Hunting Trees novel Plot Summary
Lucas, a teacher from Atlanta, travels along a wagon trail, reflecting his past travels. He arrives in a backwash town in Southern Arizona (Mexico Territory), where he witnesses a public hanging of Willis; a gang leader who has been chased down across four states. Willis talks to the hangman about religion, which gets the hangman (Preacher) angry. Before he pulls the lever, two masked shooters hiding in buildings gun down all the gunmen in sight and a knifeman kills the preacher and frees Willis. The knife man is Ajax, and the two shooters are Lewis and Bruno. After stealing some horses, the criminals ride into the desert where Lucas runs after them on foot.
At night, the criminals almost shoot Lucas as he sneaks up on them. He discusses his proposal of paying them for an escort to Northern California and his book. He would pay them on margin after he digs up his gold. The gang agrees after stating that Lucas must never leave their sight. They fall asleep, Lucas sleeping in their wagon.
They head out early in the morning before the sun is up, and they travel for six hours until they finally eat. An additional hour of traveling, they come across a small band of inexperienced scalpers. They station the wagon behind some rocks and approach them. They begin at an impass, but Willis calms them down by lightly teasing the youngest of the group, who the leader also agrees is an idiot. The youngest, Vern, brings up the idea of parley, which causes Willis to break his nose. The third member, a mute veteran, remains tense at the criminals. They go back to the wagon and see Willis's horse is missing. Willis, Lucas and Bruno go in search for the horse over the hills. While they are gone, Jerry, the mute, attempts to kill the remaining criminals, but Ajax scares him off and scolds the leader, Daxter, who explains he snuck away. Bruno leaves to check what the gunshots and shouting were about. Willis sees his horse get mauled by a cougar, and he skins both of the animals, and the two come back to the wagon.
When they come back, Lewis explains what happened, and Willis and Lewis approach the scalpers once again in search for a new horse and holds Daxter at gun point. Lewis ends up killing Jerry, and Willis shoots Vern in the stomach. Daxter says he'll give him their best horse if they throw down their guns. They comply, and Daxter leads them over a hill where he attempts to shoot them from behind a horse, but Ajax comes to the rescue and shoots the horse, causing it to fall on Daxter. Willis cuts his head off in frustration. Willis emphasizes the need to write about that event. They go back to the wagon and see Vern bleed out. Willis decides to just sit at the front of the wagon with Lewis.
They travel farther and set up another camp fire at night, where Willis explains why he's an atheist and his views on the current world. They all harp on Lucas to write something in his book, but he explains that he's too tired, and that he'll write while they travel tomorrow.
They move out early again, where they see dark storm clouds moving in, and stop for breakfast again to see that they have mysteriously been out of it, besides some grain. They blame Lucas, but he promises that he was asleep all night. They don't do anything further than threaten him, and Willis, Lucas and Ajax go on the hunt for food. They find two bears by a waterfall. They kill one, but the bear ends up getting washed over the falls. With a hill close by, they decide to bring the rest and the wagon over, using the wagon horses to pull it up. They manage it, and when wrapping back around the cliff walls, the ground near the edge gives way and the horses get dragged over with the wagon, andLewis almost dies. They go back down the hill, get the undamaged equipment that they can carry, and move on, taking turns on the remaining two horses.
As two days pass, the storm finally stops, and Bruno has become sick with hypothermia. They come across a large cave, with Apache Indians living in it. They kill all of them and dispose of the bodies after looting them in a nearby river, which has over flooded. They stay there for the night.
The next day, they head out, taking the Indians' horses with them. Shortly after, they find a U.S. Cavalry unit passing through a canyon. They ambush them and kill them all, though Bruno is shot in the hip. They steal the wagons, loot the bodies, and realize by looking at a soldier's map that they aren't in New Mexico territory yet. Disgusted by the idea of still being in Mexico, Willis leads the gang north.
Finally reaching the border, they gang travels along the Gila River where they catch up to another wagon train. Lucas attempts to disband from the gang, but the gang threatens to kill him if he runs away again, still interested in their payment. However, they camp with a Mormon family away from the trail who travelled all across the Mormon trail, who took a ferry down the Colorado River, turning onto the Little Colorado, then to Gila. They discuss their passion for Jesus Christ, which angers Willis. After he admits that he is an atheist, the family continues to talk peacefully, which drives Willis to kill all of them, to the rest of the gang's surprise. They continue down the Gila River the next day.
The wagon train is attacked by a large band of Indians, and Lewis is shot in the thigh and knocked out from a horse. The gang and some other travelers kill them all. They continue with the armed travelers after Lewis's leg and Bruno's hip is attended to, leaving the wounded and unarmed to wait for the Cavalry to come. Turns out, the armed travelers are a separate gang, who force Willis's gang to help them with a raid on a ferry on the Colorado River. Before the raid begins, more Indians attack it, and they use that to their advantage. In the carnage, the gangs shoot at the passengers, but turn on the Indians at the last minute, making it look like they were trying to save the ferry when the Cavalry comes. But at the last second, the second gang begins to scalp the Indians to sell back in Mexico. When the cavalry comes, the soldiers see the scalped bodies, and a gun fight ensues, where the all of the second gang is killed. Willis's gang steals two rowboats from the destroyed ferry and return down the Colorado River to Yuma, where they will continue from there, Willis and Lucas in one boat and the rest in the other.
Down river, the two boats are attacked again by Indians, where Willis's boat gets split up from the other, who had to escape onto land. The three escape into the forest where they come across an Indian camp. In anger, the three massacre all of the Indians and burn all of the tents. No one attacks them.
A few minutes later, after the village has burned, they walk back to the boat and see that it has been washed down river, and they chase after it, and see it destroyed from crashing into a log. They continue down river on foot. They walk up a hill and shoot at a band of Indians at a distance, but Ajax gets stabbed in the back by a young Indian boy, who Bruno shoots. Bruno finally dies from Hypothermia shortly after, and Lewis buries both of them down by the river shore.
Willis and Lucas reach Yuma after a few hours. They enter a bar, where Willis has an argument with a Christian, which leads to a full blown bar fight. Lucas hides under a table in the corner, and after the brawl ends, he finds Willis's dead body, a broken beer bottle stabbed through his eye. Finally alone, Lucas gets a ride on another wagon train to San Diego, and finally San Francisco. Lewis reaches Yuma a few hours later, and sees Willis dead. He searches around for Lucas, and is told by a bystander that he left. He begins down the trail on foot, but finally experiences Hypovolemia shock from slow blood loss from his leg through the poorly implemented bandages. A family travelling by wagon finds him on the side of the trail and brings him back to Yuma for medical help. He gets injected with Type B blood, when Lewis is Type A.
Three weeks later, sick, experiencing a transfusion reaction, he begins down the trail that Lucas went, and after a month, he finally gets to San Francisco. He finds Lucas broke and broken (Psychologically) as he couldn't find any gold. While slowly dying on his feet, Lewis expects partial payment, and when Lucas explains how he can't pay him and that he hasn't written anything in his book, he guns him down in the streets and runs. Lewis steals a horse from an old woman, but her ankle gets caught in the stirrup, so he shoots off her foot and attempts to escape the city, but he almost passes out and dies while riding. The horse rides on its own around a corner and is shot in the rear by the police, causing the horse to fall on him and break his femur and pelvic bone. Police officers begin to come down on him with batons, where he makes a final stand on his back, but they all drop their buttons and gun him down with revolvers.
60 years later, San Francisco has become a flourishing city with World War 1 on the horizon. A famous performer steps off a train and multiple pictures are taken of him. Things such as the radio and telephone are shown, and he gets into a limousine and drives off into the city to perform in one of the last Wild West shows of Buffalo Bill.