After Thaddeus Walker rescues a runaway slave, Buford Owens, from hanging, he finds the companionship lost after his brother died from a snake bite. Convincing Buford to go west with him, Thad gives Buford his brother's gun and teaches him how to use it. Thad also gives Buford a new name, William Buford Chance, teaches him how to ride, herd cattle, and most of all, how to be a free man. Now free, Buford earns the respect of others by being himself, an honorable and courageous man. His greatest fear is that Thad's thirst for danger will get them killed.