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Bear’s Brother
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Killer Tom Black
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Bessie Black Bull
Bessie is Tom’s mother. After her husband runs to the mountains to escape jail, she waits until the middle of the night, then packs up a few items of clothing and utensils, takes her young son, and follows her husband into the wilderness. When her husband dies, she teaches Tom all the old stories and songs of his native culture.

Bessie gathers seeds and berries for food. She also is a basket maker and sells her wares in town in exchange for blankets and winter clothing. During one winter, Bessie becomes sick. When her condition worsens, she tells Tom to “Sing the song for going away.” She dies shortly thereafter.

George Black Bull
George Black Bull is Tom’s father. In the beginning of the story, he gets into trouble for having killed the thief Frank No Deer. Afraid that he would be sent to jail, George tells his wife to follow him; then he runs into the wilderness. In the mountains, George builds a lodge and lives off nature, providing his family with food, shelter, and clothes made from animal skins. One winter while hunting, he is killed in an avalanche.

Little Black Bull
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Thomas Black Bull
Thomas is the protagonist of the story. He is the son of George and Bessie, who take their son to the wilderness and raise him there until their deaths. Although barely a teenager, Thomas is able to physically provide for himself upon his parents’ deaths. However, he is forced to go to the nearest Indian Service school to learn the ways of the white people.

Thomas spends most of his youth learning what other people think is best for him. In the process, he becomes a man who has little awareness of his own identity. He endures many hardships and abuses along his path to physical maturity and learns to suppress his emotions. Of all his emotions, anger is the first to express itself, and it comes out in deadly bursts of energy. As a rodeo cowboy, he takes out his frustrations on the horses, many of which die in their efforts to throw Thomas off their backs. Thomas does not escape his own wrath, as his body suffers from multiple bone fractures, punctured lungs, and concussions.

When his body reaches the point at which it cannot endure the physical abuse that Thomas’s riding demands, he is subconsciously led back to his emotional source, the wilderness. At first Thomas barely remembers what it felt like to live in nature, but something holds him there. Slowly, as his body heals, so do his mind and his emotions. He learns to reflect on the events of his life, untangle the feelings that he has been hiding, and make decisions that are based on his welfare.

Blue Elk
Blue Elk is a Native American man who makes a living swindling other people, mostly people of his own tribe. His famous line, which is often repeated in defense of others, is “my people do not lie.” Blue Elk, however, lies all the time.

Blue Elk is responsible for George and Bessie Black Bull ending up in the sawmill town of Pagosa. Probably paid off by the sawmill boss, he was responsible for George and Bessie’s owing money to the tribal council for hunting without permits. He then lies to them, promising that if they work for the sawmill, they will soon be out of debt and have plenty of money left over. However, the sawmill owners make sure that George and Bessie stay in constant debt to them so they will never be able to leave.

After George kills Frank No Deer, Blue Elk later lies again, telling them that it was because of him that George no longer is a wanted man. He tells Bessie that she owes him something for this favor. When she refuses to pay him, he steals from her. After Bessie and George die, Blue Elk misleads Tom into believing that the people at the Indian Service school of Ignacio need Tom to teach them the “old ways,” to get him to leave his life in...

(The entire section contains 4464 words.)

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Critical Essays