As the first book of the trilogy opens, it is early spring in 1811 and the Holt family is getting together for a reunion at the family homestead near Marietta, Ohio. Among the family members gathered for the joyous occasion are frontiersman Clay Holt, who has come all the way from the Rocky Mountains with his Teton Sioux wife and their young ward; and Jefferson Holt, Clay's brother, who has come from Wilmington, North Carolina with his wife and son. The festivities are interrupted, however, when Clay receives a letter signed by Merriwether Lewis informing him that he has been awarded a land grant in return for his services on the Lewis and Clark expedition several years earlier. Aware that Lewis, his former captain on the expedition to the Pacific, has recently died under mysterious circumstances, Clay finally decides to travel to Washington to investigate the matter. Upon arrival, both Clay and Jeff are approached by none other than President Thomas Jefferson, who enlists their aid in uncovering a conspiracy to illegally acquire land in the western territories. Jefferson believes that Merriwether Lewis had discovered such a scheme and was murdered for it. Soon, Clay and Jeff find themselves at the heart of a deadly quest that separates them from their families and leads them from the manors of Virginia to a fateful steamboat voyage down the Mississippi.