Slim Silver, a top hand, aims to develop a large ranch of his own in the dry country of northeastern Wyoming. Into this area comes a young recent University of Chicago graduate, Jim Carlson. Carlson plans to take a break on his Uncle's homestead, before selecting his objectives for life. However, Carlson is asked to take care of his Uncle John's homestead for the summer, so that his uncle can take his family back east for a while to an easier life, and also earn some needed money. As observed by Jim Carlson, Slim's friendship with a new western couple, the Blanchards (particularly Teresa Blanchard), leads Slim to oppose the major rancher in the area, Butch Hogan, who wants the water from a spring on the Blanchard homestead. Complicating the interactions, Slim also works off and on as one of Hogan's cow hands. Hogan owns the Lazy Bear Lodge Ranch, by far the largest ranch in the area. The Carlson homestead is just across the Belle Fourche River from the Hogan spread and northeast of the Blanchard's homestead as well as Slim's. As such Carlson is in the middle of the story. In this dry country, south of the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming, water is the main issue. Hogan brings in a sheep herd which causes him to be increasingly short of water. The advantage of sheep is that, unlike cows, they will eat almost anything, but they can also strip the country almost bare. As the pressure for water increases, the Blanchards as well as two Lazy Bear Lodge hands, are murdered. Initial evidence points to Slim as the murderer. Slim is indicted and almost lynched, before Jim Carlson and Fred Hardy, Butch's tough but honest foreman, see that justice is finally realized. At the end, Carlson has grown from a naive college graduate to a real western man who ends up settling in the country south of the Bear Lodge. Slim is acquitted, but because of all the events, is never the same.