Reservation Blues


Sherman Alexie

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Thomas Builds-the-Fire

Thomas is a Spokane Indian, and the reservation’s unofficial storyteller. Much of the story’s narration follows his perspective to some degree, which is attentive to small details and the spiritual resonances of the reservation. Thomas… read analysis of Thomas Builds-the-Fire

Junior Polatkin

A Spokane Indian and the (somewhat inept) drummer in Coyote Springs. Victor Joseph is his best friend, and the two stick close to one another to find meaning in the face of their difficult pasts… read analysis of Junior Polatkin

Victor Joseph

A Spokane Indian and the guitar player in Coyote Springs. Junior Polatkin is his best friend. Victor is a bully and a drunk, whose rude behavior is partially a result of his upbringing—his father left… read analysis of Victor Joseph

Chess (Eunice) Warm Water

A Flathead Indian from Arlee, Montana, Chess becomes a back-up singer and keyboardist in Coyote Springs, and falls in love with Thomas Builds-the-Fire. She is very close with her sister, Checkers, of whom… read analysis of Chess (Eunice) Warm Water

Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water

A Flathead Indian from Arlee, Montana, Checkers is described as perhaps the most beautiful Indian woman in all of America. She becomes a back-up singer in Coyote Springs, and falls in love with Father Arnoldread analysis of Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
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Big Mom

A heavily mythologized woman who lives on Wellpinit Mountain, watching over the Spokane tribe. According to tribal lore, she has the power to walk on water and read dreams, and can speak to animals. She… read analysis of Big Mom

Robert Johnson

A famous blues guitarist who lived from 1911-1938. He died under mysterious circumstances, and legend has it that he made a Faustian bargain with the devil to be the best guitar player of all time… read analysis of Robert Johnson

David WalksAlong

The Spokane Tribal Council Chairman, and uncle of Michael White Hawk. He holds a grudge against Thomas because although David was once a talented basketball player, Thomas’ father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, was a far… read analysis of David WalksAlong

Father Arnold

The devoted Catholic priest on the reservation. Father Arnold loves his job, and preaching reminds him of what it was like to sing in a rock band after college. He also plays basketball and is… read analysis of Father Arnold


Co-owner of a bookstore in Seattle and a fan of Coyote Springs. She sleeps with Junior, and is fascinated by Native American culture. It is no coincidence that Alexie gave her the same name… read analysis of Betty


Co-owner of a bookstore in Seattle and a fan of Coyote Springs. She sleeps with Victor and is fascinated by Native American culture. It is no coincidence that Alexie gave her the same name as… read analysis of Veronica

Phil Sheridan

An executive at Cavalry Records, who works with George Wright and under Mr. Armstrong. Sheridan is a perfect caricature of the slimy record executive, driven by commercial concerns and willing to compromise whatever morals… read analysis of Phil Sheridan

George Wright

An executive at Cavalry Records, who works with Phil Sheridan and under Mr. Armstrong. Wright is beginning to feel remorse for the tactics of his fellow executives. Like the other two Cavalry Records executives… read analysis of George Wright

Mr. Armstrong

The powerful chief executive at Cavalry Records, who manages George Wright and Phil Sheridan. He has little patience for the mistakes of Coyote Springs when they play for him in New York, leaving the… read analysis of Mr. Armstrong


An Indian man, not from the Spokane tribe, who spends all day standing outside the reservation’s Trading Post, a much-frequented convenience store, announcing to whoever passes by that the end of the world is near… read analysis of The-man-who-was-probably-Lakota
Minor Characters
Lester FallsApart
The friendliest drunk on the Spokane reservation. He is an old friend of Samuel Builds-the-Fire, having played with him in an epic basketball game against the Tribal Police. He is one of Coyote Springs’ few supporters on the reservation.
Samuel Builds-the-Fire
Thomas’ father, Samuel was once a hero of the reservation, and was Washington State High School Player of the Year in basketball. Now he is an inveterate alcoholic, who shows up passed out in Thomas’ yard.
An odd old Indian man who only drives his pickup truck backwards, even on a long journey to the coast. Junior steals a rifle from his truck and uses it to commit suicide.
The oldest Catholic on the reservation, whose fry bread is third best after Big Mom and the-man-who-was-probably-Lakota.
An Irish girl, who had a relationship with Junior for a few months and then became pregnant. She rejected his marriage proposal, and ended up having an abortion. This haunts Junior and contributes to his depression.
Michael White Hawk
The nephew of David WalksAlong, he has just been released from prison after breaking his saxophone over the head of a white cashier. He is enormous, but mentally challenged, perhaps because his mother drank while he was in the womb. He is an infamous bully.
The Gentleman
A mysterious figure who haunts the guitar of Robert Johnson. The Gentleman is presumably the devil, with whom Johnson made a Faustian bargain – selling his soul in exchange for talent.
Luke Warm Water
The father of Chess and Checkers, and husband to Linda Warm Water. He becomes a violent alcoholic after the death of his young son, Bobby.
Linda Warm Water
The mother of Chess and Checkers, and wife to Luke Warm Water. She commits suicide after the death of her son, Bobby.
Bobby “Backgammon” Warm Water
Chess and Checkers’ younger brother, who grew ill and died during a particularly harsh winter of their childhood.
Spokane Tribal Police Officer Wilson
A white police officer, who, because he has a bit of Indian heritage, is assigned to the reservation, but resents everyone on it. He pulls Samuel Builds-the-Fire over, and a confrontation between them leads to an epic game of pick-up basketball.
Barney Pipe
An old Blood Indian with false teeth who used to date Checkers.
Father James
A priest in the Catholic Church on the Flathead Reservation while Chess and Checkers were growing up.
Victor’s stepfather, a white man that Victor’s mother meets in a cowboy bar. In a dream, we watch as he leaves Victor behind on the reservation, taking his mother away.
Victor’s mother, who leaves with his stepfather in one of Victor’s dreams.
Victor’s real father, who died in Arizona years ago. A week passed before his body was discovered by his neighbors.
Ernie Lively
The owner of Toadstools, a cowboy bar in Ellensburg, Washington.
Eddie Tap Water
An old Indian alcoholic at the Pike Place market in Seattle, who knew Victor’s grandfather. He changed his name from Spring Water to Tap Water when he became an “Urban Indian.”
A young white man whose guitar case Victor mistakes for his own at the baggage claim of the Spokane International Airport.
Son House
A famous bluesman and preacher, with whom Robert Johnson began his journey as a blues musician.
Marcus Whitman
A white missionary on the reservation, and Narcissa’s husband.
Narcissa Whitman
A white missionary on the reservation, and Marcus’ wife.