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A 5-part saga beginning with THE RIVERS: In 1829, Zebulon Prescott takes his wife Rebecca and their two young sons and two daughters away from their New England farm and heads west on a raft down the Ohio River to seek new opportunities and find husbands for the girls, Eve and Lil. One night a stranger in a canoe approaches the family's campsite; at first they suspect him of being a river pirate, but he turns out to be congenial fur trapper Linus Rawlings, who impresses the Prescott boys with tall tales of legendary mountain man Jim Bridger. Eve is also taken with Linus, but the noncommittal backwoodsman leaves abruptly one morning. Linus interrupts his journey to stop at a tavern-general store operated in a cave by river pirate Colonel Hawkins, whose alluring young daughter, Dora, clubs Linus on the head and throws him into a pit in the back of the cave. Soon the Prescotts happen by and are in the midst of being robbed by the murderous Hawkins clan when Linus, who has swum outside to the river through an opening in the pit, sneaks up behind the thieves and saves the settlers with the help of some explosives. As the Prescotts continue their journey by raft, they are swept away by rapids; Zebulon and Rebecca drown; and Linus, having seen Eve survive danger twice, decides at the funeral to marry her and settle by her parents' gravesite. Lil, meanwhile, decides to go to St. Louis. THE PLAINS: Gambler Cleve Van Valen and his cronies watch Lil Prescott's dance hall act and make a wager as to how many petticoats she is wearing. Cleve goes backstage to her dressing room to obtain firsthand proof and overhears that Lil has just inherited a gold mine in California from an elderly admirer. Heavily in debt, Cleve decides to follow Lil out West in hopes of obtaining some of her revenue; along the way she falls in love with him and refuses the marriage proposal of wagon master Roger Morgan. After surviving an Indian attack, Lil and Cleve arrive in California, only to learn that the mine is worthless. The news temporarily halts Cleve's courtship, but they eventually marry after all and decide to settle in the new boomtown of San Francisco. THE CIVIL WAR: Eve, who has lost Linus to battle, watches their son, Zeb, leave home to join the Union Army. Once in combat, Zeb finds that war is not as glorious as he was led to believe, and at the Battle of Shiloh he meets a Confederate deserter who is similarly disillusioned. Together they witness an intimate conversation between Generals Sherman and Grant, in which the latter expresses concern about public criticism of his drinking. The Confederate soldier suddenly tries to assassinate the generals, and Zeb is forced to kill his new friend. After the war, he returns home to find that his mother has died; he joins the U. S. Cavalry to protect railroad workers from the Indians. THE RAILROAD: Aided by Jethro Stuart, a grizzled buffalo hunter, Zeb manages to keep peace with the Indians until ruthless foreman Mike King demands that the railroad break a treaty and take a shortcut through Indian land. Consequently, the Indians stampede the buffalo, and the animals destroy the camp, leaving several children orphaned. Angered that he has unwittingly been involved in the tragedy, Zeb resigns and goes to Arizona. THE OUTLAWS: Now a marshal in the 1880's, Zeb, his wife, Julie, and their children are visited by Lil, widowed and somewhat impoverished after a life of intermittent luxury with Cleve. Meanwhile, Zeb learns that an old enemy, Charlie Gant, is planning with his gang to rob a train carrying a gold shipment. Julie begs him not to go after Gant, but Zeb, who is anxious to send the outlaw to jail, is adamant. A furious gunfight takes place on the runaway train, during which the chains on the log car break and scatter logs across the countryside. Zeb barely escapes death, and the entire train derails, but Zeb nevertheless slays his adversary and returns to his family.