(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Virginian is sent by his employer, the owner of the Sunk Creek Ranch, to meet an Eastern guest at Medicine Bow and escort him 260 miles from the town to the ranch. While the Virginian and the guest await the arrival of the Easterner’s trunk on the next train, the cowboy enters into a poker game. One of the players, a cowboy named Trampas, accuses the Virginian of cheating. The man backs down before the Virginian’s gun, but it is clear to everyone that the Virginian has made an implacable enemy.

A few months later, in the fall, a schoolmistress comes West from Vermont to teach in the new school at Bear Creek, Wyoming. All the single men—and there are many of them in the territory—eagerly await the arrival of the new teacher, Molly Wood. The Virginian is fortunate in his first meeting with her. A drunken stage driver tries to ford a creek in high water and maroons his coach and passenger. The Virginian, who is just passing, lifts the young woman out of the stage and deposits her safely on the bank of the stream. After he rides away, Molly misses her handkerchief and realizes that the young cowboy somehow contrived to take it.

The next time the Virginian sees Molly, she is a guest at a barbecue. He rides his horse for two days for the opportunity to see her, but she coquettishly refuses to notice him. Piqued, the Virginian and another cowboy get drunk and play a prank on all the people who brought babies to the barbecue; they switch the babies’ clothing, so that many of the mothers carry off the wrong children. Before returning to Sunk Creek, the Virginian warns Molly that she is going to love him eventually, no matter what she thinks of him now.

During the next year, the Virginian begins to read books for the first time since he left school in the sixth grade. He borrows the books from Molly, which gives him the opportunity to ride to Bear Creek to see her at intervals. In the meantime, he rises high in the estimation of his employer. Judge Henry puts him in charge of a party of men who are to escort two trainloads of steers to the Chicago market.

On the trip back to the ranch, the Virginian’s men threaten to desert the train to go prospecting for gold that was discovered in the Black Hills. The ringleader of the insurgents is Trampas. The Virginian sees that the best way to win over the men is to make a fool of Trampas. His chance comes when the train stops near a bridge that is being repaired. Since there is no food on the train, the Virginian goes out and gathers a sackful of frogs to cook. Then he begins to tell a tall story about frogs that completely takes in Trampas. When the other cowboys see how foolish Trampas appears, they are willing to return to the ranch,...

(The entire section is 1115 words.)