Last Updated September 5, 2023.
During the terrible winter of 1886 to 1887, a young Montana cowboy spends all his money on a beautiful pair of handmade cowboy boots rather than saving some of it to buy a better coat and mittens. He tries to go south, where he hopes it will be warmer, but he freezes to death one night regardless. The next day, three other cowboys from Box Spring find his blue corpse in the snow, and one, known as Dirt Sheets, remarks that he wears the same size shoe as the frozen man. The boots are frozen on, so he cuts the dead man's legs off at the shin so that he can thaw them out later and thus make use of the boots himself.
The men keep moving, rounding up stray cattle, and decide to stop at a local man's home for the night. Old man Grice offers them a roof, some stew, and a lean-to for their horses to stay in. (His horses, meanwhile, sleep inside of the house to stay warm.) The men stay up late playing poker, and all the cowboys lose money to their host.
In the morning, Dirt Sheets wakes up earlier than everyone else and remembers that it is his mother's birthday. He will need to hurry to send her a telegraph because the office closes early, and so he checks his new boots to see if they are thawed out yet. They are, so he pops the dead feet out and tosses them in a corner with his old boots. He puts the new boots on, saddles up, and heads to the telegraph office.
When Grice wakes up, he makes coffee and starts breakfast before he sees one of his horses playing with one of the feet. He sees the other foot and realizes that he only has two guests asleep on the floor rather than the three that went to sleep there last night. Old man Grice starts screaming, yelling at the two sleepers, calling them "survivors" and telling them to wake up. He thinks that his horse, a blood bay that he has called "hard" and somewhat wild, has actually eaten a man whole, leaving only his feet behind. (A blood bay, incidentally, is a bay horse that is red in color.) Grice kicks the horse out of the house, but he is secretly pleased that he owns a horse that is tough enough to eat a "raw cowboy."
The other two cowboys drink some coffee while Grice apologizes for the "accident," saying that he had no idea what kind of a "brute" the horse really was. He wants them to keep what happened to themselves—in other words, he does not want them to turn him in—and he offers them all of his money, including what they lost to him the night before, to keep quiet. They take all the money offered, finish their coffee, and ride out. That night, when they see Sheets, they don't say a word about the horse or the money, and they feel comfortable splitting the money two ways rather than three.