"We lived close to the land on Waltons Mountain and we felt a natural kinship with the forest which surrounded our home. It was our playground, a source of food and shelter, and a livelihood for our family. In the lore of our mountains there were stories of travelers who had been lost in the forest. One summer's day that legend became a terrifying reality".
Jim Bob runs to Grandpa to tell him that an old brooding hen, Betsy, is in the barn. Grandpa tells Jim Bob about the hen’s instincts, which make up for its dumbness. Jim Bob tells Grandpa that he’s pretty smart. At supper, Olivia tells the family that she is going to her see her friend Francis Taylor in Buckingham County, and is taking Jim Bob and Elizabeth with her. Jim Bob doesn’t want to go, and is kidded by the other boys. Jason and Ben are asked by John to change the tire on the truck for the trip tomorrow. Jim Bob says that Betsy has eight eggs in her brood. Olivia decides to take the hen and the eggs with her as a gift, and Grandma says she’ll send some jam, too. The family leaves the table as Grandpa continues to explain to Jim Bob about Mother Nature and how the animals sense weather changes.
In the morning, Grandpa places the hen and eggs in a wooden frame, and all of it in the back of the truck. The family sends off the trio. The boys continue to kid Jim Bob. On the way they encounter a roadblock. The man says they are working on the road, and they will need to take the detour that is bumpy in spots. On a rough stretch of road they have a blowout of the tire and land off the road in the brush. Elizabeth finds that Betsy has escaped, and is walking into the forest. Elizabeth goes after the hen, and Jim Bob finds that the jack is missing. They can’t find Elizabeth and search for her. Back home, John finds the jack in the middle of the mill. They continue to go deeper into the forest. Elizabeth yells out for her mother, and Olivia and Jim Bob find her. Elizabeth doesn’t want to leave Betsy, so they decide to leave the eggs for the hen to find. They begin to walk back to the truck. But they can’t find their way back. Elizabeth sees a hole; Jim Bob says it’s a bear wallow.
At lunch, the adults are eating when Ike drops by. Mrs. Taylor has called his store and is worried because Olivia has not arrived yet. John asks Ike to take him to Vern Rutledge’s so he can borrow his car. Back in the forest, Jim Bob leaves markers on the ground. Olivia tells Elizabeth not to eat those poisonous chokeberries. John, Grandpa, and John-Boy drive by the detour point and the man remembers Olivia passing by there earlier in the day. But, they pass by the truck, not seeing it from the road. They make it to the other end of the detour, but this man says no woman driving a green truck passed by. They go back along the same route. John-Boy sees the truck off the side of the road. They yell for them, but get no answer. Olivia, Jim-Boy, and Elizabeth continue walking.
John, John-Boy, and Grandpa find a marker that Jim Bob left, showing they are walking deeper into the forest. John-Boy goes for Horace Brimley’s hunting dogs, Ben and Jason, Ike, and some lanterns and shotguns. John-Boy drives back, remembering past thoughts of his Momma and the family. The lost trio see smoke and approach it. The outside of the place doesn’t look good, but Elizabeth is thirsty so they knock on the front door. A woman and two armed men surround them. They tell them that they are lost, just wanting water. The woman tells the one man that her family will be looking for them. She decides to load up the truck, and take Olivia, Jim Bob, and Elizabeth with them.
John-Boy, Jason, Ben, Ike, Horace, his dogs, and the supplies return to John and Grandpa. The woman forces them onto the truck. They will be released once they get on the road. But, before they get to the road, they are taken off the truck. Olivia decides to go east. Horace’s dogs lose Elizabeth’s scent (they think Olivia is carrying her). Grandpa finds another of Jim Bob’s markers. A storm starts to form and the wind picks up. The men find the old cabin that has been quickly abandoned. Ike finds Jim Bob’s handkerchief, and Horace finds newly made tire tracks. They go off in the direction of the bootlegger’s tire tracks. Jim Bob states that Grandpa says to look for a game trail that is going downhill to locate water.
The men continue looking. Jim Bob leads the way as they continue walking. He finds a creek. A king snake is found next to Olivia, but she says that it is a harmless snake. Jim Bob says that there are fish in the creek, and he attempts to catch one. Grandpa taught Jim Bob to tickle fish on their stomachs; and then grab them when they fall asleep. He almost catches one, but it wiggles free. But, on the third try he catches one. Later, they continue walking. Jim Bob has found water crest and wild onion for the rest of their supper. Suddenly, a bear is seen walking toward them. Jim Bob throws the fish at him. They walk away quietly.
Elizabeth suggests they sleep in a hollowed out tree, but Jim Bob states that Grandpa says that type of tree is a “widow-maker”, you never know when it might fall down. They find a cave, and prepare to stay there the night. Grandma, Mary Ellen, and Erin pray for Olivia, Jim Bob, and Elizabeth before eating supper. The girls say they can’t eat, but Grandma says they can eat if they get the fear out of their souls. Lightning and thunder begins as they eat their supper. The men continue to search. Jason finds another marker from Jim Bob. Mary Ellen and Erin feel useless, but Grandma reassures them. She says they are protected, because of faith.
Jim Bob hears a crack, and sees a bear. He hits two rocks together to scare the bear, which works. The bear retreats. Jim Bob states that Daddy says hitting two rocks together scares a bear every time. Mary Ellen says to Grandma, “How can you really believe?” Grandma responds, “Well, there is nothing else!” The hollowed-out tree that they earlier passed is struck by lightning. Grandma finds the two sisters at the window praying, and she joins them. Grandpa crosses a stream, and loses his lantern. Jim Bob hears another noise. They wait to see what it is. They look up to see John looking down at them. They have been found. John yells out, John-Boy and Jason comes running. Grandpa shoots off his gun.
At home, Olivia and Elizabeth compliment Jim Bob for the many ways he saved them, including the bear. Jim Bob said he just did what John and Grandpa told him. John says he is very proud of him. Grandma says grace, “Thank you o’ Lord for thy care and for watching over us and guiding us so we can all be together again. And thank you for the blessing of this table. Amen.”
"One member of the family was not to make it home. Betsy the broody hen found and hatched her eggs out there in the woods and for years after, perhaps to this day, a flock of chickens gone wild could be found in the vicinity of a big bramble bush in Benton's Hollow".
What was it like round here today?
Mary Ellen: It was awful. Grandma made us work all day.
Grandma: We got through. Goodnight Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Goodnight Grandma. Goodnight John-Boy.
John-Boy: Goodnight Elizabeth. Goodnight Mary Ellen.
Mary Ellen: Goodnight John-Boy. Goodnight Jim Bob.
Olivia: Jim Bob?
Olivia: Where is the little boy who looks after the sheep? He's under the haystack fast asleep. Goodnight everyone.
According to the introductory remarks by Earl Hamner, it is the summer (1938)
Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Horace Brimley (Wilford Brimley); Mountain Woman (Helen Craig); Older Son (Robert Sorrells); Younger Son (Red Currie); First Flagman (Bill Smillie); Second Flagman (Edmund E. Villa).