Kit has little doubt she is easing the plight of the homeless children, until the transcontinental railroad begins to span the country and she is chosen to accompany orphan trains to distribute city children as fast as the rails are laid and farms are carved out of former Indian lands. Eastern cities are overrun with homeless children, their parents sick with consumption or dead of accidents and disease. The farmers who take in the children are required to sign a pledge to clothe, feed, and educate them in return for their labor. Is this distribution of urban children to rural environs beneficial, as the churches that sponsor the dissemination insist? Kit begins to have misgivings.
Family ties are deliberately broken so that single children will have a better chance of being placed. Even so, Kit swears an oath to a dying woman that she will keep her son and daughter together. But when their train passes beyond the last settlements in Nebraska, Kit is left with no other choice. HANNAH and HELMUT, and teenagers CONNIE and THOMAS, become Kit’s sole responsibility.