A Proper House, the first in a three-book family saga, begins at the turn of the twentieth century. It is the story of OLLIE MCNARY, the daughter of homesteaders, who is engaged to marry WILLIAM RUSSELL, her childhood sweetheart. Ollie longs to become a wife, raise a family, build a proper house, and farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas—land best suited for raising cattle.
Days before their wedding, Will’s aunt, MAGGIE BROWN, summons Will to Beaumont, Texas, following a shooting attack on her husband. Maggie petitions Will’s help in running the Brown Lumber Company. Reluctantly, he complies, obligated to repay a long-standing, family debt. Will’s best friend, SETH STEELE, delivers a letter to Ollie informing her of Will’s departure, shattering her dreams.
Over the coming months, Ollie receives only occasional letters and telegrams from Will. After six months, Maggie’s husband has recovered enough to return to work. Even though Will’s time in Beaumont has left him enamored with the lumber business, he intends to return home to Ollie. However, as fate would have it, the day he is to leave, an enormous discovery of oil—the Lucas No. 1 Well—unleashes immense power, changing the town of Beaumont forever. The Lucas No. 1 Well explodes, taking the life of Maggie’s husband, causing Will to miss his train. Maggie sweetens his incentive to stay permanently by gifting him half interest in the mill. The instant wealth created by the oil discovery makes the land owned by the lumber operation worth millions.
Over the coming months, Ollie receives only terse telegrams from Will. Until, finally, he writes her a letter asking her to move to Beaumont and marry him. Ollie accepts and travels to Beaumont with her sister and Seth—their agreed upon matron of honor and best man.
Once in Beaumont, the three find a chaotic world filled with exhausted townsfolk, speculators, gamblers, oil-splattered wildcatters and reprobates. Ollie is repulsed by her new home, but the manic exhilaration of the new find ignites a passion in Seth to strike it rich in oil.
Manipulated by Maggie into marrying Will the day she arrives, Ollie refuses to consummate their marriage, regretting her decision to move. Over time, Ollie adjusts to the chaos, remembers why she loved Will, and settles into her life as his wife, vowing to make a proper home in a town gone wild.
Yet, destiny takes another turn. While delivering a load of lumber, Will is allegedly murdered by thieves. Devastated, Ollie makes preparation to return his body to Kansas. At his Beaumont viewing, Ollie learns Will sold his interest in the mill and planned to take her back to Kansas—the only place he believed she could be truly happy. But the more Ollie learns about the purported sale, it becomes apparent Maggie and her cohorts are attempting to swindle her out of her rightful inheritance.
Ollie finds Will’s bank book and withdraws the small fortune it contains. Before returning to Kansas, she is confronted by Maggie and her cronies, who present her with a document specifying Will’s final wishes to leave his ownership in the mill to Maggie. Ollie is certain the signature on the document is not Will’s. Maggie’s associates bribe Ollie in to accepting the veracity of the document to avoid probate. She agrees, wanting to leave Beaumont as quickly as possible.
Ollie hides the money she withdrew from the bank in her undergarments to safeguard it during the train ride home. On the way back to Kansas, the train is robbed; and Ollie is accosted by one of the bandits, who discovers the hidden money. Two female Pinkerton agents save the day. Once home, Ollie hides her inheritance, burying it in canning jars around her family’s farm.
Ollie learns she is pregnant and gives birth to twins. Concerned about the instability of her younger sister, Ollie moves into an old soddy on the McNary ranch to protect her children. When the babies are four months old, the sheriff visits Ollie. Maggie has accused her of theft, stating the money she withdrew from Will’s account belongs to Brown Lumber and questions the paternity of her children. A superintendent of the mill claims to be the real father of the twins.
Ollie hires an attorney from Kansas City, who, in turn, hires Pinkerton detectives to investigate Beaumont corruption, but progress is slow.
Just before her trail is to begin, one twin dies, again devastating Ollie. In a fragile, emotional state, Ollie struggles through her trial, which seems hopeless. But, the Pinkertons uncover evidence showing that Maggie’s cohorts murdered Will to acquire his mineral rights under lumber company lands. Ollie is exonerated. She learns that Will had been building her a proper house as a surprise.
Maggie’s cronies are taken into custody and returned to Texas to stand trial. The mill’s superintendent comes clean, revealing he was blackmailed into claiming paternity of the twins.
Following the trial, Ollie returns to Beaumont to properly settle Will’s estate, where she sells her share of the Brown timberlands to Maggie but retains mineral ownership, preserving the lands from drilling as her husband wished.
Ollie returns to Kansas, builds a proper house for her daughter, and attempts to farm land more suited for ranching.