A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.
In the waning years of the 19th century, Bessie Daniels grows up in the small town of Hot Springs in western North Carolina. Secure in the love of her father, resistant to her mother’s desire that she be a proper Southern belle, Bessie’s determined to forge her own way in life. Or, as her Cherokee great-grandmother, Elisi, puts it, a whistling woman.
Life, however, has a few surprises for her. First, there’s Papa carrying home a dead man, which seems to invite Death for an extended visit in their home. And shortly before she graduates from Dorland Institute, there’s another death, this one closer to her heart. But Death isn’t through with her yet. Proving another of Elisi’s sayings, death comes in threes, It strikes yet again, taking someone Bessie has recently learned to appreciate and cherish, leaving her to struggle with a family that’s threatening to come apart at the seams.
Even her beloved Papa seems to be turning into another person, someone Bessie disagrees with more often than not, and someone she isn’t even sure she can continue to love, much less idolize as she had during her childhood.
And when Papa makes a decision that costs the life of a new friend, the course of Bessie’s heart is changed forever.
In the dawning years of the 20th century, Bessie Daniels leaves her home town of Hot Springs and travels east over the mountains to live with her new husband Fletcher Elliott in the Broad River section of North Carolina.
Bess and Fletch stay with Fletcher’s parents for the first five years of their married life with Bessie teaching in a one-room schoolhouse and Fletcher working at the lumber mill in Old Fort while they save to buy property of their own on Stone Mountain.
In 1906, they purchase 400 acres of the old Zachariah Solomon Plantation which includes a small house with a shack beside it, a branch of Cedar Creek and a row of dilapidated slave cabins…
Thus begins Bessie’s next phase of life where the gift of sight she inherited from her Cherokee ancestors grows stronger, her healing abilities are put to the test, and she encounters a vicious secret society that tries to force her and Fletcher to turn their backs on a family sharecropping and living in one of the cabins.
When Bessie and Fletch refuse to give in to their demands, the group strikes back, bringing pain and suffering to their once serene existence on Stone Mountain.
In the second decade of the 20th century, major world events resonate even on secluded Stone Mountain where Bessie Elliott lives with her husband Fletcher. There’s a great war, one that takes away many young men, including Bessie’s kin, some never to return. Bessie’s role of healer intensifies as she treats those suffering from the Spanish flu and tries to keep it from spreading further on her mountain. She defends a young woman who’s in the middle of a controversy that threatens to tear her community apart. And she finds herself involved in the suffragette movement as the women of North Carolina fight to gain their rights under the constitution.
Then when one of her family members makes an appalling decision, one that has the potential to damage a child, Bessie impulsively steps forward to right the wrong.