Elvis Presley stars as Native American rodeo rider Joe Lightcloud, a Navajo whose family still lives on the reservation. He returns to the reservation in a white Cadillac convertible with which he proceeds to drive cattle.
Joe persuades his Congressman (Douglas Henderson) to give him 20 heifers and a prize bull so he and his father (Burgess Meredith) can prove that the Navajos can successfully raise cattle on the reservation. If their experiment is successful, then the government will help all the Navajo people. But Joe's friend, Bronc Hoverty (L.Q. Jones) accidentally barbecues the prize bull, while Joe sells the heifers to buy plumbing and other home improvements for his stepmother, Annie Lightcloud (Katy Jurado).
Joe is able to borrow a bull, Dominick, but the bull is lackadaisical and shows no interest in the heifers. Mamie Callahan (Quentin Dean), the daughter of shot gun-toting tavern owner Glenda Callahan (Joan Blondell) can't seem to stay away from the girl-chasing Joe. Joe also trades in his horse at a used car dealership for a red convertible automobile from which he sells the parts off to obtain cash from a salvage yard. After almost all of the usable car parts are sold, he rides around in a beat-up motorcycle.
In order to raise money, Joe organizes a contest in which riders have to stay on Dominick, the unresponsive bull he procured from his friend as a replacement. In addition, Joe himself has to ride Dominick and stay on in order to win the prize money. Joe wins the contest and receives the prize money. In a fight at his father's house, Joe and his friends are involved in a large fight that destroys the house they have been building.
The screenplay was adapted from the failed Broadway musical 'Whoop-Up,' and retained many of the same plot devices and characters, including Joe's grandfather who refuses to live in a house, preferring his ancestral teepee.