Montana 1948

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David Hayden

David is the story’s contemplative and highly perceptive narrator. He tells the story as a grown man of 52 looking back on his childhood. The events of the summer of 1948 mark for David a… (read full character analysis)

Wesley Hayden

David’s father and the elected Sheriff of Mercer County. Wesley has always felt inferior to his older brother Frank, who is a doctor and hero of WWII. Wesley has an injured leg (from… (read full character analysis)

Gail Hayden

Wesley’s wife and David’s mother. Gail is an opinionated, idealistic woman who fights for Marie Little Soldier in spite of the fact that her alleged abuser, Frank Hayden, is a hero of… (read full character analysis)

Marie Little Soldier

David’s caretaker. Marie is a vibrant Sioux woman with a great sense of humor whom David loves deeply. The Haydens consider her a member of their family, yet she sleeps in a servant’s room… (read full character analysis)

Frank Hayden

Frank is Wesley’s brother. He is a highly charismatic and handsome doctor and war hero and is greatly liked by many in the community. However, he sexually abuses Native American women who come to… (read full character analysis)
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Grandpa Hayden (Julian)

Grandpa Hayden is a bigoted and potentially violent man who favors his son Frank over his other son Wesley. He knows about Frank’s abuse of Sioux women, but his only concern is that Frank… (read full character analysis)

Ronnie Tall Bear

Ronnie is Marie Little Soldier’s boyfriend. He is an all-star athlete, but is not accepted to any universities because of his race. He eventually enters the military. David fondly remembers Ronnie and Marie as… (read full character analysis)

Len McAuley

Wesley’s deputy, Len is an older man who has worked alongside both Wesley and Julian. Len is a reformed alcoholic who begins drinking again shortly after he realizes Frank Hayden has murdered Marie(read full character analysis)

Ollie Young Bear

An “exemplary” Native American man in the minds of many white people in Mercer County, Ollie Young Bear is a hardworking man married to a white woman and generally distanced from the Sioux nation. Wesley(read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Gloria Hayden
Frank’s very pretty blonde wife. She is quiet and subservient. David is attracted to her and feels very conflicted about it. It is frequently implied that Gloria is having trouble conceiving a child—Grandpa Hayden often teases her about it.
Grandma Hayden (Enid)
Grandma Hayden is a frail old woman who has an unknown heart condition that makes it dangerous for her to become too excited or upset. She must exit the room when difficult things are discussed and the family is careful not to say too much around her.
Daisy McAuley
Wife of Len McAuley, Daisy is good friends with Gail Hayden and stands by Wesley and Gail after the death of Marie Little Soldier.
Doris Strickland
A white woman who marries Ollie Young Bear.
David’s horse, who lives at Grandpa Hayden’s house. When Julian becomes outraged at Wesley for arresting Frank, David is primarily worried about never seeing Nutty again.
Doris Looks Away
A friend of Marie Little Soldier. Doris comes to look after Marie when she is sick and the Haydens are away.
Dale Paris
An employee of Julian Hayden, Dale is the leader of the group of men who (on orders from Julian) come to Wesley Hayden’s house in order to break Frank out of the basement.
Mel Paddock
The state attorney. Mel is responsible for deciding whether or not to issue indictments against alleged criminals. Wesley works with Mel after the arrest of Frank—Mel and Wesley agree that an indictment for murder is hopeless, but Mel does decide to indict on the lesser charge of sexual assault.
The Russells
Mr. Russell is the president of the local Bank. Mrs. Russell is an active kleptomaniac, but her theft is tolerated by the community in Mercer County, especially as her husband pays back all the stores from which she steals.
Betsy Hayden
David’s wife when he is grown. Betsy is intrigued by the story of David’s childhood, and doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation, dismissing it as simply a result of living in “The Wild West.”
Ole Norgaard
Lives on the edge of town and brews his own beer. Wesley swears by his recipe.