The prospect of death is ever-present in Episode 3 of 1883. As sequences of animal assaults, wagon accidents, and a snakebite support her narration, Elsa (Isabel May) reminds the audience that death is omnipresent and takes forms “your wildest fear couldn’t muster.” Every step of the way, our caravan is pursued, and many of these men and women are dying. Many are expected to die before reaching Oregon, whether as a result of snake bites, falling wagons, or possessed dogs. The hardest challenge they’ve faced so far is yet to come, and it takes the form of a river.
This is something James (Tim McGraw) and Shea (Sam Elliott) are aware of, and it’s a major issue that paralyzes the caravan as a whole. They debate the best route to get the wagons across the river, with Shea convinced that taking the Denison ferry is the best option. Although James warns him that Denison is the incorrect way to go, Shea believes it is the safest way to cross. The area to the west is tough, so James advises they go that way, while Shea mulls overtaking the longer – and more time-consuming – route to the east.
To be honest, it’s not much of a negotiation, and it’ll be difficult going anyway. However, if they attempt to cross the river where they are, a large number of them will drown. Thomas is concerned that James is undermining Shea’s authority after their heated exchange.
Thomas and Shea meet a gypsy named Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi) at the camp. Shea provides her with some sound advice while she’s having problems with her horses. Her two sons haven’t had anything to drink in a long time, which worries the grizzled old man. He provides them with water canteens.
Shea pledges to assist, but firmly rejects Noemi’s sexual advances, stating that he will transport her to Oregon but will not marry her. When Thomas starts talking to Noemi, he discovers that one of the camp’s men has taken all of her belongings. Shea is forced to cut the thieves’ horses loose, muck up their wagon, and return the resources to Noemi as a result of their treason, stealing from their own. Shea also threatens to kill them if they continue on their current path.
Shea confronts Josef with a suitcase over his shoulder, pleading with him to keep his people under control. If he is unable to do so, he must choose someone else to lead them forward. Thomas is concerned about Shea’s behavior, telling him that if they are to complete the journey in one piece, they must have the tourists’ trust.
Ennis (Eric Nelsen) pays a visit to the Duttons’ camp and informs James that the cowboys are on their way back home. Elsa volunteers to assist Ennis with the herd at camp. Margaret agrees to join her, focused on keeping an eye on the young woman, despite James’ reservations. Ennis, on the other hand, has more on his mind than herding, and his plans are very evident as Margaret and Elsa approach. Nothing happens, but things are heating up. Shea and Thomas talk about James’ abilities as he rides out of the camp to go hunting. Thomas is apprehensive that having two leaders in the group – Shea and James – will not work out well because he is not a team player.
James takes John hunting while this is going on. He learns how to deer hunt. It’s also a large stag, with enough meat to supply the camp for a week. As they return to camp with their kill, James teaches him the skill of honoring the kill, smearing his face with blood.
John (Audie Rick) promises his father that he can be quiet, but James isn’t certain that any of this is a good idea.
Shea will be waiting for James when he comes. Shea informs James that going east may be more convenient, but it will add three weeks to their journey. So it’s only logical that they’ll head west. Although Shea reluctantly agrees, he points out James’s doubts about his authority and how this is detrimental to the entire endeavor. James, on the other hand, is just concerned with his one and only family; he is unconcerned with the politics of the roving rabble of outsiders. They do, however, eventually agree to go out together.
The robber from earlier attempts to rouse the people to his cause complained about Shea’s leadership that night. Shea makes his point that night, drawing his gun at a breakneck pace and reminding the sobbing guy that murdering him would be pointless, especially given the massacres he’s witnessed in the past.
When the robbers finally leave, Shea warns the other foreigners that unless they police themselves, he and Thomas would intervene. They’re leaving in the morning, but he advises them to gather water first – boiling it before drinking, of course.
Leaving these robbers alive has a negative impact as well. It puts the caravan at insignificant risk, as the men may return to Fort Worth, round up a posse of robbers, and approach the caravan as a form of retaliation. Shea is well aware of this, especially when he confides in Thomas and bemoans his guilt for not killing them.
In the form of a voice-over, The party is on two travels, according to Elsa. One is filled with doom and dread, while the other is filled with adventure and wonder. She’s currently on the latter, and she’s having a great time. “I didn’t know enough to predict they’d collide,” she continues. I didn’t know enough about the world to realize how harsh and callous it might be.” As the caravan goes forward, the threat of death follows them, posing numerous threats in the near future. Will Shea be haunted by it in the future?