Retired, wealthy sea Captain Jame McKay (Gregory Peck) arrives in the vast expanse of the West to marry fiancée Pat Terrill (Carroll Baker). McKay is a man whose values and approach to life are a mystery to the ranchers & ranch foreman Steve Leech (Charlton Heston) takes an immediate dislike to him. Pat is spoiled, selfish & controlled by her wealthy father, Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford). The Major is involved in a ruthless civil war, over watering rights for cattle, with a rough hewn clan led by Rufus Hannassey (Burl Ives). The land in question is owned by Julie Maragon (Jean Simmons) & both Terrill & Hannassey want it. McKay buys the land as a wedding gift for Pat, but her abhorrent behavior leads him to call off the wedding. When Julie is kidnapped by the Hannassey's, McKay goes to her rescue to avert a bloodbath between the rival Terrill & Hannassey clans. McKay's chivalrous & bold actions lead Rufus to recognize what Julie & McKay haven't; that they are in love with each other.