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In 1803, Ishmael Bush, his wife Esther, her brother Abiram White and the couple's sons, Asa, Abner, Gabe, Jess and Enoch, join a group of homesteaders for the journey into an unsettled area of the Louisiana Purchase. After traveling some distance, the group stops for the evening. In the middle of the night, the homesteaders are awakened by the sound of thundering hooves, after which a herd of buffalo stampedes through their small camp, trampling to death the entire family of pretty Ellen Wade. Later, a tribe of Sioux Indians tries to kidnap Ellen, but Abiram and Asa frighten them away. Dazzled by Ellen's charms, Abiram persuades Ishmael to accept her as part of the family for the remainder of the journey. Later, Asa, who is also attracted to Ellen, threatens to tell her about Abiram's fugitive status. The next morning, the family meets a cartographer named Paul Hover, who tells them about a nearby creek. Paul leads them to the creek, where the family stops to rest. Later, Abiram is chosen to guard the wagons, while the others are asleep. Abiram becomes distracted, however, and the Indians creep up on the family, steal their horses and livestock, and kidnap Paul and Ellen. After Paul and Ellen escape from the Indians, they return to the camp, where the family agrees to follow Paul to a defensible knoll about six miles away. With no animals to pull their wagons, the family must haul them, inch by inch, themselves. Days later they reach the knoll, where Paul loads his musket. Despite Ellen's pleas that he take her away from the Bushes, Paul leaves to meet his friend, a Pawnee Indian named Eagle Feather. Later, Eagle Feather suggests that if Paul loves Ellen, he should return for her. When he returns to the knoll, however, Paul is fired upon by the jealous Asa and Abiram, who have realized that Ellen loves Paul. Later, Asa proposes marriage to Ellen, and she reminds him that Ishmael, who resents having to care for her, would never agree. Later, Abiram tries to force himself on Ellen and inadvertently knocks her over. The next morning, the family finds Asa's corpse, which has been shot in the back, lying on the ground next to the surveyor scale that Asa had earlier stolen from Paul. Ishmael accuses Paul of the murder, so he leaves, but later returns to rescue Ellen. Suddenly, several Sioux braves kidnap them and take them to their village. Abiram, who witnessed the attack, tells Ishmael about it, and the Bush men attack the Indians at their village. After they free Paul and Ellen, the Bushes takes them back to the knoll so that they can hang Paul themselves. There, as Ishmael drapes a noose from a tree, a conscience-stricken Abiram confesses to his nephew's murder. Despite Abiram's pleas for mercy, Ishmael orders him to remain on the knoll until the rest of the family has left the area. Now alone, a terrified Abiram hallucinates that Esther and Ishmael have returned to curse and condemn him, after which he staggers into the noose and hangs himself.