British Captain Taylor Shields' brother William and his wife Elizabeth, have traveled to make a new life but when Taylor fails to secure trading contracts, William holds the family inheritance over his head, pushing Taylor to take him out, and only Hawkeye witnesses the truth.
Captain Taylor enlists two ne'er do wells to help him get rid of his brother. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is rescued by Hawkeye as she attempts to find her husband in the French fort. They blow up the fort, but the French have taken her husband elsewhere.
Elizabeth picks berries in the woods, but is frightened by a bear, running back towards the fort, she runs into the arms of Hawkeye. She has nightmares about it, realizing she should take Hawkeye's advice and learn how to take care of herself. The first step: learn to shoot. She trades services with him. He teaches her to shoot. She teaches him how to read.
Young widow Sarah Pritchard is rescued from a lecherous French trapper by Hawkeye, but the trapper is killed. His Huron Mingo squaw wants revenge and has Hawkeye captured for torture and death. Hawkeye asks for a 24-hour furlough to set his life in order with Sarah and with Chingachgook, his Delaware friend. The Huron chief grants him his furlough, but when Hawkeye returns, things turn out differently than originally planned.
The French are laying siege to the fort. Rumor comes that the French have a 30 - pound cannon the length of 3 men. While peparations are made for surrender, Hawkeye, Elizabeth, and Chingachgook conceive a daring plan to capture and destroy the cannon.
A couple from Virginia with a child seek safety in the fort, only they aren't the baby's parents, but uncle. When the baby is stolen by Hurons, Elizabeth goes to the camp to bring the white child back, even if she has to raise it herself. What she doesn't realize is why the Hurons took the baby in the first place, to raise it in place of the baby they lost. Elizabeth has a hard decision to make.
An old friend of Hawkeye's shows up just after two Delaware Indians are murdered and scslped, and a third gets away, but is seriously wounded. Harry had found Hawkeye at age 13 and taught him the ways of the woods, but Harry has changed, and not for the better.
On the way to visit his aunt Elizabeth, young Andrew sees two Hurons meeting with a white man, but he doesn't see his face. Adjusting to life at the fort ia difficult for young Andrew, especially since the white man he saw wants him dead. Hawkeye teaches the young man how to fight to defend himself, a skill he'll need when the fort is attacked.
Two young men attempt to rob Elizabeth's store. One is caught and hung for it because it's a hanging offense to steal in a time of war. The brother who escaped sets up Taylor to be captured by the French. Elizabeth is along when Taylor is taken. It's up to Hawkeye, McKinney and Peevey to help Taylor and Elizabeth escape, yet Hawkeye runs afoul of the brother.
Claw, a Delaware tribesman, hates all Europeans and sparks a rebellion among the friendly Native Americans, forcing the English from their own fort. Even the efforts of Hawkeye and Chingachgook fail to bring peace between the allies.
A Frenchman in the guise if a Huron is taken prisoner, but there is more to Luc than meets the eye. He fights differently and seems more intelligent than a regular soldier. He and Hawkeye have a respect for each other. They realize they could have been friends if "time and circumstances were different."
Hawkeye is accused of treason when Taylor is shot during an almost disastrous military campaign. The evidence proved it was Hawkeye's rifle ball that shot Taylor. Hawkeye was sentenced to face a firing squad.
A ne'er do well bully strikes a bargain with Taylor for amnesty against charges in exchange for information leading to the capture of a French general traveling incognito within a day's ride of the fort. The ruffian beats up McKinney and attacks Elizabeth. Hawkeye learns the information for Taylor and goes after the general himself.
Elizabeth's father comes for a visit in order to force her to go home to Virginia with him. He thinks she's having an affair with Hawkeye, both deny it. Taylor sees an opportunity to lay his brother's memory to death, but it backfires on him.
Elizabeth Shields accidentally invades a Delaware sacred land while chasing a fleeing horse. She is seen by the shaman who informs the leader of his tribe about this fact, the Delaware law is clear about Elizabeth's destiny, she offended the sacred spirits and unless she perishes in a violent ceremony disgrace will fall upon the Delawares. Hawkeye tries to convince the natives to forgive his friend since she meant no harm, but as a smallpox plague hits the tribe killing many their leader is decided to kill the woman to save his people from disease. While this happens ...
Elizabeth's missing husband, William returns, and everyone's lives will be affected. Tales of his torture, the Hurons respect, and how he has changed, come to light, but Chingachgook detects a dark purpose.