The novel portrays the aspirations and struggles of a black homesteader named Oscar Devereaux. Born on a small farm near Cairo, Illinois, one of thirteen children, Devereaux leaves home to work in the Chicago stockyards and finally graduates to the job of porter in a Pullman railway car. He is personable, industrious, and frugal with a purpose. After saving $2,500, Devereaux goes to South Dakota and buys land. His object is not speculation for a quick profit but the cultivation of property he can call his own. He plows and sows and sweats, and by the age of twenty-five has reaped an estate worth $20,000. Success is sweet, self-respect sweeter. But if the calamities he is exposed to as a homesteader are severe, so are those brought on by marriage to the passive daughter of a dominating preacher.