When a gold rush strikes the town of Jackson, greed in the form of Paul Garrett, the town bully, causes the death of a number of gold panners. A school mom (Mae), a freighter (Murphy), a panner (Moses) and an 11 year old street kid (Will) combine to take care of the orphaned children. At first Murphy gets cold feet who runs off Will when he is afraid of getting too close. But the quick wit of Mae brings Will and Murphy together. When Mr. Rodman threatens to take away the orphans to the workhouse, and it looks as though the Church won't provide support in time, a ...
Now that they are settled in at Gold Hill and feeling safe, a visiting Priest sent by the Bishop throws a wrench in the gears. Father Parker's inexperience and one of the boy's bed wetting cause Murphy, Mae, and Moses problems.
While in town to sell two cows for much needed money, Father Parker receives a sign to purchase a horse (Thunder) to enter into the town's $1000 jackpot horse race. With Mr. Rodman breathing down Gold Hill's neck for empty food shelves and Thunder who cannot be ridden, it looks like Gold Hill may be in trouble.
A mountain man (Eli) comes down from the mountains with his adopted child (Drew) and brings the child to Gold Hill for some education. Later, a number of the kids get themselves put into the Claymore work camp in order to save Ephram who was sent there.
After Ephram is jailed and sent to Claymore work house and Will and Drew get themselves sent there also to rescue Ephram, they discover that it isn't as easy to get out as they thought. It looks hopeless, until Murphy hatches a plan to get them out.
When Gold Hill runs short of money, they accept an offer of a school administrator, along with state funds. This results in unforeseen circumstances, including Murphy and Moses being kicked out and Gold Hill becoming a work camp.
When the owner of Gold Hill shows up talking constantly to his invisible mother, it brings more than a few laughs, and worries from the Gold Hill folks that he might actually find gold and they will have to leave.