Lily Casey Smith
The protagonist and narrator of the story, Lily Casey Smith grows up in the rural West over the first half of the twentieth century. Fiercely independent and resourceful, Lily’s no-nonsense attitude allows her to thrive… read analysis of Lily Casey Smith
Dad / Adam Casey
Lily’s father, whose name is Adam but is always referred to as Dad in the narrative, was kicked in the head by a horse as a child, resulting in a speech impediment that makes… read analysis of Dad / Adam Casey
Mom / Daisy Mae Peacock
Lily’s mother, whose maiden name is Daisy Mae Peacock, is concerned with social proprieties and embodies the traditional femininity of her era. Described by Lily as being very small and dainty, Mom has white… read analysis of Mom / Daisy Mae Peacock
Lily’s little sister is ladylike and delicate like Mom, and similarly unenthused about working on a ranch. By age sixteen she decides to move to Los Angeles to become a movie star. There… read analysis of Helen
Lily’s first child, named for her favorite flower (rose), Catholicism (Mary), and a useful herb. As a child Rosemary is fearless and accident-prone. Though Lily worries about her safety, she admires her adventurous spirit… read analysis of Rosemary
The Mother Superior of Lily’s Catholic School in Santa Fe, which Lily begins attending at age thirteen. Mother Albertina explains the origin story of the “Miraculous Staircase” in the school’s chapel, and Lily takes… read analysis of Mother Albertina
Lily’s younger brother by two years. Charming and gregarious, Buster starts attending school at age ten and continues through eighth grade, figuring that this is all the education he needs to be a rancher… read analysis of Buster
Rosemary’s boyfriend and later husband, Rex is born in West Virginia and stationed at a nearby air force base. He meets Rosemary in a restaurant and immediately starts a fight when he thinks someone… read analysis of Rex Walls
Zachary Clemens’ daughter, Dorothy is described as a big-boned young woman who is not afraid to get her hands dirty doing work on the ranch. She finds Dad’s four Great Danes shot dead, and… read analysis of Dorothy Clemens
Old Man Pucket
The owner of the ranch that neighbors the Caseys’, Old Man Pucket shoots all four of Dad’s Great Danes after thinking they’re wolves chasing his cattle. After readily admitting to the shooting in court… read analysis of Old Man Pucket
One of the “half broke horses” that Old Man Pucket gives the Caseys as repayment for killing Dad’s dogs. Patches is a pinto mare, her skin a patchwork of white, brown, and… read analysis of Patches
A young half-Navajo woman whom Lily meets while making her first journey to Red Lake, Arizona with Patches. Priscilla rides a donkey and has long black hair. She tells Lily that her mother had… read analysis of Priscilla Loosefoot
The county superintendent in Red Lake, Mr. MacIntosh tells Lily she will only be able to work at the local school until they find a more qualified teacher. Upon firing Lily three years later, he… read analysis of Mr. MacIntosh
A former boxer turned vacuum-cleaner salesman whom Lily meets in Chicago. He is gregarious and “a bit of a huckster,” but Lily quickly falls for him anyways. After six weeks of dating, the two marry… read analysis of Ted Conover
Ted’s other wife, with whom he has three children. Margaret is about the same age as Lily, though looks more aged from the stress of child-rearing. Not wanting to hurt her or the… read analysis of Margaret Conover
Rooster, whose real name is Orville Stubbs, is a part-time deputy in Red Lake who says Lily must ride his ornery mustang, Red Devil, before receiving her first paycheck. Lily breaks the horse easily, shocking… read analysis of Rooster
One of Lily’s roommates in Chicago whom she considers her first genuine friend. Minnie is a spunky, opinionated Irish girl with green eyes and beautiful black hair. She attends women’s suffrage rallies with Lily… read analysis of Minnie Hanagan
The wife of a rich commodities trader who gives Lily her first maid job in Chicago. Mim lives in a modern home with a radiator and running water. She behaves rudely towards Lily, often acting… read analysis of Mim
The President of the Arizona teachers’ college that Lily briefly attends. He admires Lily for working her way through college and tells her about the re-opening of a teacher job in Red Lake, which Lily… read analysis of Grady Grammage
The patriarch of the remote Mormon town of Main Street where Lily briefly teaches. When Lily tries to teach the local girls that there is more to life than churning out babies, Uncle Eli threatens… read analysis of Uncle Eli
A teenage ranch hand working for Lily and Jim, and a member of the Havasupai tribe. Lily describes him as “a tall, good-looking boy” and notices that Rosemary develops a crush on him. Fidel… read analysis of Fidel Hanna
A famous movie director of Westerns who buys the ranch from under Jim and Lily. He has stereotypical ideas about what a ranch should look like, and fires Jim, along with many of the… read analysis of Gaiters
Lily and Jim’s second child, born a year and a half after Rosemary at a modern hospital. He is big like his father and grows up to play football at Arizona State. He drops out of college when he meets his wife, and he becomes a police officer.
A white man who was kidnapped by Native Americans as a boy and then rescued by Robert Casey. He has lived with the Caseys ever since and gets along well with Dad because both feel like outsiders.
The Casey family servant from Mexico, who was disowned by her family after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The family kept the baby. Lily says Lupe is even more Catholic than Mom. Lily admires that Lupe never complains about her lot in life, no matter how difficult things become.
Lily’s grandfather and Dad’s father, who was shot and killed allegedly over an eight-dollar debt.
The “humorless” priest at the Red Lake Catholic Church that Lily and Helen briefly attend. Upon discovering that Helen is pregnant, he forces her to make a full confession, and says the only place she can go is a home for “wayward” women.
An experienced midwife who helps Lily give birth to her first child, Rosemary, and gives her a “mind-over-matter” method to get through the pain. She also tells fortunes, and says the baby will be a “wanderer.”
A Chinese man in Ash Fork who hides cases of bootleg alcohol at Lily and Jim’s home when revenuers are onto him. He later agrees to provide Lily with two cases to sell per month, provided that they split the profits.
Along with his brother, Blackie owns a flock of sheep that Jim helps save after the ewes are separated from their lambs. Blackie later sells his ranch to English investors and, when they are looking for someone to manage it, recommends Jim for the job.
The only remaining hand at the Camel brothers’ ranch, who greets Lily and Jim upon their arrival and helps around the property until he is fired by Gaiter.
A deputy in the town of Peach Springs who gets Lily fired after she spanks his son Johnny.
Deputy Johnson’s son, who kisses Rosemary and later sticks his hand up a Mexican girl’s dress. Lily slaps him for this. When he hits her back, she begins to beat him to teach him a lesson about mistreating girls.
A senior official in the Arizona Department of Education who asks Lily to connect her with the Havasupai tribe so that she may evaluate their living conditions and hygiene standards. After the visit, she threatens to report Fidel Hanna for indecency when he is caught swimming with Rosemary.
The nurse who accompanies Clarice Pearl on her tour of the Havasupai reservation.
A rodeo cowboy who accompanies Gaiters and is meant to help manage the ranch. Lily can tell that he doesn’t know what he is doing.
A grocer in the town of Toyah who buys eggs from Lily for one cent and sells them for two. Dad thinks this teaches Lily lessons about negotiating and math.
A friend of Rex’s from the air force whom Lily meets on the way to go flying with Rex.
A woman who works at Jim’s office in Phoenix. Lily wrongly suspects that the two are having an affair, and has Rosemary tail Jim to discover the truth.
The pilot who gives Lily her first flying lesson and, much to her annoyance, calls her “little lady.”
Rosemary and Rex’s daughter and the author of the story. She appears in the epilogue as a baby. Lily senses an immediate connection with her granddaughter and calls her “a tenacious thing.”