Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1 Part 2


When Uncle Frank arrives, David sees his uncle and brother standing next to each other and feels sorry for his father. Comparing the two men, Frank is more handsome, was a star athlete in high school and college, and was a decorated war hero. During the war he worked at an Allied field hospital in the Pacific, and became famous when he carried three wounded soldiers to safety under heavy enemy fire. The story made headlines in nearly twenty newspapers, and David’s grandfather collected each one. After the war when all the soldiers returned to Bentrock, a picnic was held in their honor, but the unspoken star of the event was Frank. The park was jam-packed, and when David’s grandfather stood up to make a speech, he asked for “his son” to come up and make a speech. Both Wesley and Frank knew who he meant without further clarification. As Frank gave a speech, Wesley began to clean up the park grounds. After Frank’s speech, Grandpa Hayden spoke again, extolling Frank’s achievements and stressing that with his war record Frank could have moved anywhere and been a doctor, even Los Angeles, but that his son chose to come back to them in Bentrock. As his father continued to sing his brother’s praises, Wesley continued to pick up trash from the ground.

Uncle Frank asks for a cold drink before going in to see Marie. Wesley offers him a beer brewed by a neighbor, but Frank passes and asks for a water instead. Wesley keeps insisting that Frank should have beer until Frank curses in front of David. Wesley chastises him for cursing in front of his son, and Frank finally agrees to have a beer after he finishes treating Marie. David’s mother comes out of Marie’s room, and Frank greets her as “Gail” before entering the room and closing the door. A minute after, Marie begins to scream and call for Gail to come back in. Gail goes and knocks on the door, asking if everything is okay. Frank sticks his head out and says Marie wants her in the room while he treats her. Gail goes inside, and this time the room is silent. Wesley takes David outside onto the porch while Frank tends to Marie. On the porch they can hear more screams from Marie. This frightens David but his father ignores her cries, instead commenting on the falling of the tree leaves.

Shortly after, Frank comes onto the porch and asks for his beer. Wesley jumps up to get it, leaving David and Frank alone outside. David is nervous, and observes that his uncle looks sweaty and anxious. Frank begins to talk to David, asking what he’s been up to over the summer. David tells Frank of his fishing escapades before Wesley returns with the beer. Wesley asks Frank what was wrong with Marie, and Frank confirms Wesley’s earlier statement—Marie is accustomed to the tribal medical man, and the presence of a real doctor frightened her. Wesley shakes his head in frustration, and says that Native Americans will never make it to the 20th century if they don’t give up their superstitious ways. Frank believes Marie has pneumonia, but without taking an X-ray it’s hard to confirm, so he prescribes the medicine just in case.

From his position on the porch David can see his mother standing in the living room. She’s holding her hands as if she’s praying, and she looks frightened. Of what, David isn’t sure, because it’s only the five of them around the house. As the men begin to discuss what should happen to Marie, Gail walks forward and proclaims that Marie is staying at their house, where they can keep an eye on her. Frank looks at Wesley for confirmation, but once Gail makes up her mind, that’s that. David notes that his mother seems angry, and wonders if it’s because she doesn’t particularly like Frank. Her brother-in-law’s charm always made her suspicious of him, and since he was a Hayden she was always a little reserved around him. She even used Dr. Snow, the other doctor in Bentrock, as her physician, though David and Wesley went to see Frank. Frank feels Gail’s irritation, and decides to leave. David and his parents watch him drive away, and then Gail tells David to go inside so she can talk to her husband. David leaves, but sneaks around the side of his house so he can eavesdrop on his parents’ conversation.

Gail tells Wesley the real reason Marie didn’t want Frank examining her is because Frank molests his Native American female patients. Wesley starts to leave, but Gail begs him to stay and hear her out. She says that Frank has been “taking liberties” with his patients for years, and Wesley asks if she actually believes Marie. When Gail says yes, Wesley begins to make excuses for his brother, saying that maybe the Native women don’t understand medical procedures, and they mistook Frank’s behavior for sexual assault. He continues to make excuses and even blames Marie’s overeager imagination, before Gail erupts and tells him in graphic detail what Frank has done to his Native American patients. She explains that Frank offers his services for free to the reservation and the Native American school, and once he has the girls alone he makes them strip naked, get into indecent positions, inserts his medical instruments into them, and even rapes them. At these words, Wesley is at first silent. He then asks Gail if she’s telling this to him as Frank’s brother, as her husband, as Marie’s employer, or as the sheriff. When Gail replies that she’s just telling him, he says he wishes that she didn’t tell the sheriff. After a long pause Wesley asks if any of this happened to Marie, and whether she’d be willing to talk to him. Gail says maybe, and the pair go inside to see if the young woman is awake. David, who’s been hiding outside this whole time, quickly runs back into his house just as his parents are heading into Marie’s room. They ignore him, and close her bedroom. On the kitchen table David sees Frank’s beer bottle and picks it up to check for his uncle’s fingerprints. He’s already begun to think of his uncle as a criminal, and realizes the charming, affable view he had of Frank is gone for good.

Wesley and Gail stay in Marie’s room for a long time, and when they come out they look grim. The family sits down for dinner, and when David asks about Marie his mother says she just needs to sleep for a while. After dinner Wesley goes to the house of Len McAuley, his deputy sheriff who also happens to be their next-door neighbor. Len was also deputy sheriff to David’s grandfather when he was sheriff, and treats David like a grandson. Gail tells Wesley to tell Daisy, Len’s wife, to come over for coffee. The men stand outside, the women sit inside, and both Gail and Wesley conduct circumspect investigations while David eavesdrops on both conversations. Wesley doesn’t learn much from Len, but Daisy whispers to Gail that according to the town rumors, Frank doesn’t do everything on the up-and-up, but only to squaws, or his Native American patients.

After the McAuleys leave, Gail checks in on Marie one more time while David and Wesley sit in the kitchen eating cake. Gail is appalled that her husband can stand to eat after hearing about the horrific things his brother has done. David realizes that his mother is seeing his father as the brother of a pervert, because that’s also how he’s viewing his father. Wesley realizes his wife is staring at him, and stops eating. Gail asks what Len had to say, and Wesley says that they only talked about the rain. Gail tells him that she and Daisy talked about Marie, and Wesley replies that because they don’t have proof, he doesn’t want this to become the talk of Bentrock, particularly because it could get back to his father. Gail tells Wesley that it’s already talked about around town, and proclaims that David will no longer be using Frank as his physician. At this Wesley exasperatedly says he will handle this matter in his own fashion. Gail finally relents, but as she leaves the kitchen she turns back to her husband and asks why he never said he didn’t believe Marie’s accusations. Wesley doesn’t answer, and resumes eating his cake. At this moment, David realizes that his father knows Uncle Frank is guilty.


Family begins to take center stage in this section of the novel. When Marie reveals that Frank, a beloved and esteemed member of the Bentrock community, has been using his status as a doctor to molest and rape Native American women, this presents a test of the family bonds Wesley holds dear. As sheriff, surely Wesley is charged with investigating Marie’s allegations, and arresting his brother if she’s right. However, when Gail tells Wesley about the allegations against his brother, he seems reluctant to even hear them, much less take them seriously. It’s hard to know whether Wesley would take Marie’s accusations more seriously if they weren’t targeted at his older brother. However, Wesley blaming Marie’s accusations on the supposed ignorance of Native Americans towards doctors does suggest that he would take the accusations more seriously if Frank’s victims were white women. Only time will tell if Wesley’s loyalty to his brother prevents him from doing his duty as sheriff.

Wesley’s loyalty is interesting, considering that he and his brother have been unofficial rivals for most of their lives. Even David compares his father to his uncle and finds his father lacking. Based on David’s compare and contrast of the two brothers, it seems as if they are foil characters. Frank is witty and charming while Wesley is stolid and dull. Frank is a decorated war hero, whereas Wesley couldn’t even go to war because a childhood injury made him unqualified. All of this makes Frank the uncontested favorite of their father Julian Hayden, as David attests to in his story about the veterans’ picnic. How will the patriarch of the Hayden family react if he hears of his favorite son’s crimes?

Aside from family, another important theme in part two of chapter one is the end of innocence theme. Until now, David’s story has been a meandering slice of life tale about the goings-on in his middle-class American household. Sure, his father is the town sheriff, but as David told us previously, Wesley’s job is far from thrilling. Marie’s illness, while concerning, isn’t life-threatening or overly dangerous, and she is reluctantly receiving medical treatment. For David, it’s just another normal, somewhat boring day in his idyllic childhood. The revelations about Frank’s treatment of his female Native American patients however change David’s quaint story into a gripping saga about racism, family, corruption, and morality in the American West. In addition to changing his story’s tone and mood, his uncle’s crimes also catapult David from the world of childhood innocence into the dark and violent world of adults. Like a true bildungsroman, it seems like Montana 1948 will be tracing David’s journey from a naive boy to a seasoned young adult.

In addition to this bildungsroman dimension, Montana 1948 also has elements of Western and Revisionist Western literature. One obvious element is the rustic, hardscrabble Western setting, which David details earlier in chapter one. Another key element is conflict between white Americans and Native Americans, which in traditional Westerners is typified in the cowboys vs. Indians trope. In Revisionist Western literature, this trope is questioned and debunked, and the relationship between Native and white Americans is explored in new ways. Marie’s revelations about Frank’s crimes makes it clear that Montana 1948 will not be regurgitating the heroic white cowboy and the savage Native American narrative. Nor will it simply be reversing these roles. Rather, Watson is exploring the relationship between white Westerners and their Native American neighbors through a modern 20th-century lens, which allows for a fresh take on a relationship that seems to be living in the shadow of its romanticized frontier past.

When crafting his tale, Watson makes liberal use of figurative language, particularly similes and metaphors. This adds a poetic element to his prose, which makes it stand out from other works of the wider Western genre. Many of his similes and metaphors feature comparisons to various things in nature, which is fitting because David, our narrator, has a deep love and affinity for the wild. Examples include a simile comparing Marie’s mother to a bird, and another simile comparing David’s unspoken knowledge about Ronnie’s college prospects to drinking water. This is yet another way Watson makes Montana 1948 unique.