For Clint Ryan, known as El Lazo, the San Joaquin Valley is a land of promise and hope, a rancher's paradise. The grass lies belly-deep, the water is plentiful, and the nearby Yocuts Indians are both peaceful and friendly. But his isolated ranch with its small but loyal crew seems like easy pickings to the vicious Stokes boys and their hardcase outfit of hunters and skinners.
Buck Mueller, shanghaied aboard a brig, violently wrenched away from his peaceful life on a Massachusetts farm, unwittingly finds himself at the mercy of a tortuous sea and vengeful captain and crew. After a grueling voyage around the Horn, the brig anchors at Alta California, where Buck manages a harrowing escape. Survival forces him to become as familiar with riata and musket and a stallion's reins as he was with line and sail.