Bright Morning is a young girl who is part of the Navajo tribe. As a Navajo woman, her mother was the owner of a large flock of sheep since shepherding is part of the Navajo way of life. With her black dog in tow, Bright Morning takes the flock to the High Mesas so they can feed on new grass. Her friends White Deer and Running Bird always join her.
One day, Bright Morning and her friend Running Bird are caught by men who they later realize are Spaniards. The leader of the Spaniards, "the one with white teeth", as Bright Morning describes him, is a slave catcher that has made a deal with a Señora in a small town. The Señora has a 12-year old maid named Rosita, who was also brought by the leader of the Spaniards. Running Bird and Bright Morning are sold separately.
Bright Morning is miserable and plans to escape. One day, Rosita and Bright Morning go to town for an Easter Celebration. Here she meets Nehana, an Indian girl who is part of the Nez Perce tribe. Nehana tells Bright Morning where Running Bird is and that they will escape soon. Later, Bright Morning, Nehana, and Running Bird attempt their plan. However, the Spaniards catch up. Luckily, Bright Morning's future husband Tall Boy is there with Mando and his men. After a fight against the Spaniards, Tall Boy is shot and the leader of the Spaniards is killed. When they reach home, the "Long Knives" Americans are claiming the land. They threaten the Navajo and force them to leave Canyon De Chelly. The tribe leaves their home and members slowly started dying because of the hazardous conditions. Bright Morning, who is pregnant with Tall Boy's son, decides to go back to watch over her sheep in the sacred canyon and try to build a new life alone with Tall Boy and her son.