6-year-old Johannes Verne is traveling across the desert to California with his father. His father, knowing he is terminally ill, is taking Johannes to his Spanish grandfather, a weather Californio rancher. Johannes has never seen his grandfather, who was opposed to his late mother's marriage to his father, a rough but respected Western man.
As they reach the edge of the desert, a group of riders approach, Johannes' grandfather and men from his ranch. They shoot and kill his father, and take the young Johannes 40 miles into the desert, leaving him there to die. Johannes, conscious of his father's heritage, determines to try to survive, and begins walking back in the horses' footsteps.
On the second day of his struggle, help arrives in the form of a lone cowboy riding the trail. He takes the boy to an abandoned log cabin, and there he begins a solitary existence. He has some friends in the desert, however, including an Indian boy, a mysterious stranger who leaves him books to read, and a young girl named Meghan.
This report prepared by Kathy Edwards