Ike Parson's is a small town sheriff with a big heart.
As the winter in Montana can often be cruel and devastating to farmers, Ike hears about Chas Stubblefield who has fallen on hard times. Ike decides to see for himself and travels to Stubblefield's ranch.
He sees a sight that would shock most other farmers and ranchers. The cattle are emaciated, the feed is wet and rotting and Stubblefield seems to be existing by using the cattle for food. He's depressed and angry at the world.
Ike knows enough not to go into another person's business but as a rancher himself, it's too much.
He brings a veterinary friend to the ranch for a second opinion and then takes legal steps in hope of saving his neighbor and the remnants of his ranch.
What Ike gets is resentment and the loss of friendship of many local friends. When threats begin to come to his ranch, Ike gets angry and realizes that he should have listened to others and let the rancher sink to his own ending - no mater how heartless that seems.
A good description of life in the wilderness and small town life in the Montana winters.