Every property owner in the Valley is in danger of losing their land due to the legal trickery of a ruthless railroad baron who backs up his action with an army of 200 men. Into this tense scene rides an iron-willed young man who defiantly tells the Barkleys he is the "bastard son" of the dead family patriarch, Tom Barkley - and who demands an equal share of the estate.
With a massive cattle drive about to begin - 3,000 steers, 550 miles in 24 days - Heath has problems gaining the respect of the 40 hands needed to carry it off. His problems escalate when a decorated ex-general of the Civil War agrees to join the drive, because the former general has designs of recruiting the hands and starting his own army.
A Stockton memorial to Tom Barkley and his last pair of dress boots stir memories of him for Victoria and Heath. Victoria travels to Strawberry, Heath's birthplace, to find out just what Tom Barkley felt for Heath's mother Leah.
Audra is attracted to a handsome stranger who saves her life during a horse stampede. His appearance in the Valley coincides with the emergence of a pillaging "protection" ring that has begun to terrorize the area.
After 30 years a man comes back to the Valley to claim land promised to him by the late Tom Barkley. The land is now the site of a proposed dam that will benefit the community. The Barkleys argue among themselves and with the local landowners about whether the man is entitled to stay.
In the town of Lonesome Camp, the Barkleys' investment in a mine is threatened when labor unrest leads to a violent strike. Heath looks into the situation and, due to promises made by the late Tom Barkley years before, the Barkleys decide to fight for control of the mine in order to settle the dispute.
Heath falls in love with Maria, who is returning home from school in the East. She is the daughter of Don Alfredo, a Spanish land owner and nobleman who is in a dispute with a neighbor over land which he claims is his. Don Alfredo also believes that Heath's lineage is impure, and the dispute soon endangers the romance.
A neighboring rancher's teenage son returns to Stockton after being away many years and is immediately obsessed with Audra. He tangles with Audra's defender, Heath, which leads to a feud between the families. The dispute further escalates with a shooting, and then the boy's background is divulged.
Victoria, a surly ex-Barkley ranch hand, and a pregnant Native American girl fight to survive when an earthquake traps them in a church cellar. When it is discovered that the cellar may connect to tunnels from a closed-up Barkley gold mine, not all the searchers really want the rescue to succeed.
An old Barkley friend, a hard-working Mexican national, comes to Stockton to sell his herd of cattle. When it is found out the cattle are infected with a deadly, infectious disease, he refuses to destroy the animals or isolate his cattle from healthy Barkley stock.
Nick is bitten by a rabid wolf, an attack only Heath witnesses. Thinking he is going to die, Nick leaves the ranch and Stockton without any explanation to his family. His journey leads him to re-examine his life and attitudes - and the kindness of a woman and her son give him hope for the future.
Heath lashes out at the Barkleys' new timber camp foreman, who was the sadistic commandant of the Confederate prison camp where Heath was held. The timber crew also resent the foreman - especially two brothers sworn to kill him.
Audra discovers Irish immigrants camping on a section of land on the Barkley ranch - land they insist they bought and paid for in San Francisco. Their leader and Nick clash immediately. Heath, on the other hand, is sympathetic and thinks they are honest people who are mistaken and not squatters.
Jarrod arranges for the girlfriend of a murderous outlaw to be released from jail so she can spend Christmas with the Barkley family. The family has mixed feelings about sharing the holidays with her. She's a wildcat and, with her boyfriend still on the loose, she defiantly vows to re-join him at the first opportunity, causing chaos in the Barkley household.
A family of rawhiders, plundering the countryside, bushwhack Heath and then decide to pretend to be the people who saved him. Their plan to rob the Barkleys is helped along because almost everyone is away from the ranch on a cattle drive. Only a weakened Heath, Victoria, Audra, and one of the bushwhackers' own women stand in their way.