Nine-year-old Ociee Nash lives on a rural farm in 1898 Mississippi with her widowed father and brothers Ben and Fred. Ociee is a plucky tomboy who, on her brother's dare, tries to see where a passing gypsy man lives. When the gypsy appears, Ociee runs but loses her mother's necklace. Later, when Ociee is home alone, the gypsy shows up to return the necklace and they become friends.
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Ociee's father realizes that she is growing up fast without suitable society and decides to send her to her Aunt Mamie in Asheville, N.C., where Ociee can learn to be a lady. On the journey, Ociee meets Nellie Bly, the Wright Brothers, and even President McKinley, and impresses them with her plain forthrightness. When Ociee tells her Aunt Mamie about all the interesting people she has met, it sounds too incredible to be believed. Ociee and Mamie also do not hit it off too well as Mamie insists on dresses all the time, speaking properly and NOT playing like a boy. Aunt Mamie plans to have Ociee learn to be like Elizabeth Murphy, the well brought up daughter of her neighbors, but Elizabeth and Ociee's first meeting erupts in a fight. The girls eventually make up, and it is Ociee who becomes the leader, dragging Elizabeth into rope-swinging over the creek (again on a dare from a boy) with disastrous results.
Ociee's openness of character wins her many friends, and this in turn forces Aunt Mamie's life to open up as well. Ociee invites Mr. Lynch, an old beau of Mamie's, to dinner and Mamie begins to loosen up.
Finally, Ociee shows selfless heroism when she rescues Elizabeth from a house fire by climbing a tree. A grand celebration then takes place that brings Ociee's family and friends (including the gypsy!) together. From it, Aunt Mamie learns not only how to live a more wonderful life, but also just how many of Ociee's adventures were really true.