In 1865, a former Confederate soldier, Cullen Bohannon journeys to the Union Pacific Railroad's westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad to seek work and vengeance on the Union soldiers that have killed his wife. Thomas "Doc" Durant begins his "mad, noble quest" to expand his railroad westward. Lily Bell, accompanies her ailing husband Robert as he surveys the landscape for the Union Pacific. Their camp is attacked by Cheyenne braves and all are killed except Lily, who flees into the wilderness with maps that are essential to Durant's success. Reverend Nathaniel Cole baptizes Joseph Black Moon, a Cheyenne, in the Missouri River. The two later arrive at Hell on Wheels, the name for the mobile camp that follows the railroad westward.