John Ford had already directed one of the three previous film versions of Peter Kyne's novel under the title Marked Men (1919) with his mentor Harry Carey, a great cowboy star of the silent era who had recently died. It's not difficult to see how the story's sentimentality and Christian symbolism might have appealed to the director's sensibility. John Wayne stars as Bob Hightower, the leader of a trio of thieves who rob a bank in Arizona and take off with the posse of Sheriff Buck Sweet (Ward Bond) in close pursuit. Although they need to stop to water their horses and care for the wounds of Abilene (Harry Carey Jr.), their accurate suspicion that the sheriff is laying an ambush for them at the Mohave water tank leads the gang toward the more distant Terrapin tanks. However, en route, they're waylaid by a terrible sandstorm which scatters their horses. Forced to go on foot, they come upon a lone woman (Mildred Natwick) in a covered wagon who is about to give birth. She dies in childbirth, but not before extracting a promise from the three to take care of her child. Under a blistering sun, they head for New Jerusalem.