After Bessie and Fletcher Elliott lose all their money when their bank fails at the beginning of the Great Depression, Fletch is forced to seek employment elsewhere in order to sustain their struggling farm on Stone Mountain, North Carolina. Fletch’s brothers Jim and Tom, working in a coal mine in Beacham, West Virginia, convince Fletch that there is money to be made as a miner, so he and Bessie move to Beacham in hopes of a temporary measure that will enable them to keep their farm.

Bessie and Fletch are stunned to discover that income from working in a mine is trivial, made worse by the mining company’s control over their workers, from where they live to the doctor they use to where they buy their supplies and how they pay for it. Fletch, used to working under spacious skies, has a hard time adapting to life as a coal miner and is determined to leave this place as quickly as possible. In an effort to help, Bessie supplements their income by treating those who cannot afford the mining company’s doctor’s services as well as working as a seamstress, in hopes that their time spent in Beacham will be a short one.

Their year in Beacham is filled with turmoil, including a mining explosion causing injuries and death, strife among the miners over joining the UMWA and striking, and Bessie’s and Fletch’s deep concern over the unsafe and dangerous conditions in the mine. But counteracting this are the people Bessie meets and begins to love as well as her growing respect and admiration for the coal miners who risk their lives to enable the comfort of others.