Based on the true story of three families trudging through Oregon's Cascades Mountains during 1845, led by hired guide Stephen Meek (Greenwood). He guarantees them safety, loudly boasting detailed knowledge of the landscape. The would-be settlers push through an unmarked cutoff but suspect they are lost, uncertain of their guide's intentions. The journey's tensions compound once Meek captures a lone Indian (Rondeaux) and insists on killing him, though the others object. Director Reichardt's fascination with the day-to-day chores of these pioneers gives it a realistic feel and is devoid of any typical Western action.