The citizens of the small North American community of Poker-Flat are determined to clean-up their settlement with a view to its moral improvement, and to that end have, with the approval of the town's Sheriff, decided to expel those individuals whose presence sets a poor example to the others. These include the notorious gambler John Hamlin, the drunken thief Uncle Billy, and two women of dubious virtue known as Mother Shipton and Dolores. This little group is therefore thrown out of Poker-Flat and have no choice but to take themselves elsewhere. The nearest community, a place called Sandy Bar, is more than a day's journey away across the Sierras, and they set off. Tiring as they naturally do, they reach a spot high up in the mountains and call a halt. Here they are joined by a couple running away together from Sandy Bar – a young girl called Piney Woods (who worked in the Temperance House) and her admirer Tom. All of them settle down to spend the night. In the morning, however, Hamlin discovers that Uncle Billy has made off with the horses and most of the provisions, and that heavy snow has fallen, hemming them in. There is no possibility of travelling either forwards or backwards. The little group makes the best of things, occupying a small hut and keeping themselves warm and fed as best they can. Eventually it is clear that their chances of survival are slim. Mother Shipton is the first to die. Hamlin disappears, leaving his portion of food to the others, and a little distance away marks his own epitaph on a tree.