Wesley is one of the main characters in the novel. The narrator’s father, he's also the sheriff in the small town where the family lives. Wesley is a member of an influential family and thus he was educated at a prestigious college. While he had the chance to become a lawyer in a big city, he decided to remain in his small town and follow in his father's footsteps. Wesley is described by his son as being a mellow man, someone who does not take risks and who doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Because of this, David is not so proud of him. Wesley also has prejudiced ideas about Native Americans and does not shy away from treating them as inferior to him. However, this doesn’t stop him from pursuing justice when he finds about his brother's crimes. He decides to arrest Frank and have him prosecuted, even though he knows that he will be ruining his relationship with his family and that his actions might be futile. After Frank kills himself, Wesley decides to move himself, David, and Gail away from his remaining family and to start a new life in another city.
Frank Hayden/Dr. Hayden
Frank is Wesley’s brother and the antagonist of the story. Unlike his brother, Frank was able to join the military and came back home as a war hero, much to Grandpa Hayden's pride. Like his brother, Frank received a good education, and he later became a doctor. After medical school, Frank decided to stay in the same town as his brother and open his practice. Frank distinguishes himself from the beginning as a racist who considers the Native Americans living in the city as being inferior to him. As a result, he has treated them as if they were worth nothing and hasn't taken the time to understand their beliefs. Thinking that he would not be punished, Frank has been abusing Indian women for some time, going as far as raping them. One of his victims is Marie, who confesses to Gail about Frank's crimes. As a result, Frank murders Marie. When confronted about his actions, Frank tries to make excuses for himself and get Wesley to side with him. When he realizes that he is going to be turned in for his crimes, Frank kills himself by slitting his own wrists and letting himself bleed to death.
Gail is David’s mother and Wesley’s wife. Gail worked as a secretary for her husband so she hired a Native American woman to take care of her son. In comparison with the other characters in the story, Gail is more compassionate and more interested in justice and the way Native Americans are treated. She considers Marie a member of the family, and thus insists that Marie receive the best medical care they can provide her with. When Gail hears that Frank abused Indian women, she convinces her husband to try and prosecute him, telling him that it is the right thing to do. Gail is also very brave, doing everything she can to protect her son and not being afraid to act in a more traditionally masculine manner when her house is under attack. All these elements make Gail an extraordinary woman, not afraid to stand for what is right.
David "Davy" Hayden/The narrator
David is the narrator of the story, and Gail and Wesley’s child. At the moment when he tells the story, he is an adult man remembering the events that took place when he was a child. David is an innocent figure in the story, on the boundary between childhood and adolescence. The events that he witnesses force him to grow up, and during this period he discovers his sexuality and an innate inclination towards violence. David offers valuable insight about his parents and the other members living in the same community, and presents the way of thinking that dominated the world during his childhood.
Marie Little Soldier
Marie is the Native American woman working for David’s family. She was hired to work in the house but also to take care of David when he was a young boy. Marie is presented to the reader through David’s eyes and thus the reader is told that Marie was loved by his family despite the racial views existing then. Marie lives in the same house as David and when she gets sick, she is treated by Frank, Wesley’s brother. His presence makes Marie want to reveal his crimes, and Marie tells Gail about everything that Frank has done. Because of this, it is implied that Frank murders Marie.
Julian Hayden/Grandpa Hayden
Grandpa Hayden is an important character because he is the one that influenced Frank and Wesley the most. Grandpa Hayden is described as being influential, corrupt, and racist. He doesn't consider Frank’s actions as punishable offenses because he molested Native American women, a race not considered worthy of being treated in a just way by Grandpa Hayden. When Wesley decides to hold Frank in his basement and then take him to the city jail, Grandpa Hayden comes to him, demanding Frank's release. When Wesley refuses to do so, Grandpa Hayden stops talking with Wesley and his family, severing all the ties with them.
Len is the Wes's deputy and the first one to realize that Frank killed Marie. Len is trusted by Wesley to the point where Wesley entrusts his family’s safety to Len when he realizes that by arresting Frank he created tension between him and his father.
Ronnie Tall Bear
Ronnie is Marie’s boyfriend from the same Native American tribe. David looks up to Ronnie, and brags about Ronnie's athletic talent.
Enid Hayden/Grandma Hayden
Grandma Hayden is David’s grandmother, and the wife of Grandpa Hayden. A docile, nervous, and quiet woman, Grandma Hayden lives completely under the thumb of her husband. She has a shaky health status, and so the rest of the family often tries to protect her from the harsher sides of life.
Gloria is Frank’s beautiful and sweet wife. A first grade teacher, she is extremely kind and good to David, leading him to have a crush on her. Like Gail, she is also not a native Montanan, but a Minnesotan.
Daisy is Len McAuley’s wife and also lives next door to David and his parents. Loud and outspoken while her husband is shy and soft-spoken, she is more of a grandma to David than Grandma Hayden is. She often bakes him cookies.
Dr. Snow is the other doctor in Bentrock. When Gail insists on calling a doctor to see Marie Little Soldier, Marie refuses to see Frank and begs Gail to call Dr. Snow.
Ollie Young Bear
Ollie Young Bear is the most respected and beloved Native American in northeastern Montana. A war hero who graduated from Montana State University and now an active part of the Mercer County community, Ollie is the Native American man that white Montanans point to as a great example of what Native Americans can be.
Doris is a white woman married to Ollie Young Bear. Her family owns a prosperous ranch south of Bentrock.
Grandma Anglund is Gail’s mother, and David’s maternal grandmother. Norwegian, she lives with Gail’s father on a farm in North Dakota.
Doris Looks Away
Doris is Marie’s friend who visits her at the Haydens’ when Marie falls ill.
Georgie is a childhood friend of David’s. David is fishing with Georgie the day Marie is murdered.
Roy Single Feather
Roy Single Feather is a drunk Native American who perpetuates the stereotype of the drunken Native man. He often roams Bentrock’s main street and heckles passersby in a drunken stupor.
Mr. Shelton was a well-liked businessman who Wes arrested for arson and subsequent insurance fraud.
Mel Paddock is the Mercer County state attorney who’s responsible for charging Frank for his crimes on behalf of the state of Montana.
Miss Schott was David’s second grade teacher and one of the eccentric characters of Bentrock.
Maxine is Wes’s secretary at the sheriff’s office. A native of Louisiana, she came to Bentrock with her husband in the 1920s during the first waves of oil-drilling exploration.
Dale is the foreman at Grandpa Hayden’s ranch, and the leader of the group Grandpa Hayden sends to break Frank out of his prison in Wes’s basement.
Flora is the secretary at the Mercer County courthouse. She babysat David when he was an infant, and is a kind, gentle woman.
The Highdog Brothers
The Highdog brothers were a group of Native American brothers who ran afoul of Wes, Frank, and their friends when they were all young boys. As they grew up, they all had trouble with the law, and the youngest of them was sentenced to life in prison.
Betsy is David’s wife and a schoolteacher. Nostalgic about the past, she asks Wes about the events of 1948, but he refuses to speak about it.
Montana 1948 Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Montana 1948 is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
In the prologue David is a man reflecting on “summer of his twelfth year” in 1948 . Much like the character of Scout in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, David is able to reflect using the voice of both a child and adult. This gives the...
In the epilogue, we learn that Frank died, and that Wesley and Grandpa never spoke again. We also learn that Wesley leaves his job and moves to North Dakota. Wesley became a lawyer, David went to school and became a history teacher, and Gail........