These Thousand Hills traces the rise of Lat Evans from penniless cowboy to well-to-do rancher, civic leader, and political candidate. In order to attain the success that he craves, in order to reach a financial and social level which his pioneer father merely dreamed about, Evans must struggle with nature, with society, and with his own impulses.
Courage, skill, and luck are essential if a poor boy and raw hand such as Evans is to succeed. Because he can break horses, he earns top wages on the drive to Fort Benton, Montana, and there wins the wild horse Sugar in a bronco-riding exploit. A hard winter of wolfing and capture by Indians also test his stamina, but luck plays a part in the medical feat which wins his release from captivity and even in the race on Sugar, which gives him a stake.
As Evans moves up the ladder, he becomes more concerned with guarding his reputation than he is with guarding his life. Although he continues to be generous to his dirt-poor parents and to his old companions, he becomes more and more concerned about his associations, more and more vulnerable in his new social role. The conflict of loyalties intensifies, and in the last section of the book, his ambitions are threatened by the desperate acts of his friend Tom Ping, the appearance of his scoundrelly grandfather Hank McBee, and the suspicion of murder which falls upon Callie, the prostitute who has helped to make him a success.
It is at this point that Evans must recognize the price which he and those who love him must pay for his success. The choice which he must make is heartbreaking; he expects to lose his status, his family, his ranch, and his political future. He realizes, however, that being worthy in his own eyes is more important than any other consideration, and he chooses to be loyal and honest. At that point, Guthrie permits him to be reprieved through the loving choices of his friends and of the two women in his life. The lesson has been learned, but the ultimate price has not been demanded of Evans. Although he can never forget those times when he turned his back on his family and his friends, above all on Callie, there will be no price except memory. His luck has held.