Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2


The next morning Wesley begins investigating the accusation Marie made against Frank. He heads to the reservation, where he has no jurisdiction, to talk to some of Frank’s other victims. Later in the afternoon David spots his father at a popular diner in downtown Bentrock with Ollie Young Bear, a respected and beloved Native American man in northeastern Montana. Ollie, a war hero, college graduate, and church deacon, is the example white people use when describing what all Native Americans could be. Even Wesley likes Ollie, and encourages David to like him too, but David finds Ollie stern and intimidating. When he sees his father and Ollie at the diner, he knows his father is asking if Ollie has heard stories of Frank molesting Native girls. David wonders if his father is asking the right person, because based off of Marie’s comments about Ollie, none of the Native Americans give him a special status. As David approaches the men to say hello, they stop talking and stare at him as if he’s a piece of livestock needing inspection. David realizes that while the investigation is ongoing, his father won’t have much use for a son. He says hello, and his father offers him money for snacks before telling him to check on Marie when he goes back home.

At home David checks on Marie and she’s fast asleep. The silence of his house is striking to him, so he turns on the radio and hopes that Marie will hear the music she likes playing when she wakes up. Later that night after dinner, Wesley tells Gail and David to go for a walk while he talks to Marie again. Gail offers to go with him, saying that Marie will be more comfortable with her there, but Wesley says no and that Marie’s comfort isn’t what’s important at the moment. Gail persists, but Wesley refuses, and David realizes his father doesn’t want his mother around when he’s interviewing Marie. He wonders if his father is trying to protect his mother from the ugly truth, or if he’s trying to protect his brother by keeping the number of witnesses to a minimum. In any case, Gail and David leave the house, but don’t go far. David, tired of being kept in the dark and of pretending he doesn’t know what’s happening, strikes up the courage to ask what’s going on. His mother simply says there’s possible trouble with the Native Americans, and Wesley is just helping to uncover information. She then tries to change the conversation to the weather and the wind, but David won’t be deterred. He asks if Marie or Ronnie are in trouble, and his mother denies this, reiterating that Marie is just asking some questions. David looks back and sees that his father is standing in the kitchen, so he must be done talking to Marie. He heads back inside, but his mother stays outside for a little while longer.

The following Sunday David and his parents go to his grandparent’s ranch for dinner. Marie was feeling better, so they felt comfortable leaving her alone for a few hours with Daisy next door, and a friend of Marie’s named Doris Looks Away planning on visiting her too. The car ride to the ranch is silent, as Gail wanted to refuse the dinner invitation because Frank and Gloria would be there too, but Wesley wouldn’t allow it. As they approach the ranch, Wesley extends an olive branch by proposing they take a family trip to Yellowstone, and Gail starts talking to him again. When the ranch comes into view they can see Frank’s truck parked outside. David takes in the ostentatious ranch house that Wesley hates, because it looks like the stereotypical Western-style ranch everyone thinks of when they think about the American West. Gail also dislikes her in-law’s house, but David loves the space and freedom the ranch affords him. Plus, he can ride his beloved horse, Nutty, whenever he visits. David’s grandfather, who he calls Grandpa Hayden, is standing out on the porch waiting to greet them. When David sees his grandfather towering on the porch like a thundercloud, he thinks to himself that there’s no way Grandpa Hayden will allow anything to happen to Frank, his beloved son. Everyone chit chats before Gail heads inside, leaving David, Wesley, and Grandpa Hayden on the porch. As David starts to go inside, he hears his father begin to ask his grandfather about Frank, so he stays within earshot. David is sure his father is about to tell Grandpa Hayden about Frank’s behavior, but instead his father asks Grandpa Hayden to stop nagging Frank and Gloria about having kids. Grandpa Hayden refuses to listen, saying he expected more from his sons by the way of grandchildren. Sure, David is great, but he and Grandma Hayden want more than one grandkid, and they want them to be white. At this, Wesley pauses. He asks his father what he means, and Grandpa Hayden reveals that Frank has always liked Native American women. As a young man he was found in the ranch stables trying to have sex with a young Native girl, and he’s never stopped liking them. According to Grandpa Hayden, there may even be kids on the reservation who look like Frank. At that, Wesley starts to walk into the house, as he tells his father that he might be right about that.

David remembers that this isn’t the first time his grandfather has said something about Frank and Native American women. It was during the weekend of Frank and Gloria’s wedding in Minneapolis, in the middle of the war when Frank was on leave. Everyone traveled to Minneapolis for the nuptials, and all the men went out one night for Frank’s bachelor party. Wesley came back to their hotel room late, and told Gail and an eavesdropping David about the night’s escapades. At one bar there was an arrogant Minneapolis city fellow who was rude to Grandpa Hayden. The man stood up to fight, but Grandpa Hayden pulled out a revolver, and told the man to start running before he finished his whiskey and came after him. The man fled, and Frank and Wesley started laughing hysterically while their father finished his drink. The story didn’t amuse Gail, who said that they were lucky they weren’t arrested, to which Wesley replied they couldn’t arrest them because they are the law. The next day after the wedding everyone was on the train back to Montana and they discussed how nice the wedding was, what a lovely woman Gloria was, etc. Afterwards, Grandpa Hayden said now that Frank married a good-looking white woman, he had better stay off the reservation. This shocked everyone to silence, and no one said another word.

The start of dinner breaks David from his reverie. He sits between Gloria and his grandmother, a thin and nervous woman who spends most of the meal offering David choice pieces of the food. Alternatively, Gloria chatters through most of the meal, talking about everything from the weather to her brother studying in Missoula. David loves his aunt because she’s sweet, beautiful, and kind to him, but wonders how she cannot know of her husband’s heinous crimes. He also wonders why his uncle would want another woman when he had a wife like Gloria. This line of thinking makes David remember a time he stayed at his uncle and aunt’s house and fell ill. Gloria took better care of him than his own mother, and once when she checked on he caught a glimpse of her breasts. Later that same night he heard through the bedroom wall Frank and Gloria having sex, and was shamefully jealous of his uncle. Sitting next to his aunt at dinner David feels ashamed again, but also so sad that he wants to cry. When dinner ends David asks to go riding, and his parents excuse him so quickly that he wonders if they want to ask Frank questions. He quickly rejects that idea, as his parents know better than to bring up sensitive or difficult around Grandma Hayden, who is “nervous” and prone to illness. Before can David leave the house, his grandfather gives him a pistol and bullets in case he runs into coyotes while riding. Not accustomed to having a multi-shot gun David looks to his parents for permission, and they agree, but stress that he’s only to shoot coyotes. David runs quickly to the stables, saddles up Nutty, and starts trotting through the countryside. He finds an area far enough from the house where he can’t be heard and plays around with the gun, sometimes shooting at the ground, sometimes aiming for objects. Most of the time he misses, but one time he shoots and kills a magpie. The kill sparks feelings of power, sadness, exhilaration, fear, and eventually calm in David. Killing the magpie releases a tension that was building in him because of Marie’s illness, his uncle’s sins, and his parent’s arguing. As he buries the magpie, he realizes that strange, unthought-of connections like sex and death, lust and violence, and desire and degradation exist even in the purest of hearts.

David takes a different path back to the ranch, and less than a mile from his grandparent’s house he sees his father and his uncle arguing by a riverbank. He’s too far away to hear what they’re saying, but his distance allows him to see the similarities between the two brothers. They share the same posture, attitude, mannerisms, and ways of speaking to each other. As David tries to get closer to eavesdrop, he sees his uncle take a menacing step towards his father. This alarms David, who takes out his grandfather’s pistol, which is unloaded, and aims it at his uncle’s head. David knows the gun is unloaded, but wonders what would happen if it wasn’t. Would he be able to shoot accurately from this distance? Would killing his uncle solve everyone’s problems? As these thoughts gush in his head, the brothers come close together and shake heads. David lowers the gun and puts it away, as the brothers walk shoulder to shoulder back to the ranch house.

On the ride back to Bentrock, Wesley tells Gail that he talked to Frank, and that he believes the problem has been taken care of. His brother has agreed to stop molesting and raping Native American women. When Gail asks about the damage that’s already been done, Wesley replies that the damage cannot be undone. Gail reminds her husband that crimes and justice aren’t supposed to work that way, but Wesley says that Frank will have to meet his punishment in the afterlife, because he won’t be doing anything to arrange it in this life. When they arrive home Marie and her friend Doris Looks Away are sitting in the living room having coffee. Marie is still wrapped in a blanket, but her cough has lessened and she doesn’t look as feverish. Doris leaves shortly after the Haydens’ arrival, uneasy in their presence, and Marie announces that she’s going back to bed. Before she goes she asks David if he went riding and if he saw a coyote. Confused as to how Marie knew he was given a gun for hunting coyotes, David tells her no, and she replies that the coyote is hard to see when you look for him.

These are the last words Marie ever says to David, because the next afternoon Gail finds her dead in her bedroom. When David arrives home at 6 pm, he sees the black hearse leaving his driveway, and his uncle’s truck parked in front of his house. The moment he sees the hearse, David knows what has happened. And in that moment he feels like he could walk past his house, out of town, and away from his family and childhood, carrying the truth of what happened in his house, and burying it where no one can find it. But he doesn’t, and instead walks into his house. There he finds his father on the phone telling someone where to find Marie’s body, his mother slumped at the kitchen table frantically tapping her fingertips, and his uncle filling out a death certificate. He sees his uncle’s black medical bag, and the bed in Marie’s room tilted off the frame. When Gail sees her son, she draws him near and leans on him for support before telling him that Marie is dead. Daisy McAuley bursts through the back door, and sinks into a chair when she hears the news. She’s confused, as Marie seemed much better when she checked on her yesterday. At this, Frank stops writing and springs to attention. He tells them that sudden relapses in pneumonia patients can happen, so he’s not surprised, and also wonders whether Marie was being honest about how well she was doing. Gail says that Marie’s fever was definitely down, but Frank simply shrugs it off. Wesley finally turns around from the phone, and David can see that his father has been crying. Wesley begins to make plans for notifying Marie’s friends and family, and goes to leave. This is David’s chance to ride with his father and tell him what he knows, but his mother won’t release him, and he also doesn’t want to add to the grief his father is currently carrying. Soon after Wesley leaves Frank leaves too, but Gail doesn’t get up to see him out. Gail begins to blame herself, and Daisy tries to console her, but she sees something in Gail’s eyes that makes her tell David to go to her house for pie.

At the McAuleys’ David finds Len drinking whiskey, which is a bad sign since he’s a recovering alcoholic. They begin to talk about Marie’s death, but the conversation is so stilted that David wants to break away. Before he can, Len tells him to sit down, and begins to talk to him about his job as a deputy sheriff. Len tells David that when Grandpa Hayden was sheriff, he believed in knowing when to look, and when to look away. According to Len, Wesley hasn’t learned how to do that yet. David asks Len if he saw something, and Len asks in turn if David saw anything. This is David’s opening, but again he loses his courage. He jumps up and says he needs to get the pie. Len smiles and tells him to look after his mother, as this will be a hard time for her. This makes David remember all the favors and nice gestures Len has done for his mother, and he wonders if Len is in love with her.

Later that night in bed David feels death in his house. He gets scared and runs to his parents’ room, where neither of them is sleeping. His father sits David on the bed next to him, and begins to rub his back. That’s all it takes for the words to finally come tumbling out of David’s mouth. He tells his parents that he saw his Uncle Frank at their house earlier in the afternoon, before Marie was found dead. David was out riding his bike with his friends, and stopped at the McAuleys’ outhouse to use the bathroom. When sitting in the outhouse, he saw someone looking like Frank cutting across their backyard, heading towards town. At these words Wesley enters into interrogation mode, but Gail tries to stop him. However, Wesley continues to ask David questions, and begins muttering to himself excuses for his brother’s actions. Gail pats David reassuringly on the shoulder, and he asks if this is bad, seeking confirmation from his parents that he’s doing the right thing by telling them what he saw. Before she can answer Wesley asks if anyone else saw, and David says he believes Len may have also witnessed Frank leaving their house. This alarms Wesley, who thinks that now there’s no way to protect Frank. He wonders if Len will keep quiet if he or his father asks him to. Gail turns on the lamp, and in the light David can see his father’s bad knee. In the harsh light it looks inflamed, scarred, and very painful. Wesley gets self-conscious and begins to put on pants. As he buckles his belt, he asks David why he didn’t say anything earlier. When David replies he doesn’t know, his father tells him in a jealous tone to go back to bed and get some sleep. But that night, sleep is hard for David. He tosses and turns, thinking about the lives of the Native Americans in his community. Though they encounter prejudice everyday, they remain passive and benign. However, Marie’s death sparks a weird vision in David’s mind of the Native Americans in his area gathering on a grassy butte called Circle Hill. They are gathered to do something about her death, but instead of being armed and in a battle formation like in the cowboy vs. Indian movies, they are milling about, dressed in their daily clothes of cowboy boots, jeans, dresses, and flannel shirts. Instead of shouting war cries to the sky, they talk softly, mourning Marie, and David falls asleep watching them.


Chapter two fleshes out the themes of family, racism, corruption, and end of innocence, while also introducing morality and justice as new key themes. Early in the chapter Wesley picks his brother over his responsibilities as sheriff, his own sense of morality, and the pressure of his wife. His sense of family loyalty makes Wesley decide to stop investigating into Frank’s crimes, and let his brother off with a warning. Though ostensibly Wesley’s own loyalty to his brother is the reason for his decision, Wesley’s fear of his family’s reaction if he were to arrest his older brother may also be a factor. Grandpa Hayden’s levity when talking about Frank’s predilection for Native American women supports this idea. Chapter three will reveal if Wesley continues to protect his brother even in the case of murder.

Closely tied to Wesley’s protection of his brother are the themes of corruption and morality. Wesley uses his power as sheriff to squash further investigation into Frank’s crimes, thus eliminating the chance of Frank paying for his crimes. This is the power Grandpa Hayden chased when he first ran for sheriff, and here we see the Haydens continuing to use and abuse it. Again, we wonder if Wesley would be so quick to let another doctor who isn’t his brother walk free for the same crimes. Gail reminding Wesley that he knows crimes aren’t supposed to go unpunished suggests that typically Wesley wouldn’t compromise his morality, but the added dimension of family is causing him to act uncharacteristically. In an example of situational irony, secretary Gail attempts to act as a moral compass for her sheriff husband, but her words fall on deaf ears. Morality is a factor even for David, who struggles with whether or not he should tell his parents about seeing Frank before Marie’s death. Even though he loved Marie, David feels as if sharing what he knows may be “ratting” on his uncle (Watson 103). Again, family ties cloud the division between right and wrong in the eyes of our characters.

Frank uses racist stereotypes about Native Americans to help cover up his murder of Marie. When Gail and Daisy express their shock at Marie’s sudden death because her health appeared to have been improving, Frank says it’s the “Indian way to deny illness,” and suggests Marie may have been fooling them all (Watson 91). Time and time again Frank demonstrates that he knows that in a dispute between him and a Native American woman his words will win, and this is just one more example of that. Marie’s death also introduces the justice theme. Now that Marie is dead, what does justice mean for her? Should Wesley, who Marie trusted to protect her and other Native women, but who in the end picked his rapist brother over the innocent, also pay for her murder?

The final pivotal theme of chapter two is the end of innocence theme. As David muses when standing outside with his mother while his father interviews Marie, “[he’s] on the trail of something that would lead [him] out of childhood” (Watson 66). And indeed, despite his parents' best efforts, David finds himself nonetheless embroiled in the drama. Because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time (or, alternatively, the right place at the right time), David has evidence capable of implicating his uncle in Marie’s murder. Suddenly, being a fly on the wall throws David right into the middle of the action, but because he is a child, his parents persist in trying to protect him from the ugly truth about his uncle. Their attempts are futile, because as David demonstrates when he thinks sexual thoughts about his aunt and kills the magpie, adulthood looms.

Aside from key themes, another important element in chapter two is the myth of the Wild West motif. To David’s chagrin, his father does not exemplify the ideal “Western” man, cowboy, or sheriff. For Wesley, it’s important to not be viewed as every Easterner’s idea of a stereotypical Westerner. The opposite is true of Grandpa Hayden, who showcases his wealth by having an ostentatious “dude ranch” (Watson 69). The Hayden men, Wesley included, further perpetuated the myth of the American West as a wild, lawless region full of gun-toting men who take the law into their own hands when they were in Minneapolis for Frank’s wedding. Grandpa Hayden pulling a gun on the Minneapolis city slicker is a move that embodies the spirit of the West in outsiders’ eyes. And as of right now, Wesley’s corrupt use of his power to protect his brother further depicts the American West as a place that disregards the law. However, David’s vision of the gathering atop Circle Hill does help debunk the stereotype of Native Americans as tomahawk-wielding savages that was popularized in Hollywood movies and Western literature. Time will tell if the Native Americans seek justice or retribution for the crimes committed against their women, but for now they simply mourn.