Last Updated on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326
Because Lynn Riggs uses a nonlinear structure in his play, several of the characters reappear at different ages at different times of their lives. In the first scene, there is a large ensemble, and some of the characters present there also are involved with each other in subsequent scenes.
One key character, John Gray-Wolf, is referenced throughout the play but rarely appears. He is presented as a heroic Cherokee of the bygone times of the late nineteenth century.
Viney Jones, a Cherokee woman, received an education in white schools and subsequently became a teacher. She represents assimilated Native people who reject their own birthright and have been corrupted by the negative values of white society. Her husband is white, and she generally passes as white.
Sarah Pickard, unlike her sister Viney, has remained in Claremore and did not enter white society. Not only does her poverty starkly contrast with Viney’s relative financial comfort, it has contributed to her illness.
Bee Newcomb, a biracial white-Cherokee woman, works as a barmaid and a prostitute. When she is drawn into a plot to trick Art into admitting his crime, she cannot reconcile her desire for money with her racial loyalties.
Gar Breeden is Bee Newcomb’s half brother. Edgar Breeden is their father.
Art Osburn is a Native American man who marries a white woman. Unable to reconcile himself to her way of life or to care for her children, he kills her.
Old Man Talbert
Old Man Talbert is a Cherokee man who desperately seeks connections with the old ways. Suffering from dementia, he thinks he is living in an earlier era of active warfare. He obsessively collects arrowheads from Indian graves.
Kate Whiteturkey is an Osage woman who benefited from the oil boom. She and her husband, Hutch Moree, own expensive items such as silk shirts and even several cars. Kate does everything possible to distance herself from Native lifeways.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
Viney Jones (later Viney Clepper), a frontier schoolteacher. Given to crudity and ruthlessness, Viney herself is the product of education by whites. She is trained sufficiently to become a teacher of children herself. She resents her Cherokee heritage and eventually abandons it and moves to town, presumably married to a white man. She returns to Claremore Mound to visit her sister, Sarah, who is living in poverty, not so much to help her but to be arrogant in her treatment of her. Viney represents the Cherokees of the younger generation who have given themselves to the materialism and education of the dominant society.
Bee Newcomb, another part-breed Cherokee. As a whore, then a prostitute, Bee represents the physical and sexual decline of the Cherokee. Her worst act, however, is not having sex with clients or even with her half brother Gar; it is tricking Art Osburn, a fellow part-breed, into confessing a murder. This deceit for money is far more damning than having sex for money.
Art Osburn, who murders his wife. Art responds to the controls of the white society with violence. Having married a white woman with children, he finds that he cannot continue life with her because of her ways. When he confesses to the murder, he becomes a victim.
Old Man Talbert
Old Man Talbert, a collector of arrowheads and one of the last remaining true Cherokees. Talbert, who is first thought to be a grave robber, turns out to be searching for something that will revive the dignity of his parents’ way of life. Instead, he finds only relics that the younger Cherokees look at with disdain.
Sarah Pickard, Viney’s sister. Sarah’s qualities as a character are essentially defined by her poverty. Too proud to leave the Indian lands and accommodate a white lifestyle, Sarah remains in the old ways and thus is ridden with poverty and disease. Although morally superior to her sister, she is stubborn to the extent that she is not admirable.
Kate Whiteturkey, an eighteen-year-old Osage Indian woman who is married to Hutch Moree. As owner of three Studebaker cars, Kate has acquired some of the luxury material goods offered by white society. She denies her Indian heritage to herself and to other Indians. She finds meaning in life by boasting that her husband has ten silk shirts and six pairs of cowboy boots.
John Gray-Wolf, one of the last true Cherokees. Gray-Wolf does not appear in the play until the last scene, set in 1895. He is the only character with both integrity and Indian heritage, and he will soon die. He is a remnant of all that was but that is now lost.
Edgar “Spench” Breeden
Edgar “Spench” Breeden, the father of Gar Breeden and Bee Newcomb. Spench is one of the more flagrant degenerates in the cast. He would steal and kill; moreover, he has fathered children by two women at the same time, only to desert both women. He dies after being chased by white men seeking to punish him for his misconduct.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support