Prospector Stern Whitman and his little brother, Johnny, have made a once-in-a-lifetime strike high up in the Sierra Nevada. But once word of their claim gets out, their camp is overrun by a motley selection of fellow miners hoping to get in on the action. When one of their number is murdered, the little makeshift community devolves into two hostile factions accusing two suspects of the crime. So Whitman takes it upon himself to cross over the mountains and fetch back a judge to hold an inquest. What follows is a rollicking picaresque adventure with Indian attacks, reversals of fortune, and shamelessly tall tales.