Helen Carter lives in the back seat of her father's Model T in the harsh Nevada desert, surrounded by thousands of desperate souls trying to endure the hardships of the Great Depression. When her father dies while working on the Hoover Dam diversion tunnels, she finds herself alone. In this unforgiving landscape where marriage, prostitution, and starvation seem to be her only viable choices, Helen is determined to defy society's expectations of a young woman and create her own American dream. She relies on her resourcefulness to survive but soon realizes she can't go it alone.
Ezra Deal, a young dam worker, brought his sister to Nevada in search of the father of her child, only to have the man reject her. Tragically, both his sister and the baby pass away during childbirth, leaving Ezra with a profound sense of guilt. Determined to distance himself from any further responsibilities, he focuses on his job and locating the man who callously denied his sister. But when he learns that his friend Helen is running from not only the law but also a Las Vegas gangster, he must decide between his independent lifestyle and helping her.
As Helen and Ezra grow closer and become more invested in the diversion of the Colorado River from its course, their lives parallel this monumental change. Ezra can picture building a life with Helen, but she has other ideas. With the help of a thirteen-year-old runaway, a few prostitutes, a dead desperado, and Ezra, Helen embarks on a journey to live life on her terms.
Incorporating actual dramatic events gleaned from the oral histories of the dam workers, Ragtown highlights a time in American history when ordinary men and women overcame the challenges of the Great Depression and thrived.