The scouts come across the wreckage of another wagon train that was attacked by Comancheros. The only person they find alive is a young Comanchero who warns Hale that his group is planning to attack this wagon train as well, and tells them how and when. Though Hale is inclined to believe the young man, Hawks is skeptical, believing his story may be a trap. Many of the train's passengers believe this as well, and are angry when Hale recruits some of the young men to come with him to check. When some of the young men are killed anger turns particularly against Hale and ...
Caroline Casteel, captured many years ago by Indians, is traded back to a man who brings her to join the wagon train. There she encounters prejudice and hostility from many of the train's passengers. But her biggest hurdle comes when her husband, who had long given up hope, arrives with his young son.
Madame Sagittarius, a fortune teller and psychic, is suspected of being a con woman by the rest of the passengers on the wagon train. Particularly hostile is the father of a young woman who wants to keep his daughter from a young man he disapproves of, as the Madame is siding with and sheltering the young couple. But Wooster takes a liking to the Madame, and soon the two develop a romance.
Wealthy merchant Martin Gatsby, a man with little room for compassion for the less able, wants the wagon train to keep rolling and demands that Hale leave Caleb Lefton and his family behind, because the inexperienced Lefton is often causing delays.
John Augustus, an art collector traveling with the wagon train, wins a game of cards with a Chinese merchant. His prize turns out to be a beautiful Chinese girl. But when he takes her with him on the wagon train, other passengers ask Hale to have him and the girl kicked off the train for their "indecent" relationship.
In the midst of a dry spell and desperately in need of water, the wagon train stops at Mavis Grant's station, the only source of water for miles. But Miss Grant is a bitter and cold-hearted woman who demands an outrageous price for the water that the passengers cannot afford.
After three men who have stolen sacred items from them wander into his camp, Hawks is shot and taken prisoner by Indians, who assume he was acting with them. The Indians are led by the beautiful Lisa Raincloud, who hates whites bitterly because her white mother was savagely murdered by a white gang after marrying her Indian father. She orders that Hawks be put to death after he is well enough. But before he recuperates fully, Lisa and Hawks find themselves falling in love with each other, much to the displeasure of her lead warrior.
Hale finds a gravely wounded Army officer, whom he knew very well and attended the wedding of. The officer is delirious, but before he dies he says things which if true could seriously tarnish the image of a national hero, Shiloh Degnan. Hale rides into the army camp himself to find the truth of the matter. There he finds another officer who has been court-martialed and refuses to tell the full story even though it could save his Army career.
Simon Levy and Patrick McGowan both consider themselves unbeatable at checkers, and when each loses to the other over several games their pride is hurt. Compounding things is that Patrick's son and Simon's daughter are falling for each other despite their different faiths. A more dangerous situation develops when a rancher refuses to let the wagon train cross land on the way to the closest mountain pass unless each member of the train pays him a large amount of money.
A woman on the wagon train is kidnapped by Indians, who say they will only return her when the chief's seriously ill son is taken by the wagon train to a doctor and cured. But some travelers on the train don't want to do anything for the young Indian regardless of whether it costs the woman her life. A priest, who is going through doubts of whether he is worthy of his calling, tries to help the Indian.
Kurt Davos is badly injured while trying to save Florence Hastings, who is trapped in a runaway wagon. Florence, who sometime earlier had tried to kill the man's dog, volunteers to live with and care for Kurt, now paralyzed and unable to speak. Kurt, who used to be active and quick to help others, is now angry and sullen, and Florence has a tough time dealing with him and his dog.
Patrick O'Shaughnessy has come to visit his daughter Eve, believing her to be a respectable married woman. Knowing that Eve actually is the popular owner of a saloon in Bitter Springs, Hawks, Wooster, Duke, and Eve's favorite patrons decide to make it look like Eve is living the kind of life her father thinks she is when he comes to see her.
A Bible-quoting marshal joins the wagon train with his prisoner, a young bank robber whom he claims to be trying to reform. He wants the prisoner to atone for his sins by telling the location of the money he has hidden from his last holdup. The young robber, in turn, falls in love with a young woman on the train, not knowing that she is dying.
The wagon train finds Sam Darland and a number of orphan boys in an old ghost town. Hale tries to convince Darland that it is not safe to stay in the town, as it in the midst of Indian territory and the leader of the tribe has been on the warpath of late.
When his wagon falls down a cliff, Davey Baxter's mother is killed, and his arm is crushed. The doctor is unavailable, so Chris Hale is the one forced to make the decision to amputate Davey's to save his life. This changes everything for Davey and the girl he plans to marry.
Hawks rides to the Kaylor ranch to buy horses for the wagon train. He finds that the owner John Kaylor has just died. His widow Naomi Kaylor and her foreman refuse to sell the horses at the price John had promised. Also, Naomi shows no sorrow over her husband's death, only wanting to inherit the ranch so she can sell it. But then she finds out that John willed the ranch not to her, but to his daughter.
Bitter and alcoholic Stevenson Drake develops a dislike for John Hollister, a fellow Southerner, when he learns he didn't fight for the Confederacy. He also is bothered by the friendliness between his wife and Hollister. Hollister, for his part, doesn't tell anyone what he did do during the war.
While riding back to the wagon train through the desert plains, Duke and Charlie come across a sheriff and his female prisoner, Lily Legend, a childhood sweetheart of Duke's who the sheriff is escorting to be hanged for murder. The sheriff dies of a heart attack, and Duke and Charlie bring Lily with them. A dust storm ensues, and the three find shelter in an old cabin, as do two outlaws. Duke finds his old feelings for Lily returning.
Bella McKavitch wants to kidnap Hale, in order to find out about a gold shipment which she thinks the wagon train is carrying, but her dimwitted sons nab Wooster instead. To keep them from attacking the train, Wooster pretends to be a robber himself with plans for a big bank heist. But he also will have to agree to marry Bella.
When children's dolls are found mutilated in her possession, passengers believe that Sara Proctor is either deranged or practicing witchcraft. Hale slowly arrives at the real story after Sara confides to him about her past in Boston, and her son shows him where he buried even more dolls.
Duke Shannon stops over in the town of High Times, and almost right away gets into a fight with, and accidentally kills, one of the gunmen who are essentially holding the town hostage. Then he finds his horse missing as well. Everyone advises or demands that he leave town, but he decides not to, especially when the only one willing to help him and stand up to the gunmen is a crippled young man who is too liable to get hurt or killed trying to do so.
Hale recalls how Annie Duggan selflessly nursed the elderly couple she worked for until they died of typhoid. Afterward, it was necessary for her to be quarantined for two weeks, but she showed no signs of the disease, and she has agreed to marry Dan Highet, another passenger on the wagon train and the father of two children of his own. Now Dan's little girl has come down with the illness, and Hale must relay to Annie the doctor's devastating news about why so many people she has been close to over the years have died.
The four Hooper brothers are orphaned when their parents are killed in a wagon accident. Hale hopes to find someone to take the boys in, but the only person on the wagon train who is willing to take all four brothers together is spinster Ada Meyers. Charlie, who, we learn, was also orphaned as a child and permanently separated from his own brothers and sisters, is determined that this not be the fate of the four boys whom he has come to care for, so he proposes to Ada himself. But when Ada tells him that she should not accept a proposal unless the man loves her just ...
The Perez family is run out of their town because people believe their daughter Juana is a witch. The family joins the wagon train, and then after Juana's brother Felipe is mauled by a cat, their superstitious father and mother also start to think their daughter may be a witch. Dr. Adam MacKenzie, a doctor with some Indian ancestry, along with his young apprentices, seeks to treat both Felipe and Juana and convince their parents that their beliefs are just superstition.
While scouting in Wyoming territory, Duke is forced by outlaw Tom Tuesday to act as his guide to an important rendezvous in Ruby City, Idaho. Tuesday is going blind from a gunshot wound, and Duke is able to turn the tables on him. But when Tuesday tells the story of his past and his reason for going to Ruby City, Duke realizes he can not leave him for dead and decides to help the man get to his destination after all.
Samuel MacIntosh picks farmer Hamish Browne to marry his daughter Heather, before the two have even met, and gets the young man to sign a contract. But getting them to understand each other may be difficult. Heather is a naive young girl who thinks she can talk to animals, while Hamish is a backwoods boy who cares for his livestock more than for women.
Duke comes upon three women under attack by hostile Indians. They are saved by a man named Blane Wessels who appears on the scene. One of the women, whose husband was killed in the attack, is pregnant and soon to give birth. Unfortunately the Indians are certain to return, so the group finds temporary shelter in an abandoned relay station. Though willing to risk death to fight for the others, Wessels still blames himself for the death of his own wife a few months before, and has become overly cynical and fatalistic, a fact which Duke finds troubling and even ...
Duke and Charlie visit an Army fort to see Duke's friend Clarence Mullins, a minister who was also a lieutenant at the fort. They learn that Mullins was kicked out of the Army for refusing the major's order to massacre a band of Modocs, and that he has now gone into the hostile Modoc territory to preach the Gospel to them. Surprisingly, they find that he has succeeded in his mission. However, Duke also feels that Mullins is overly optimistic about his ability to bring the Modocs and the Army officers together in peace.
Hale is entrusted to deliver a box containing $8,000 to a bank. Young David Garner is determined to steal the box, and he stows along on the wagon train, along with a girl who's in love with him. Following them is a shady man who seems to have some hold over David.
Bill Hawks travels to a desert town to visit an old friend, an Indian who has a ranch there. However, upon arriving on his friend's property, he discovers that it is under the control of the local townspeople, who are drilling for water, and that his friend is nowhere to be seen. The townspeople are unwilling to give him any information, and in fact display outright hostility to him, leading Hawks to suspect that his friend may be in danger or even dead.
Invalid cattle rancher Henry Ludlow is so determined that his daughter Judy not marry young Basque sheepherder Antone Rose that he sells his land and joins the wagon train to head west. When Antone learns of this he joins the wagon train as well to join Judy and marry her. But Ludlow is not telling the full reason for his refusal to let his daughter and Antone be together.
Duke Shannon goes to visit his ranch, Shannon's Glen, which he gave his friend Jim Whitlow a half interest in. Duke finds the Shannon spread now a ranching empire, due mostly to the use of tenant farmers and Jim's ruthless foreman who bullwhips them when they don't produce enough yield. Duke is greatly upset by this and asks Jim to fire the foreman and offer the tenants ownership of their sections, but Jim seems unwilling to do either.
Bill meets young Barnaby West, who claims he is traveling west on foot to Sacramento to see his father, a famous frontiersman. Bill takes a liking to the boy, and invites him to join the wagon train. But he and the others wonder just how much, if any, of young Barnaby's story is really true.