Once upon a time in the West, Eden Murdoch and Brad Randall met and fell in love. But Eden was happily married to a Cheyenne medicine man, Hanging Road, and Randall, an officer in the Army, had a promising career and a wealthy fiancée waiting back East. Ten years later, in 1878, Eden's life with the Cheyenne and Brad's life as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs have both fallen apart. In a minor example of Black's providential approach to plotting, lightning from a clear blue sky strikes Hanging Road while, under the direction of Brad's agency, the Cheyenne are relocated to reservations where they will starve. For the sake of her nine-year-old daughter, Eden returns to white society and homesteads in Kansas near Solomon Spring, a natural, and naturally sacred, spring. When the spring's owner, that subtle villain Phineas Claypool, commercializes the site, Eden protests and lands in jail. Back east, Brad's wife is having an affair, and the new Secretary of the Interior reveals that he has no sympathy for Indians. Virtuous Brad quits both wife and job and heads westward to tell Eden that her son, presumed dead, is alive and well. When Lawrence Murdoch, the boy's father and Eden's abusive first husband, turns up to claim the wealth of his son's adoptive parents, someone shoots him, and Brad is arrested for his murder.
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