Medicine River Characters

The main characters in Medicine River are Will Sampson, Rose Sampson, James Sampson, Harlen Bigbear, and Louise Heavyman.

  • Will Sampson is the novel’s protagonist, a photographer who returns to Medicine River to build a life and reconnect with his roots.
  • Rose Sampson is Will’s mother, a Blackfoot woman who was cast out of the reservation for having married a white man.
  • James Sampson is Will’s brother, an artist who travels the world.
  • Harlen Bigbear is Will’s best friend, a genial man who knows everyone in Medicine River.
  • Louise Heavyman is an accountant with whom Will develops a romantic relationship.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Will Sampson is the protagonist of Medicine River. He is a half-Blackfoot man who returns to Medicine River for his mother's funeral and spends time with the community there. He reminisces about his past and is haunted by the fact that he never knew his father. Will is a photographer who joins the basketball team in Medicine River and falls for an accountant who works there.

Rose Sampson is the mother of two sons, Will and Jake. She was forced to leave the Blackfoot reservation with her sons after she married a man from Canada. She moved to Calgary and raised her sons alone after their father abandoned the family. She does not support Will learning about his father. Her funeral is the catalyst that causes Will to return to Medicine River.

James Sampson is Will's brother. He is an artist who Will believes got most of the talent in the family. When Will is trying to decide whether to join the basketball team, he thinks that James would be a better replacement than him.

Harlen Bigbear is Will's best friend. He is a person who is deeply integrated within the community at Medicine River and is known for getting involved in everyone's business. He encourages Will to join the basketball team and to ask Louise out, for example.

Louise Heavyman is a woman who works as an accountant in Medicine River. She enters into a relationship with Will despite being pregnant. Louise chose to get pregnant on purpose despite not being in a relationship with the father—she wanted a child. She gives birth to her daughter and is with Will at the end of the novel.

Wilma Heavyman is known as South Wing for the hospital wing in which she was born. She is the child of Louise. For her birthday, Will gives her an authentic Indian rattle made by Harlen's grandmother.

Jake Pretty Weasel grew up with Will and Harlen. In the novel, he kills himself. He was an abusive husband to his wife, January, who fakes a suicide note to make sure people do not think she killed him.

Susan Adamson is a woman that Will dated in Canada. Unbeknownst to Will, Susan is married. He finds out when he calls her house and talks to her daughter. She helps him see that the Canadian society he is entering is somewhat immoral compared to what he is used to.

David Plume is a member of a militant Native American group. He is accused of killing someone who mocked him.

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