Joseph Donnelly (Tom Cruise) is a young impressionable Irish man who is facing financial ruin after the death of his father leaves him at the mercy of his tyrannical landlord, Daniel Christie (Robert Prosky).
Desperate for a new life Joseph leaves Ireland with his landlord's daughter, Shannon (Nicole Kidman) after some trouble with her father, and they dream of owning land at the big giveaway in Oklahoma ca. 1893.
On their arrival they set out to get to the new land, they find jobs and begin saving money.
Joseph becomes a local barehands boxer, and rides in glory until he is beaten, then his employers steal all the couple's money and they must fight off starvation in the winter, and try to keep their dream of owning land alive.
Meanwhile, Shannon's parents, still in Ireland, face a devastating loss and decide to come to America to be with her. Chase, who joined them, has begun a campaign to find her, but his efforts are unnecessary as Joseph brings Shannon to them after an accident.
Joseph then heads west to work on the railroad.
After many months, Joseph is confronted by his father in a dream, and is reminded of his desire to own his own land. Joseph decides to join the wagon trains and arrives in Oklahoma Territory just in time for the big land race, upon which their fate will lie.