The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In every settled society, there are men slow to words and action, men whose real capacities are not evident to themselves or to those around them. Yet when that society is threatened by disaster or challenged by change, such men, gifted with common sense, a feeling for fair play, and the willingness to take counsel with others before making the necessary decisions, may become the new leaders of the society. Such a man is Lije Evans. Beginning his journey to Oregon with no very high opinion of himself, he finds himself speaking for the right and the sensible, defending the camp dogs against the malicious, and insisting that the train delay when a man sickens with camp fever. After his election as the new wagon-train leader, he has to prove himself to himself; he arrives in Oregon as a leader of society and a builder of the nation.

The first leader of the wagon train, Irvine Tadlock, is the kind of loud-mouthed, selfish, ambitious man, followed by hirelings, who is familiar to readers of Western novels. The antithesis of Tadlock is the former mountain man Dick Summers, wise, experienced, and brave but not foolish. Having just lost his wife when the novel begins, Summers willingly signs on as pilot for the wagon train, and he is conscientious and effective. His world, however, is that of the wilderness, and he is more at home in his memories of Indian squaws and solitary campfires than in the world of the settlers.

Brownie Evans and Mercy McBee,...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lije Evans

Lije Evans, the thirty-five-year-old captain of a wagon train. A strong, large man with an easygoing manner, he goes west because of his strong conviction that Oregon should become part of the United States, not of England, and because he thinks that his son deserves a better chance. Although he does not actively seek the post, he is elected captain. Unlike his predecessor, Tadlock, Evans does not enjoy giving speeches, and he is compelled to make special provisions for the weaker members of the company. He feels like a whole man for the first time when he takes a stand against Tadlock, who wants to hang a thieving Indian. His awe of the wilderness culminates in Oregon, which he views as a fitting place for his grandson to be born.

Rebecca Evans

Rebecca Evans, Lije’s wife and the strongest of all the women. She reluctantly leaves her comfortable home in Missouri because she thinks that there are more opportunities for her son and husband in Oregon. Stout, assured, and unafraid, she sees it as her duty to suppress her own fears and disappointments and to help the weak women, such as Judith Fairman and Mrs. Byrd. She is an insightful person who can predict how people will act and feel in certain situations, although she is occasionally baffled by the behavior of her men. Because she wants to maintain harmony in her family, she decides not to tell Lije that Brownie is not the father of Mercy’s child.

Brownie Evans

Brownie Evans, the seventeen-year-old son of Lije and Rebecca. At the beginning of the trip, he daydreams of performing heroic feats because he fears that he will never be as brave as Dick Summers, his idol. He proves himself when he fights off the Indian dogs that are attacking his dog, Rock. Because he is a boy doing the man’s job of taking care of the cattle on the journey, he matures quickly. By the end of the trip, he speaks to his father with the self-confidence of an adult as he tells Lije that he is going to marry Mercy and that he should take the lead wagon across the raging river.

Dick Summers

Dick Summers, a mountain man and the pilot of the wagon train. His decision to go west with the company marks the end of his life as a farmer after his wife dies, as well as the beginning of his return to the beaver country that he left eight years earlier. He takes a new pleasure at the awakening memory of beaver streams, squaws, and mountain men that he has known. His vast knowledge of frontier lore is indispensable to the pioneers, most of whom are not nearly as skilled in hunting, locating water, and dealing with the Indians. He is also the confidant of Lije and Brownie Evans, who constantly go to him for advice....

(The entire section is 1123 words.)