Walnut Grove, the first of Jane Gilmore Rushing's six West Texas novels, is the story of John Carlile's passage into manhood when the twentieth century was young. His story is intimately connected to the growth of the town of Walnut Grove and to the good and evil that are always present. In those days cotton was taking the place of cattle, and farmers like John's father gambled that they could live off the soil. When a prolonged drought threatens to make the struggle hopeless, John's passionate attachment to the land is underscored by the fear that he might have to leave it.
The establishment of the first school opens new horizons for John and also sharpens his sensibilities. The building of the railroad brings the greatest change of all. For some it means prosperity. But with the arrival of the work gangs come temptation, tragedy, and conflict, all touching John closely. On the very day that Walnut Grove celebrates the opening of a through line, a culmination of heroic and disillusioning events forces John to a crucial decision about his life and his future.