff, asking him to go away with her.
- Anti-Hero: Jeff is cold and cynical. When Ronda and her party are buried in an avalanche, Renee says they have to go and help, and Jeff asks "Why?". She has to shame him into into it. See also Refusal of the Call below.
- Badass Boast: Jeff to Ben:"For the last time, I don't need anybody's help. I can take care of myself. And I can also take care of you."
- Betty and Veronica: Perfectly straight example, as Jeff is torn between Veronica (dark-haired, sexy, liberated Ronda) and Betty (blonde, younger, sweet, virginal Renee).
- Cannot Keep a Secret: Jeff tells Ben that he didn't tell Ben about the plan to leave Dawson by the river (instead of going overland, which would mean a confrontation with Gannon in Skagway) because Ben can't keep a secret. Sure enough, not thirty seconds later Ben is blabbing about leaving Dawson by river. Later, his indiscretion in going back to town to get extra coffee for the trip leads to disaster.
- Comforting Comforter: Jeff drapes a blanket over Ronda as they bunk down for the night.
- Establishing Character Moment: Jeff delivers his cattle to the steamboat, pays off the two cowboys still with him, gives them their guns, and then dares them to shoot him. He is established as a hard-bitten anti-hero.
- Gold Fever: Discussed Trope, as Rube muses on how gold "drives a man crazy".
- In the Back: How Ben gets it, when Gannon's murder squad ambushes him and Jeff.
- Meet Cute: Jeff, who is wanted for murder (he shot two cowboys who tried to steal some of his cows), dives into Ronda's stateroom and hides while the steamboat leaves for Skagway.
- Miss Kitty: Ronda fits this trope to a T, being older, brassy, sexy, and wearing fancy dresses.
- Must Have Caffeine: Ben "can't live without coffee." It's his going back for an extra bag of it that get him killed.
- Recognizable by Sound: Jeff's belled saddle.
- Refusal of the Call: Jeff is a highly cynical person, regarding heroism as foolish, refusing the invitation by the people of Dawson to be sheriff, refusing Ben's heartfelt plea to stay and help build the town. Then Gannon's goons kill Ben, and Jeff sets out for vengeance.
- Undying Loyalty: Ben is devoted to Jeff, and wants the two of them to go back to Wyoming and build a house so they can live together.