The Mormons are preparing to continue their arduous trek to Utah, interrupted by the Mexican War. With the death of her father, fifteen year old Ellen assumes the responsibility of guiding her mother and brother in their frail wagon on this long journey. Chris Danham, a Missourian, is Ellen's friend and helper through the hardships she encounters, the greatest of which is emotional rather than physical. Her hatred and jealousy of Zina Safford is resolved in a dramatic episode in which Chris, Ellen and Zina, intending to make their way alone, discover an avenue of rescue from the paralyzing snow for the entire wagon train. Because the story does not recount a thousand and one adventures, the problems and incidents take on ling and realism creating a moving story of wagon train life.