These are some important events that happen in the story.
In early summer, Pretty Girl learns she is to be married to Five Killer. Even though she is in love with Shy Bear, her father has chosen Five Killer for her because he has many horses to offer.
Eagle Sun, the boy Sweetgrass loves, returns from a raid.
Pretty Girl goes to her husband's tipi. She will be a slave wife, as Five Killer has many wives already.
The Blackfoot village is attacked. While the men go to fight, the women and children huddle in the tipis. Sweetgrass is wounded while leading her family to safety in the woods.
The tribe goes to the Sun Dance, an annual gathering of the Indian nation. Eagle Sun tells Sweetgrass that he has asked her father if he can marry her.
In the autumn, Eagle Sun returns from a trading expedition with no horses. He brings news that smallpox, the white man's sickness, has come to the neighboring Piegan camp. Eagle Sun tells Sweetgrass that her father has denied his request to marry her, saying that Sweetgrass has not yet grown strong enough to be a wife.
Sweetgrass lets her anger and disappointment be known to her father. He says that she must prove herself by preparing twenty-eight buffalo hides over the winter alone.
It is winter and there is no food. Sweetgrass's father leaves the family in search of game.
Little Brother, the baby, Almost Mother, and Sweetgrass's brother Otter contract smallpox. Sweetgrass alone is spared, but she must nurse the others. The baby and Little Brother die, and Sweetgrass must find food for Almost Mother and Otter when they begin to recover. The hides she has been working on are ruined by the mess of the sickness.
Father returns, and is amazed at how Sweetgrass has cared for the family. Even though the hides have been spoiled, she has proved herself to be a strong woman. There is hope that father will allow Sweetgrass to marry Eagle Sun when he returns again.