When in 1848 Mr. Anders, a St. Louis school teacher, decides to take his family across the wagon trail to California, his fourteen-year-old daughter is bitterly resentful. At the verge of maturity, Torrie looked forward to the stylish social life of her home. Instead she finds herself dressed in motley, prey to hunger, exhaustion, and hostile Indians. A brief bout with an unscrupulous but attractive young man teaches Torrie the danger of flaunting her growing feminine charms and she turns with a more mature understanding to Jess, a dignified and courageous Virginian. After many hardships in which Torrie's mother nearly succumbs to death by hunger, the family reaches California and gold, and Torrie, now a woman, sees that beneath her father's apparent ineffectuality lies a strong integrity, beneath her mother's plainess, a moving talent for love. Torrie is a spirited heroine from beginning to end and appealingly drawn against a vivid background of pioneer wagon days.