It is the early part of the nineteenth century and although New Englanders have been spreading their wings and moving ever further west for years Evelyn Brook, the daughter of wealthy Jonathan Baker, has lived in Maryland all her life and would never think of leaving. She doesn’t know how to cook, she doesn’t make her own clothes, and she doesn’t take care of her own children. That’s what servants are for.
Evelyn does have a good education for a girl brought up in those days, and she is compelled by her father to teach school just long enough to get a taste of the power of independent thought. But after her marriage she settles down in a mold set by generations of the upper class in New England and is quite satisfied with her life, for the most part.
Then the unthinkable happens and she finds herself without servants, riding in an expensive but uncomfortable and clumsy covered wagon. Evelyn not only has to learn to cook, but she has to eat her mistakes while she learns. She soon discovers that the clothes considered suitable for the women of her class in society are totally unsuitable for the trail west. So she learns to sew. Can life get any harder?
It certainly can. Added to all the menial labor Evelyn is learning to do, she is given the task of teaching her and her brothers’ older children. Evelyn’s father has everything under control and Evelyn’s niece, Alice, is delighted with the whole impossible situation; but then, Alice is only four years old and doesn’t have to do anything but enjoy the fruit of other people’s labor.
Evelyn doesn’t like any of these changes, but being a good woman is important to her so she hides the anger and frustration I her heart and puts on a happy face. She learns to do her duties as mother, wife, and teacher well without revealing her feelings. But her thoughts aren’t so complacent. She hates her new life, and being pregnant with her third child doesn’t her general miserable state of mind. She doesn’t want to hear about tall evergreen forests and cool streams stocked with unbelievable large fish and lined with berries. What does she care for that? Home had all the delicious dishes she could desire and they were prepared by someone else.
Adding insult to injury, the other members of Jonathan Baker’s family all seemed to think this insanity is a joyful lark.
Jonathan himself has always lived an unsettled life, popping from one war into another and never staying with his family. But now that he is an old man, instead of staying put and enjoying his later years like any sane man would, Jonathan takes on a new battle. The trouble is, this battle is with the untamed west and he is taking his family with him. Evelyn thinks the whole family has lost its sense of reality.
To complicate matters, one of Evelyn’s brothers, Stephen, is seriously injured when one of the members of the wagon train mismanages a plot to rob their fellow travelers and Stephen tries to intervene. Evelyn’s world seems to be falling apart and when her husband goes after the culprits and their plunder, not returning when expected she as to take the added responsibility of doing her husband’s job along with her own.
Since the other members of the family are busy with their own responsibilities to help Evelyn with her burdens a Presbyterian minister traveling with the train helps her get through some difficult ordeals. Evelyn is mad at God but the minister keeps telling her God loves her and will help her if she will let him. The minister tells Evelyn God made her the way she is and gave Lawrence to her because he knew she needed him. He seems to be making quite an impression with some of the other members of the Jonathan Baker family but Evelyn tries to ignore him.
However, Evelyn’s attitude is gradually changing without her realization. As her muscles get stronger she gets used to the burdens; they become less of a burden and more of a reason for pride. And Evelyn can’t help remember what the minister said about it being God who made her and he wanted to help her.
Then one of the young culprits Lawrence has been chasing rides into camp with the news that Lawrence is dead. Everything dies inside of Evelyn until she remembers her children and decides she must go on being a “good mother” even if she is dead.
Evelyn’s lifeless indifference to everything that doesn’t relate to her children frightens her family and they go in desperation to the minister for help, which opens the door for the whole family to get a glimpse of the Maker and his love for them. Most of the members of the Baker family have always believed in a social gospel. The ones who don’t believe that all the gospel contains is a sort of rule book for society haven’t made themselves obnoxious by arguing with the ones who do, but now the door is open they began to slowly make their faith known.
Evelyn gradually comes back to life and realizes she can actually find joy in winning the battle over her ordeals. Everything the minister, Daryl O’Riley, says seems to have profound meaning now and Evelyn is no longer content with a social gospel. Her entire family seems to be leaning the same way and it isn’t long before they all find “new life in Christ” is better than a social gospel any day.
Then Evelyn’s mother has what seems to be a heart attack and the whole family learns to pray. God answers their prayers and increases their faith for the trails ahead.
Evelyn’s father is beginning to know the guilt of dragging his family into his passion for adventure and bringing suffering to them as a consequence. He offers to send Evelyn and the children back home to the east, but Evelyn discovered her home changed position and is traveling with her.
Evelyn gives birth to twins west of the Snake River. The pride in the woman God created is growing with each victory, and giving birth to live healthy twins on the uncut Oregon Trail is no little accomplishment.
Every incident in Evelyn’s life is an opportunity for Daryl O’Riley’s help. He is beginning to be very important to Evelyn and her children. And the two of them are unintentionally getting to know each other.
By the time Evelyn and her family get to the Willamette Valley in Oregon Daryl O’Riley’s place in Evelyn’s heart is fixed and the book is finished with their wedding.