The story is located in Poker Flat, a small Californian community. Certain inhabitants of Poker Flat feel that the community is going down the hill. They have lost a lot of money and the morals of people are thought to be sinking. Consequently a secret committee is elected. This committee decides who will be killed and who expatriated. On November 23, 1850 four people are exiled. The party consists of Duchess, a saloon girl; Mother Shipton, a madam; Uncle Billy, a local drunk and thief; and John Oakhurst, a poker player, who won a lot of money from the people sitting on the secret committee. The four characters get together and leave Poker Flat, heading for a one day’s journey to a nearby camp. After hours of traveling, Oakhurst’s companions get tired, and despite his remonstrances they decide to stop and rest.
Meanwhile, Oakhurst encounters young runaway couple, Piney Woods and Tom Simons, heading to Poker Flat to get married. Tom Simons, also called “The Innocent” has met Oakhurst before. They played Poker together, and Oakhurst won a great deal of money from him. Afterwards, he told Tom never to play poker again, and returned him his money. As a result of this Tom feels positively towards Oakhurst. He is thrilled to see him, and the young couple decides to spent some time with the group, obviously unaware of the fact that they were exiled for being immoral. Tom leads the group to an old cabin that he had found, and they spend the night. Oakhurst wakes up in the early morning and notices it started to snow. Furthermore, he discovers that Uncle Billy has been up long before him and now is gone with all their horses and mules. The rest of the group has no other choice than to wait for ten days until they run out of provisions. As the days go by, Mother Shipton dies of starvation, as she tries to save food for ‘the child’ - Piney. Oakhurst decides that Tom has to go to get some help and he fixes him some snow shoes. Then he tells the two women he will accompany Tom ‘as far as the canyon’. Duchess and Piney stay in the cabin and when their fire dies they fall asleep hugging each other. They look so peaceful and innocent, that when the “law of Poker Flat” finds them, they are unable to tell which one is the sinner, so they turn away and let them be. As for the last, Oakhurst commits suicide.