John Wayne stars as the young hillbilly moonshiner Matt Mathews in The Shepherd of the Hills. Burdened from boyhood by a family tragedy, his life is driven by the need to avenge his mother's abandonment by an uncaring father. The stern family matriarch Granny Becky (Marjorie Main) in the absence of both parents, has taken over the leadership duties for the extended family of moonshiners. The arrival of a stranger (Harry Carey) is cause for alarm in this small community whose main source of revenue is illegal corn whiskey. This stranger, a quiet older man, has healing ways that begin to alter the face of the community. Rejected by the locals, he is befriended by Matt's pretty barefoot girlfriend (Betty Field) who learns the secret of his healing powers and the curse of vengeance that torments the man she loves. The heated confrontation between the two men leads to a startling climax that threatens to tear the town apart.