Chased by a posse to a remote cabin, Jeb (Robert Mitchum) is joined by his fearful wife Thorley (Teresa Wright), awaiting the arrival of the men tracking them, as they try to reason out what has gone wrong in their lives. Jeb can't remember anything about his early childhood except for a horrible incident in which the people around him were killed by a mysterious stranger, whose flashing spurs were all the boy saw. He was raised by Ma Callum (Judith Anderson), alongside her two children, Thorley and Adam, as one of her own. But every time Jeb seemed poised to find peace, or even simple stability in his life, lurking nearby was Grant (Dean Jagger), a one-armed stranger who seemed bent on tormenting Jeb -- Jeb doesn't know who he really is, much less who Grant is, but Grant knows enough about him and is good enough at manipulating human nature to make Jeb a target for jealousy and murder. Making Jeb's life even more complicated is the fact that he and his adopted sister Thorley fell in love with each other, while Adam (John Rodney), his adopted brother, has come to hate him. The machinations around Jeb and Thorley come home to roost in multiple shootings and murder, a deadly chase and a long-planned lynching.