Ryan wants just one thing: to be a cowboy a working cowboy on the large Saddlebow Ranch in Wyoming, where he and his family live. Ryan, a tall seventh grader, knows the dangers of ranch life: Once his father was cow boss, but now, after an injury, he is simply the ranch caretaker, seeing that fences are mended and watching over the family's few head of cattle. Even so, Ryan does not change his mind. However, Ryan's older brother, Gil, sees dangers greater than injury ahead. He and the men who belong to the Mountain Patriots Association, a local militia group, are convinced that the United States government, foreign immigrants, and people who are racial minorities are going to take over the area. Not without a fight, however: The Mountain Patriots are armed for battle. It will take men, real men like them, Gil believes, to save their part of the West for the white race. As the ranching community becomes increasingly divided between those who accept the views of the Mountain Patriots and those who do not, Ryan is torn. Is Gil right? Some of what he says sounds logical. Or are those who disagree, but who also sound sensible, right? Clearly, confrontation and disaster are on the way. Ryan does not plan to be in the middle of it when it comes, but that is where he finds himself. And that is where, as a consequence, he learns what it really means to be a man, what it takes to build a good future, and how to find your place in a changing world.