It is 1918, and sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks, who has been shuttled among relatives for as long as she can remember, is currently living in Arlington, Iowa with her Uncle Holt and Aunt Ivy. Hattie's best friend, Charlie Hawley, has enlisted to fight in the war. Although she believes Charlie is sweet on someone else, Hattie considers him a "good chum," and writes to him frequently. Unexpectedly, Hattie learns that an uncle she never knew has died in Montana and left her his claim of three-hundred-twenty acres. Without hesitation, she jumps at the chance to finally make a place of her own.
In Wolf Point, Montana, Hattie is met by her uncle's friends, Karl and Perilee Mueller and their children Chase, Mattie, and baby Fern. She discovers that in order to keep her uncle's claim, she must "prove up" by cultivating forty acres, setting four-hundred-eighty rods of fencing, and saving money to pay the final fees, all within the next ten months. With the support of kind neighbors, she learns to get along in the harsh Montana winter. During a sudden blizzard, Chase and Mattie are lost trying to get home from school, and fortuitously find their way to Hattie's place. When the weather breaks, Karl arrives after an all-night search, frantic and frostbitten. Born in Germany, Karl speaks with a thick accent, but his gratitude is evident. When the weather warms and Hattie begins work on her fencing, she discovers Karl has already set a long stretch for her.
Leafie Purvis is another neighbor who had been a friend of Hattie's uncle. While she is visiting one day, rowdy cowboys appear, driving a terrified cow before them. Leafie fires a shotgun blast to stop the shenanigans. The cow belongs to the Muellers, and its tormentors are members of a "patriotic organization," the Dawson County Council of Defense. Their lawless activity is an attempt to intimidate Karl Mueller, because he is of German descent.
Hattie struggles to understand how anti-German sentiment because of the war can extend to innocent people like Karl and his family. She receives a visit from Traft Martin, head of the Council of Defense, and her confusion deepens. Traft helps Hattie clear her fields and invites her to a dance. Although he does chide her about her association with the Muellers, Hattie is drawn to the handsome young man. Hattie receives a letter from Charlie, who is impatient to face the enemy in France. She also hears from Uncle Holt, who says he has been sharing her letters to him with the editor of The Arlington News. Impressed with her writing, the newspaper has offered to pay for regular articles about homesteading on the...
(The entire section is 1070 words.)