Last Updated on September 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 635
Boone Caudill is much like his father, John, whom Boone calls Pap. As the story begins, Pap takes Boone to task for getting drunk and beating up another boy at the local store:
"You been to the store ag'in, drinkin' liquor and raisin' sand, just like you was growed up."
Serena tried to keep the quaver out of her voice. "If he did, he come by it honest."
Boone is now seventeen and not quite a man yet, but he and Pap step outside and go toe-to-toe. This is the pivotal event that sets Boone on his path, with the intention of putting distance between himself and his father and the decision that he will never be like Pap. In reality, Boone is very much like his father, impulsive and prone to violence after drinking, but he is unable to see it. The difference between Boone and his father is that Boone is able to set out on his quest to seek a different life, while his father is trapped by the lifestyle he hates, unable to understand his own need for freedom and adventure.
In the end, though, Boone comes full circle—a victim of his anger, just as his father was. Boone finds himself with nowhere to go, as he now cannot return to civilization or to the life he acquired and then destroyed when he murdered his best friend, Jim, and abandoned Teal Eye, his wife and the mother of his child. Desperate for answers, he turns to Dick, but finding none, he disappears and is never seen or heard from again.
Boone's father, John, is the second most important character in the novel after Boone himself, despite his brief appearance in the book. John, whom Boone calls Pap, is lost, unable to adapt to his environment and at the same time unable to leave, as he has already grudgingly accepted society's rules. Boone remembers a time when his uncle Zeb Calloway visited their house and talked about his life and adventures. Readers later learn that Zeb's stories are only partially true, but Boone is taken in by them, setting the stage for Boone's later choices. Boone remembers that Pap became quiet at times while Zeb recounted his tales; he doesn't understand that his father longs for the kind of life Zeb leads but won't allow himself to pursue it.
Jim Deakins, who appears near the beginning of the story as Boone runs away from home, becomes Boone's traveling companion and later his best friend. In some respects, Jim reminds Boone of Boone's brother, Dan; Jim and Dan are both quite easygoing and friendly, although Boone initially suspects that Jim might be too eager to please others and prone to revealing more information to strangers than he should. Jim is able to prove his loyalty to Boone, though, cementing their friendship for good.
Jonathan Bedwell provides a contrast to Jim Deakins in that he represents everything that Boone hates about society. Bedwell is friendly, like Jim, but has a polished demeanor that hides his true nature, whereas Jim is more of an open book. This becomes very apparent when Boone and Bedwell are brought to court, and the jury of men choose to believe Bedwell's version of events over Boone's on the strength of nothing more than Bedwell's polite manners.
Dick Summers becomes Boone's second traveling companion, representing everything that Boone would like to be. It's ironic, then, that at the same time that Boone chooses Dick as a role model, Dick begins to realize that he is becoming too old to continue the path he's on and decides to return to the same type of life that Boone is running from. Boone is unable to understand this and continues on his journey with Jim in tow.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615
Boone Caudill, a young mountain man, strong, reticent, moody, quick to anger, and savage when crossed. Like an Indian, he wears his long hair braided. He loves the open country and the independent life of a hunter, and he resents the settlement of the West by eastern immigrants. Stubborn and brave, he is less a thinker than a doer. Having set his mind on marrying Teal Eye, he is unceasing in his search until he finds her. Once the suspicion about the source of his son’s red hair has been put into his mind, he broods on it until he finds the suspicion apparently confirmed, and he kills innocent Jim Deakins, whom he had once saved. After learning that his son could have inherited his red hair through Boone himself, he is deeply troubled. Yet he appears to regard the shooting of Jim not as a crime but only as a grave injustice to his best friend.
Teal Eye, his Indian wife, the young daughter of a Blackfoot chief. As a child she was captured by Crows, escaped, was rescued, and was taken to St. Louis. While being returned to her people so that she may be used as a basis for a friendship to be established between Jourdonnais and the Blackfoot Indians, she escapes in Blackfoot territory. Found long afterward with her people by Boone, she happily accepts him as her husband, and she bears his son. Though he deserts her when he suspects the baby’s paternity, he is at the story’s end on his way back to Teal Eye, in whose faithful love he now believes.
Jim Deakins, Boone’s red-haired, talkative friend, who enjoys companionship, joking, drinking, and bedding down with women. Restless, he never likes to stay anywhere for long, especially away from the communities where he can enjoy associating with men and women. He is shot to death by Boone, who suspects him of having fathered Teal Eye’s reddish-haired son.
Dick Summers, an old hunter, long-chinned with a lined, lean, and humorous face. He lives much in the past. Realizing that he is too old to continue the life of a mountain man, he returns east, marries, and becomes a farmer.
Jourdonnais, a French keelboat captain ambitious to build a trading post and establish his own company. He is killed in an Indian attack on his new fort.
Poordevil, a half-witted Blackfoot, ugly, tousle-haired, long-nosed, and gap-toothed. He loves whiskey and is often amusing with his rough trapper-talk English.
Elisha Peabody, a Yankee speculator who envisons hordes of Americans pushing westward and himself or his agents profiting from their passage.
McKenzie, an American Fur Company trader, cold-eyed, broad-faced, something of a dandy, and a deceitful bargainer. He loses his job because of whiskey-making.
Uncle Zeb Calloway
Uncle Zeb Calloway, an old-time mountain man, brother of Serena Caudill. He is grizzled, long-nosed, and bushy-browed; he drinks heavily.
John Caudill and
Serena Caudill , Boone’s parents.
Red Horn, brother of Teal Eye. He succeeds his father, Heavy Otter, as chief after smallpox kills most of the Piegans, a tribe of Blackfoot Indians.
Jonathan Bedwell, a thief who steals Boone’s rifle.
Streak, a hunter killed by Boone in a fight after Streak threatens to kill Poordevil.
Nancy Litsey, a foolish and forward young girl whom Boone takes sexually on one occasion on his return home.
Dan Caudill, Boone’s younger brother.
Cora Caudill, Boone’s sister-in-law.
Punk Caudill and
Andy Caudill, Boone’s two young nephews.
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