The Wingates are taking the Oregon Trail to start a new life in the Willamette Valley. Jessie Wingate is elected train leader, though he lacks any leadership ability. Will Banion — who actually has some experience on the trail and knows how to take command and responsibility — would have been a better pick, but they already decided on Jessie and no taksies-backsies. Molly, Jessie’s daughter, has more or less been arranged to marry Sam Woodhull, though it isn’t long before she falls for Banion. This throws Woodhull into a murderous rage and breaks apart the train.
The rest of the novel is pretty much the Wingate train stumbling into an Indian ambush, the Banion train rescuing them, and Woodhull slandering Banion and plotting his murder. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Eventually they reach the fork in the trail splitting off to either Oregon or California. Banion, who’s learned that there’s gold in them thar hills, opts for the southerly route, trailed by Woodhull, still murderous. The Wingates press on north for whatever reason. Jessie gives a vanguard of civilization speech that rings rather hollow, given his character. I’d say it’s pigheadedness more than anything.
In California, Banion strikes it rich. Woodhull — who, I might say, has spent a year plotting this assassination — trips on some rocks, is spotted, and gets himself shot. Banion loads up his tons of gold, heads to Oregon, and marries Molly.
Inscriptions: The flyleaf is stamped “W.K. McDonald, Stony Brook Farm”. Beneath that, someone’s written “May 22, 1929”.