The main character of the novel is a white teenager, who lived with Native Americans and grew up as one of them. From his early childhood True Son was taught that the white men are evil, so, when he is found by the white people and adopted by them, he tries everything to not let them take him away. He emphasizes his origins as Native American, painting his face and deliberately misbehaving to make them reconsider their decision. Despite everything he does, True Son is taken away. He says his farewell to his foster Native American father, Cuyloga. Cuyloga tells him to be and behave like a tribe member and take everything he will endure with honor. True Son is brought to the camp of white people. His guardsman is called Dell and the first thing True Son does is that he promises himself to kill Dell once he gets a chance.
Dell, not knowing about the boy’s thoughts, thinks about his captain nicknamed Bouquet. Dell treats Bouquet with respect, though he thinks that the captain is a bit weird. Harsh to his own people, Bouquet never lets them attack a Native American unless they attack the squad first. Most of the soldiers have friends or relatives killed by Native Americans, nevertheless they obey this order out of sheer respect to Bouquet. His respect is well earned: once Bouquet alone went to the territory of Native Indians to free some of the white captives that were forced to live in the tribe. The mission was considered impossible, but Bouquet managed to do it.
After only three days of rest Bouquet gives the soldiers an order to prepare themselves and the rescued children for the way back to Pennsylvania. True Son learns about this order and decides to stay on his native land by any means, by committing suicide on his soil rather than be taken somewhere else where the white people rule. He finds a poison, but Dell interrupts, not letting True Son kill himself. The boy makes a promise to repeat the attempt as soon as possible.
While they are going, True Son sees that some of the Native Americans are following them. Among them there are his cousin named Half Arrow and his friend Little Crane, whose wife is also taken prisoner by the soldiers. Secretly Half Arrow manages to give him some memorable things from his family: the shoes sewn by True Son’s mother, a bearskin coat and some corn to eat. He says that they can’t follow him any further and have to return back to their land. True Son tries to show them that he will endure whatever is going to happen to him. They have a long talk about the differences between Native Americans and white people, who mutilate the nature, ignoring its needs and can’t understand that money is useless when one should kill the world around themselves to gain it. Leaving, Half Arrow tells True Son the message from his father: to be always brave, cautious, patient and attack when he’ll have a chance.
The next day Dell says True Son that he now has to say his farewells to his land and slightly pushes him forward with his rifle. True Son in anger tries to grab the rifle and take it away from the soldier, but he fails and is tied again for the try. In the ropes he crosses the river that separates the land known to him from the land of the white people. He comes to the first white settlements and the sight of cut down trees and stone buildings repels him. The prisoners are lined on the platform on the square and searched for any birthmarks that can help their families recognize their grown children. True Son is finally found by his real father, but he is a simple man and True Son despises his look and attitude. He refuses to call him father and generally behaves aggressively, so Dell decides to come to their home, in case True Son’s biological family will need protection. Dell is right: the boy tries to run away on his way to their home. Dell catches him and returns it back to Harry Butler - his father. Mr. Butler tells True Son about his family: he has a brother named Geordie, who was born after True Son was abducted.
They come to the house and True Son sees the stairs for the first time. At first, he is afraid to come, but then he sees his little brother, a small kid, doing it without any fear and is ashamed enough to try it himself. When he comes upstairs, he sees his biological mother, Myra Batler, who tearfully greets him and tells him that his true name is John Cameron Butler. True Son doesn’t accept this name and refuses to react while called it. Myra says that they announced a family gathering for tomorrow, so all the relatives will celebrate John’s return. Also, she gives him some new clothes to change his bearskin coat for.
Geordie, trying to befriend his big brother, shows him their room, but True Son doesn’t recognize it and refuses to sleep there or change the clothes to the one of the white people. True Son has to sleep with Dell, but the bed he is given is uncomfortable to him. After some hours of struggling, he lays on the floor and covers himself with the bearskin that he also refused to give away. The next morning, he is dressed in the given clothes forcefully to meet the rest of the family looking properly. His two uncles, George and Wilse come to see him first. Wilse is quite an aggressive leader of the local militia, who killed Native Americans before. When he tells the story of killing the whole group, True Son tries to comfort him, saying that he did what he had to do and it should have been a worthy fight. Wilse slaps him, yelling at him to mind his tongue and claims that they got what they deserved. Offended and shocked, True Son doesn’t say a word until the end of the day.
The next few days pass relatively calmly. True Son seems to adjust to the life in the house, so Dell feels he can leave now. True Son’s aunt named Kate decides to cheat and takes away all his former clothes when he is asleep, so now the boy can either walk naked or wear the clothes of the white people. True Son is glad that Dell went away - he was the only one capable of capturing him - but it also means that True Son is alone now, because he barely knows some words in English and no one except Dell here speaks his language. Gradually, it gets better. The Butlers try their best to comfort True Son and to gently reintegrate him into the society, introducing him the way of life of the white people. He is enrolled to school to learn English and attends the church every Sunday with his family.
The family isn’t afraid now to send him into the town alone and even trust him to care about Geordie. Once the boys are sent to the grocery store and on their way, they meet a black man named Bejance, who was also raised by the Indians. He invites them to come to his house and have a talk. Bejance warns True Son that the white culture slowly assimilates everyone making them forget about their past and previous lives. He says that it happened to him already, but he still can remember living with Native Americans at the First Mountain, the place where were only those who spoke their language and the person named Corn Blade. This tale impresses True Son to no end and he constantly thinks about going to the First Mountain and see Corn Blade. Moreover, his excitement is transferred to Geordie, for whom it is a great adventure. In the spring they decide to pack their backpacks with food and other supplies and go to the mountain to talk to the wise Corn Blade. But when they go out of the town Wilse’s son spots them and calls other adults to bring them back. True Son is accused of running away and luring Geordie with him. He knows it isn’t true, but doesn’t care to object.
Some months later Myra becomes very sick and Parson Elder, the local priest and someone resembling a doctor comes to see her. Aunt Cate suggests that Myra is so sick because of stress she has with True Son who doesn’t recognize her as his mother. Parson Elder asks permission to speak to True Son and is very impressed with the boy. He feels that True Son thinks very differently from the rest of the children of his age, he acts more like a reasonable grown man. Parson Elder understands this and also starts to speak with him as with equal, a man who has his opinion and principles. But this unusual attitude from a white person shocks True Son and makes him misinterpret Parson Elder’s intentions, thinking that he tries to convert him to Christianity.
Using the possibility, True Son asks Parson Elder about the slaughtering of the Native American in Paxton his uncle mentioned. With a heavy heart Parson Elder replies that he also participated in it, killing even the young men slightly older than True Son. He explains the reason of it: the people were avenging the white children killed by those Native Americans. True Son can’t believe it and, thinking that Parson Elder is lying to him, ends the conversation.
Soon True Son also falls ill, but the town physician who came to see him, can’t figure out the reason and blames the Native American upbringing. Mr. Butler feels incredibly guilty for letting the Native Americans abduct his child and make him sick. Now he feels that True Son’s illness is partly his fault too. Aunt Kate, who also feels the guilt now, brings back his Indian clothes - she didn’t throw them away - hoping that it will make True Son feel better, but it doesn’t help with actual sickness.
The rumors are spread through the town: people saw Native Americans hiding around. They are probably looking for True Son. A few days later the rumors get a proof - one of the Native Americans came too close and was shot by Uncle Wilse and scalped later. Mr. Butler learns about it from Wilse’s boasting, but decides not to tell True Son about it to not upset him more. He focuses on his work, trying to avoid the thoughts about the Indians trying to take away his son again. But True Son manages to learn about what happened and tries to communicate with his possible saviors with secret language. They answer. Half Arrow comes to him and shows him the scalped body of Little Crane. The two boys sneak into Uncle Wilse’s house at night and kill him before running away back to their tribe.
The boys come home and are greeted as heroes. True Son sees that his family is very happy to see him back home again. But the family of Little Crane isn’t satisfied with the death of his murderer. They demand more kills to avenge him. The whole tribe decides to go and avenge Little Crane’s death and True Son will go as a part of the tribe. True Son is glad that he is treated like an adult, capable of doing such an important task. But when he listens to the plan he understands that both Uncle Wilse and Parson Elder told him the truth, at least partly: his tribe is going to kill everyone, women and children included. True Son is needed because he looks white and he can be the decoy to lure the people to their deaths. True Son tries to convince himself that he should do it, but fails, when he sees the little boy, as small as Geordie, amongst those he was leading to the ambush. He doesn’t let it happen and his tribe decides to kill him instead, as a traitor spoiled by the white people. His father, Cuyloga, saves him, but tells True Son that the tribe is now his enemies and he will never be welcomed here. He says that True Son should return to his white family instead. Cuyloga leads him to the river on the border of Native American territory - the one that he crossed once with Dell - and tells him to go.
Cuyloga turns away from True Son and leaves. True Son crosses the river and sees a young boy looking at him, who will show him the way back to his town.