Bernadette Lefthand is the only fully drawn character. In one sense, despite its title, the novel is more about her life than her death. She is seen, by her sister and by Starr Stubbs, as almost faultless, a gifted and beautiful young woman who succeeds as a mother as well as she had succeeded as a dancer at powwows. She is kind to her sister and a welcome companion to Starr, providing the white woman with important insights into Indian life and customs. She seems to show that even in depressed economic conditions, considerable joy and satisfaction are possible for at least some young Indians.
Anderson George is a more complex character. As a teenager, he has stood out from others in his group; he is handsome and almost as talented at rodeo riding as Bernadette is as a dancer. As a young adult, however, Anderson is less satisfied with his life than is his wife. Despite having won the beautiful Bernadette, he follows what the book presents as a typical Indian pattern in relying more and more on alcohol to soften the hard edges of his life. Partly as a result of his increasingly frequent drunkenness, he becomes less and less successful in the rodeos and comes more and more under the baleful influence of Emmett Take Horse. In the end, he is too far gone in drunkenness to realize that, despite appearances, he has not murdered his wife.
The most interesting character is Emmett Take Horse. He makes a deliberate choice of evil in seeking out the old witch who teaches him the ways of witchcraft, but he seems to lose faith in the power of his magic. He decides finally not to rely on the spell he has cast on Anderson George to accomplish Bernadette’s death; instead he kills her himself and arranges for the blame to fall on Anderson.
Of the other characters, Starr Stubbs receives the most attention, although her character is not developed at length. Instead, she is used to represent whites who have goodwill toward Indians but who, despite book knowledge and the best of intentions, cannot truly understand the ways and the hardships of Indian life. Tom George is a sober foil to his more glamorous brother; Gracie, similarly, is the younger sister so admiring of Bernadette that she has little personality of her own.