It is 1849 and Susanna Fairchild is on board the California, a ship sailing from New York to California. She and her family are bound for Oregon City where they are to join old friends and start a new life. Only tragedy strikes while on board and Susanna's mother is lost to the ocean. Things change rapidly then. They learn that there is a gold rush on in California, and when their nearly-empty boat docks in Panama, hoards of Americans board the ship for passage to the California territory. Struck by "gold fever" himself, Susanna's physician father decides to forego their trip to Oregon and become a gold miner instead.