Having lived in the hills of Kentucky all her life, Ma Cagle has an intense hatred for revenue agents, one of whom, Zeb Turner, killed both her husband and her father. Her son Rufus, who is drafted during the World War, is reported killed in action, and, in an act of defiance, Ma shelters an Army deserter for more than a year. When Rufus unexpectedly returns, he informs his mother that the deserter, whom she has come to love like a son, is the son of Zeb Turner. Ma demands that Rufus kill the boy, but, softened by his experiences outside of the hill country, Rufus refuses and lets him go. Rufus' new attitude is put to a severe test when Emmy Todd, the girl he loves, is attacked by the sheriff. Rufus goes after the sheriff in a homicidal rage, but instead of killing him, he brings him back to his own jail to stand trial. Rufus is appointed the new sheriff and brings law and order to the backwoods.