Driven by grinding poverty in the 1860s, the Ytterhorn family of sharecroppers in northern Norway sells their belongings to pay for passage to America and the promise of a better life under the U.S. Homestead Act. With their scant belongings and determination against all odds, they typify the migrants’ experience.
Theirs is a long journey beset by tragedy. During the sea voyage, Ma dies from childbirth fever, leaving Pa to care for a newborn and three other children. After much deliberation, he calls upon his wife’s best friend Rebekka to come out and join them. Thirteen-year-old Trygve struggles with his feelings of loss while experiencing the excitement inherent in starting over in a new land of opportunity.
After a stay with Pa’s cousin in Iowa, giving them time to get on their feet, the Ytterhorns, including Rebekka, who is now Pa’s wife, make the trek overland by covered wagon until they reach the Dakota Territory. Along the way they encounter plenty of helping hands and, eventually, a new homestead, land to cultivate, and a new beginning.