Very late in the Civil War Confederate Colonel Thaddius Kingsley and the tattered remnants of his regiment board the steamboat West Wind in St. Joseph, Missouri. He tells Captain Zachary Cole that the war is lost and they are heading for the goldfields in Montana so they can return to their homes with the resources needed to rebuild. Kingsley brings his beautiful daughter Rebecca along, reassuring Cole of his intentions.
They are headed for Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River more than two thousand miles away. Kingsley and his daughter learn just how slow and laborious it is getting a steamboat up the very shallow and treacherous Missouri.
But Kingsley is sailing under false colors. He seizes the West Wind and states his intention to sweep the Missouri of steamboats and confiscate their treasure to continue the war. Cole is torn between saving his steamboat and thwarting Kingsley’s intentions. And Major Nathan Van Hill, a disgraced Union Army officer on board, is determined to stop Kingsley.
Kingsley manages to enrage the Sioux at a village, and that results in a fierce battle as well as the Sioux dogging and harassing the West Wind on the long remainder of its journey upstream. As news filters in that the Confederacy is rapidly collapsing, Kingsley becomes increasingly more desperate in his efforts and Van Hill becomes more desperate to stop him. The result is a tragic and bloody steamboat versus steamboat engagement precipitated by Van Hill.
Cole and Rebecca have a testy relationship from the beginning. But the rising crescendo of violence is transforming for many involved, and the two find a growing attraction to each other.
But will anybody on the West Wind actually get to Fort Benton alive?
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