A little wagon wheel going west in 1859, with no gold en route for the reader. His wife dead, his children grown ""to market size,"" Jed Wright at 70-odd years sets out cross-country, leaving upstate New York for California. Traveling with Randy and Will, two younger men, he passes places like Jackass Hill, tastes some whiskey called Old Panther Piss, and meets an assortment of characters including, early on, Tall Man and the One-Eyed Jack, two obvious desperadoes who gun down Randy, inviting revenge and providing another reason to continue on the trail. There are Injuns, Mormons, and Chinamen--who add a little ethnic flavor and run counter to the usual stereotypes--plus a sudden marriage for Jed near the end of the road and the inevitable confrontation with Tall Man. A one-track vehicle from historian Egan, strictly for the beef-jerky brigade.