The Virginian Summary
by Owen Wister

Start Your Free Trial

The Virginian Summary

The Virginian is a 1902 novel about the exploits of a cowboy called the Virginian in the American West.

  • The narrator moves from the East Coast to the West, where he meets the Virginian in the town of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, and travels with him to Judge Henry's ranch.
  • In the town of Bear Creek, the Virginian falls in love with Molly Stark Wood, the new schoolteacher, who has just arrived from Vermont.
  • After the Virginian defeats his greatest enemy, a cowboy named Trampas, in a shootout, he and Molly marry, and Judge Henry makes him a partner on the ranch.

Download The Virginian Study Guide

Subscribe Now


The narrator arrives in the small Western town of Medicine Bow, where he is met by the Virginian, a tall, handsome, strong young man who has been commissioned to escort him to the ranch of Judge Henry, a landowner who lives 263 miles from the town. They stay the night in Medicine Bow, where a cowboy named Trampas accuses the Virginian of cheating at poker, but the Virginian draws his gun and forces Trampas to back down. The Virginian and the narrator then journey together to Sunk Creek, Judge Henry’s ranch in Wyoming, where the narrator stays for a few months. The Virginian is initially aloof, and is annoyed, though coolly courteous, when deputed to look after the inexperienced narrator by the judge, but the two eventually become friends over their mutual attachment to Em’ly, a demented hen unable to lay eggs.

The narrator returns to the East Coast but meets the Virginian again for an elk-hunting expedition. He continues to receive news from Sunk Creek and the nearby (as distances go in the West) community of Bear Creek. The residents of Bear Creek have built a schoolhouse for their children and recruit a schoolmarm named Molly Stark Wood from Bennington, Vermont. Toward the end of her journey to Bear Creek, Molly travels in a stage coach with a drunken driver and is saved from a serious accident by a tall, mysterious rider who turns out to be the Virginian.

The Virginian and Molly meet again at a barbecue in Bear Creek, where the Virginian invites Molly to dance, but she pretends not to recognize him and refuses. The Virginian plays a prank which involves mixing up the clothes of all the children at the barbecue so the parents take home the wrong babies. When Molly reproaches him for this, he replies that his conduct has been no more childish than hers in pretending not to know him. The two become sparring partners and, gradually, friends. They go out riding together, and when Molly receives a consignment of books from her mother in Vermont, she starts the Virginian on a course of reading.

The narrator next meets the Virginian by chance in Omaha. The Virginian has been appointed acting foreman of Judge Henry’s ranch and is bringing a group of cowboys back there after selling two trainloads of steers in Chicago. The narrator returns with them. After a rumor that gold has been found at Rawhide, many of the ranch hands, led by Trampas, who has gained employment with the judge and remains an implacable enemy of the Virginian, are tempted to leave the Virginian’s party and go prospecting.

The Virginian asserts his authority, first by kicking the cook, who has become belligerent, off the train, then by cooking up a meal of frogs for the hungry cowboys, who can find no other food, at the same time as he tells a ludicrous story, which completely takes in Trampas. The other hands see how Trampas has been fooled and promptly abandon him and his plan of going to Rawhide, electing to return to Sunk Creek with the Virginian. When he hears from the narrator about the incidents of this journey, Judge Henry is impressed by the Virginian’s resourcefulness and gives him a permanent job as foreman at Sunk Creek ranch. Trampas expects to be fired and prepares to depart, but the Virginian is magnanimous in victory and allows him to remain. However, Trampas departs in the spring anyway.

On a journey to return some horses borrowed by a rancher called Balaam to the Sunk Creek...

(The entire section is 1,107 words.)