Set in the California gold country between 1850 and 1863, the novel follows the adventures of Sarah McKensie, orphaned at age 3 by a stagecoach robber. Sarah is adopted and nursed by the she-wolf Wauna (who has lost her litter of pups to the same brutal man) and is accepted into the wolf pack. As she matures, Sarah learns to assist in the pack's well-being by contributing human tools--a found knife, a bow and arrow, and a lariat stolen from a would-be cowpoke--to the hunt.
With her best friend and pack-sister Beka at her side, Sarah becomes a local legend--the Wild Angel of the Sierras, rescuer of imperiled travelers. Sarah's altruism is motivated less by compassion than by curiosity, bafflement by the settlers' inability to perceive the world around them, and a passion for biscuits.
Surrounding Sarah is a kaleidoscopic cast: an artist with a shady past; a young Indian shaman; a mesmerist-cum-temperance crusader; a circus impresario with a pack of poodles and an elephant named Ruby; a young woman on the lam from her strait-laced aunt; the hilarious fraternal order E Clampus Vitus (or "Clampers"); Samuel Clemens (in a brief and thwarted cameo); and, of course, two hiss-worthy villains--one human, one lupine
When Sarah McKensie's parents are murdered in the gold fields of California, the four-year-old girl is saved by a mother wolf and raised in the pack. Part Mowgli, part Tarzan of the Apes, young Sarah survives against all odds.
She becomes known as the Wild Angel of the Sierras, for her curiosity about humans causes her to rescue those in need. In time the tale of the beautiful young girl comes to the ears of two men - one who found her parents' bodies and has grieved for the missing child all these years, and the other her parents' killer, a man who still wants to see her dead.