The book is set around 1900, when New Mexico was still a territory. Doc Strafford has bought a small mercantile in Portales, New Mexico Territory, to start a new life. Over the years, Doc has become more involved in the growth of Portales. He eventually sells his interest in a saloon to two seedy characters, Jewels Davis and his albino son, Jefferson. When Doc invites his old friend from the Civil War to visit Portales and the surrounding territory, it draws suspicions from the Davises to the point that they torture Doc's hired hand, Gustavo, just to find out what Doc is up to.