An unwed mother must make a difficult decision when she falls in love with a stranger. The stranger, having been accepted by the small community after killing a bear at the annual winter ceremony, accidentally kills the father of the woman's child. The dead man's family vows revenge and demands the woman choose between her lover and child.
Dreaming of a better life, Depression-era widower and clockmaker Wayland Jackson packs up his car with his daughter and her pet pig, and hits the road. But the car stalls in the brutal North Carolina hills during the winter, leaving the Jacksons stranded at the door of Collie Wright's shack. Collie, who has an illegitimate child, is skeptical of the Jacksons, but she takes them in anyway. Then her brothers make Wayland prove himself by joining them on a bear hunt. After Wayland has earned the boys' respect, he wins over Collie's father by building a clock tower next to the town church. Soon love blossoms between the modest clockmaker and the woman who took him in. Wayland's dreams, however, are shattered by the grim Campbell clan across the river, one of whom, Cole, claims to be the father of Collie's baby. After Cole asserts his authority on both Collie's family and new man, the stage is set for a feud between the Campbells and the Wrights.