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While celebrating their rich gold strike at the local saloon, prospectors Len Briggs and Bob Pliny meet drifter Nick Buckley, who has come to town seeking shelter for his pregnant mare. The old prospectors offer Nick the use of their shack, but Nick becomes sidetracked when Tex Brandaw suggests that he and his horse occupy an empty stall in the town stable instead. Later that night, Brandaw and his partner, Jim Rupple, murder the two prospectors at their shack and steal their map of the claim. After dividing the map in half, the two split up and agree to meet once they are safely outside of town. The next morning, Luella Purdy, the feisty owner of a traveling general store, befriends Nick and gives him blankets and medicine for his ailing mare. Nick then leaves town, and shortly afterward, his mare gives birth along the trail. A short distance away, Brandaw lays in ambush for Jim. When Brandaw shoots Jim's horse and steals his portion of the map, Jim seizes Nick's mare at gunpoint and gallops after Brandaw. After the sickly mare founders and dies, Nick catches up to Jim. Enraged because Jim has killed his beloved horse, Nick calls on him to draw his gun and then fires and kills him. Brandaw, who has been following Jim, witnesses the shooting and promises to explain to sheriff Jim Moyer that Jeff was killed for horse stealing. Anxious to return to his helpless foal, Nick agrees to let Brandaw deliver Jim's body to town. As soon as Nick leaves, however, Brandaw steals the map and later reports to the sheriff that Nick has committed all three murders. Soon after, Luella finds Nick and his starving foal on the trail. After loading the foal into the back of her wagon, Luella takes him to an old prospector who owns a nursing burro. When the foal eagerly suckles the burro, Nick buys the animal, named Sappho, from the prospector. As Nick and Luella journey on with Sappho and the foal, they confide their dreams to each other and Nick tells her about killing Jim for stealing his mare. When the sheriff gallops from the hills to arrest Nick for the murder of the prospectors at their shack, Luella, knowing that Nick spent that night in town, defends him. After the sheriff refuses to believe Nick's story, Nick overpowers him, chains him to Luella's wagon and vows to bring back Brandaw. While Nick rides out on his quest for justice, Luella cares for the colt, whom she names Breeze. After may fruitless months spent searching for Brandaw, Nick encounters Luella's wagon along the trail and visits Breeze, who has become inseparable from Sappho. Once again, the sheriff and his posse appear and fire at Nick, wounding him. With the posse on his tail, Nick seeks refuge in a ghost town saloon owned by Joe Faringo. Recognizing Nick as a wanted fugitive, Faringo thinks that he must know the location of the gold and shields him from the sheriff. After the sheriff departs, Faringo takes Nick prisoner and physically coerces him into drawing a map to the mine. Leaving Nick in the care of his henchman Jake, Faringo then rides in search of the gold. While in town one day, Luella hears the doctor bragging about treating Nick's wound at Faringo's saloon and hurries to the saloon to help Nick escape. As the two gallop off in Luella's wagon, Faringo, who has discovered that the map is a fake, returns and shoots at them. Finally picking up Brandaw's trail, Nick starts on foot through the desert with Sappho, unaware that he is being followed by Faringo and Jake. In the blazing sun, Nick discovers that Sappho has been shot during their escape from Faringo's saloon. After removing the bullet from her thigh, Nick builds the burro a shelter and is about to leave her with a bucket of water when Breeze, who has broken free from Luella, appears in search of his friend. Meanwhile, the sheriff again overtakes Luella and she agrees to lead him to Nick. Taking the colt with him, Nick treks farther into the desert and finds Brandaw at the mine. Trapped amidst the sun-scorched rocks by Nick, Brandaw spends five hours in the sweltering heat before offering to confess in exchange for a drink of water. As Brandaw begins his confession, a shot rings out, felling him, and Nick turns to see Faringo and Jake. The sheriff and Luella then arrive just as Faringo takes aim at Nick, claiming that Nick shot Brandaw. With his dying breath, Brandaw admits that he killed the prospectors and Jim and names Faringo as his assailant. Exonerated at last, Nick, with Luella's help, loads the wounded Sappho into the wagon. With Breeze trailing behind, they decide to permanently unite their little family.