In this first story, Carl Jody’s dad gives him a beautiful red pony, which Jody names Gabilan. Jody is completely obsessed with the horse and hates every second he is not with it. Just as he is about to teach Gabilan to let him ride him, the horse catches a bad cold in the rain. Billy had promised Jody that it would not rain and even if it does it wouldn’t harm the horse. Eventually, Billy has to resort to drastic measures to try to save Gabilan, cutting open a sack of puss then carving a breathing hold in the horse's throat. Unfortunately, the horse escapes one night, and Jody finds vultures swarming around its dead corpse. Jody kills one of the vultures but that doesn’t change the fact the Gabilan is dead.
Jody’s pony is dead and now he is sad and bored. He begins to wonder about the mysterious great mountains, wishing he could explore them. Suddenly, an old Mexican man named Gitano appears, claiming he was born on the ranch that Jody and his family live on. Gitano states that will stay on the farm until he dies. Carl refuses, although he allows him to stay the night. That night, Jody secretly visits Gitano and finds him polishing a sword. Jody asks if he has ever been to the great mountains, and Gitano says he has but remembers very little. The next morning Gitano is gone. A neighbor reports seeing him riding into the mountains with Carls old horse and his sword in hand.
This book is made up into 4 stories. The gift, the great mountain, the promise, and the leader of the people.
Billy Buck and Carl Tiflin decide that Jody should raise a colt from birth. Jody is sent with Nellie, to have her bred. The breeding is expensive so Jody works extra hard at his chores to repay his father, but eventually, he grows tired of waiting for the colt. Also, he is worried that Billy will let something go wrong, again. Finally, it comes time for the colt to be born. Nellie becomes very ill and Billy discovers that something is wrong with the birth, and has to kill Nellie and cut the colt out of her stomach with his pocketknife. Jody got the colt he was longing for but there was a great cost.
Jody’s family receives a letter from Jody's grandfather saying he is coming to visit. Carl is upset and argues with his wife, complaining that the grandfather always repeats his stories about crossing the Great Plains as the head of a wagon train. Jody meets his grandfather and that night he begins telling his usual stories. The next morning, the grandfather is late for breakfast and Carl begins to complain about him. Suddenly the grandfather walks in having heard everything.
After breakfast, Jody sits with his grandfather on the porch and the grandfather begins talking about how he really feels, how he wonders if it was really worth it to cross the plains. Jody’s grandfather said that his accomplishment was not crossing the plains but leading the people. Jody says that someday he will be a leader of the people, but his grandfather replies that the days of exploration and adventure are over.