A widowed boarding house proprietress locks horns with a tough, foul-mouthed female trail guide as they battle the elements and risk life and limb to reunite several sickly children with their homesteading families in Oregon.
Synopsis: In Missouri, 1851, MATTHEW is a bit of a rascal, drawing trouble for his financially broke widowed mother SARAH when locals complain about his antics. As a wagon train passes through heading west, several families--each burdened with a sickly child--are told the kids will never survive the Oregon Trail and are better off staying behind. Coming to a desperate decision, the families talk Sarah into accepting a fee for taking in the children, which doesn't make Matthew very happy. In time--getting to know JOHN, REBECCA, REUBEN and troubled VIOLET, and realizing it was wrong for her to take them in and for their parents to abandon them--Sarah makes the fateful decision to go west with Matthew and reunite the four children with their parents in Oregon by using the money they paid her for their care. Unfortunately, no man is willing to guide them--including her rejected suitor, DOHERTY. Sarah's only choice is to bail out hungover brawler BILLIE BRIGGS, a female trail hand who is Sarah's social opposite. Between Sarah's inexperience and primness and Billie's gruff manner, both quickly realize it's going to be a long haul. Not far, Doherty tries to rob Sarah of the money but he's driven off by whip-wielding Billie. Doherty vows revenge. Billie nearly drowns saving the wagon when crossing a river. They're soon joined by trail veteran GREEN HANDLEY, a one-time lover of Billie's. Green wants to rekindle the affair, but Billie won't commit. Nevertheless, she becomes jeaous of the attention Green lavishes on Sarah. The travelers narrowly survive a raging prairie fire. In time, Billie softens to the children and learns the value of femininity, while Sarah takes on a more hardened, capable sheen. Matthew also bonds with the other kids, especially John. When Billie saves Violet from being trampled--and accuses Green of getting too old--he rides off. Billie gets drunk and makes a spectacle of herself. Sarah is touched and infuriated by Violet's story that her PA abused her and killer her MA. And she realizes she's taking the little girl right back to him. Upon finding a dying settler, Sarah and Billie learn the kids' wagon train got lost and has been stalled in a snowy pass with no food left. Over Billie's objections, Sarah insist they try to help them. Unfortunately, that's the moment Doherty returns with a gang of gunmen. Green rides into the midst of a gun battle, helping to kill the gunmen while Billie herself puts Doherty in his grave. Tragically, Reuben has been hit by a stray bullet and dies a more heroic death than he thought he would. Green joins up in their effort to reach the settlers. Once there, Sarah confronts Violet's Pa and kills him when he's about to attack his daughter again. Once Green and Billie help Sarah and the settlers reach the rich Willamete Valley, they decide to ride off together and start a homestead of their own.
Rooted in the realities of authentic Oregon Trail experiences. Draft still has MOW act breaks when it was briefly optioned for TV. They're easy to ignore, especially since it's a really good read. Really.