Hal Brewton never forgets the day he stood on the railroad platform at Salt Fork, where he waited to meet Lutie Cameron, who was arriving from St. Louis to marry his uncle, Colonel Jim Brewton, the owner of the vast Cross B Ranch. Colonel Brewton is involved in a range war with nesters coming to rip the sod from the grazing lands in order to raise wheat.
On the day of Lutie’s arrival, two of the colonel’s cowhands are being tried for shooting at a homesteader on the Brewton range. Although the colonel’s lawyer, Henry McCurtin, wins the case, the opposition lawyer, young Brice Chamberlain, protests indignantly that the victory will not be permanent. Colonel Brewton is contemptuous of the lawyer’s warnings.
Lutie is a lovely woman, too lovely for that still-wild territory. When men see her, she wins them completely. Only Hal refuses to be moved by her charm. All that winter in an academy at Lexington, Missouri, he thinks of her as part of the destruction coming from the East to destroy the sea of grass he loves.
The following summer, he returns to a changed ranch house. Lutie filled it with furniture and flowers and planted a row of cottonwoods and tamarisks about it. Guests from the whole territory come and go. Officers from the Army posts, officials of the railroad companies, and neighboring ranchmen all find ample welcome at the home of Colonel and Mrs. Brewton.
The old-timers who knew the colonel before he married Lutie hope that she will settle down after having children. The babies are born, two boys and a girl; however, Lutie does not become any calmer. The third baby is scarcely in its cradle before she is dancing with Chamberlain as her favored partner. Colonel Brewton ignores the gossip that is whispered about Lutie.
Local politics concerning homesteading rights shift with the administration in Washington, D.C., for the territory depends upon appointments to its judicial staffs. For a while, Chamberlain has influential support from the government. Then, during another administration, the forces that back Colonel Brewton are in power, and the incoming tide of settlers seems to be checked. Hal reads of the change with great pleasure, but when he returns to Salt Fork, he discovers that Chamberlain is still in his law office on the Salt Fork plaza. He learns that hundreds of settlers are waiting nearby for a change in government that will permit them to stake claims upon the miles of land held by men such as Colonel Brewton.
Lutie then calmly announces that she is leaving her husband and children. She explains that she has had enough of the flat grass country and the fighting between ranchers and homesteaders. She claims she will be able to get possession of her three children—Jimmy, Brock, and Sarah Beth—later, by court action.
The town is informed that Mrs. Brewton is leaving for a...
(The entire section is 1177 words.)