The Fellows family has joined numerous others striving to make a go of homesteading in the Oregon high desert. But the venture has been disastrous from the start. Mr. Fellows, who is not a farmer, resents any advice from his wife, who grew up on a farm. Ma is not only troubled about the farming, but 7-year-old Ellie's chronic illness has become a source of constant worry and expense. 12-year-old Chris, who cannot seem to please his father no matter what he does, eases his own misery by stealing time away from work to watch a neighbor's scarcely broken black pony, only to get into more trouble. When it seems circumstances could not get worse for the struggling family, Fellows gets drunk and dies. Not willing to give up, Ma stubbornly-and creatively-seeks a way for the family to stay in Oregon. Frank Chase, an unintentional element in the death of Chris's father, is added to the mix and challenged by Ma to keep his word to help the family. The resultant dramatic and sometimes humorous contest of wills comes to a satisfying culmination when, after Frank's purchase of the wild black pony for Chris, Ma is reluctantly forced to once again use her "backbone of steel" for the good of all. Walt Morey's careful research and vivid storytelling talent warmly bring to life the struggles and triumphs of homesteading in the Oregon high desert country in the early 1900's.
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