The flare-up between Zeb Walters of the Red Hammer ranch and Broken Arrow's top-hand, Jim Braddock, is brief and unexpected. It earns Zeb a lump on the head, a night in the cells, and a five dollar fine. The cause is a mystery to everyone, including Jim Braddock, but over the following days, the event becomes a major talking point in Big Timber, giving rise to much gossip and speculation. It is several weeks, however, before Jim and Zeb meet again, this time on the snow swept bank of a creek that forms the boundary between the two ranches. The outcome leads to death and violence, lost trust, a new ally, the threat of range war, and a noose around Jim Braddock's neck.