Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3 Part 1


David and his parents want to attend Marie’s funeral, but her family has made plans to bury her in North Dakota. Gail says they can at least send flowers, and stresses that they must do something. Wesley replies that he is doing something, and David realizes they are talking about Frank’s involvement in Marie’s death. David, accustomed to his father’s work habits, knows his father is building a case against his brother because of how charming and social his father is being. He only does this to garner good will in the community before making his arrest. And sure enough, three days after Gail finds Marie dead in her bed, Wesley brings Frank to their house. Frank comes into the kitchen where David is building a model plane and greets him jauntily, while Wesley enters the kitchen unsmiling and mute. Frank is holding a small satchel, and the brothers descend into the basement. After a long time passes, Wesley comes back up the stairs alone, looking exhausted and pale. He makes himself a glass of whiskey, and when David asks what’s happening he tells him to wait for Gail to come home.

As they wait for her David hears movement in the basement, and wonders whether or not his father killed Frank. What else could have put that look on his father’s face? When Gail comes home Wesley finally tells her and David that he arrested Frank, but Frank didn’t want to go to jail in town so he’s holding him in their basement. Both Gail and David stare in disbelief, and Wesley looks close to tears. Gail asks where in the basement, and Wesley tells her Frank is locked in the laundry room. When Gail exclaims at this turn of events, Wesley explains that Frank came willingly, and is treating everything like a joke, but he wants to keep everything quiet. Gail then asks if Wesley has informed Mel Paddock, the Mercer County state attorney, of the recent developments. Wesley hasn’t told Mel specifics, and still has to inform Gloria of her husband’s arrest. Gail wonders how long Frank will be held in their basement, and Wesley says he’s not sure, but will try to make arrangements for Frank’s arraignment and bond quickly. He wonders what to tell Gloria, and Gail tells him to her the truth because she will hear of Frank’s crimes soon enough anyways. Wesley leaves through the back door, but calls David outside to talk. Outside, he talks about a home improvement project he wants them to tackle once the business with Frank is resolved. He also tells David that if there’s ever trouble and he’s not home, David must go and get Len, who knows everything about Frank’s crimes.

Later that night at 9 pm, David and his parents are lounging in their living room reading magazines and listening to music when there’s a knock at the door. It’s Grandpa and Grandma Hayden, and Grandpa Hayden charges past David at the door, asking for Frank. Wesley realizes that Gloria must have told them, and refuses his father’s request to see his brother. When Grandpa Hayden persists, Wesley says it’s a legal matter, but Grandpa Hayden says that’s nonsense because Frank is in their basement, and not an actual jail cell. Wesley explains he wanted to save Frank some embarrassment, and Grandpa Hayden begins to dig through his pockets. David, afraid his grandfather is looking for a weapon, yells “Dad,” and everyone besides Grandpa Hayden turns to look at him. Grandma Hayden tries to get her husband to calm down, Gail tells David to go upstairs, and Grandpa Hayden finds and lights a cigar. Upstairs David goes to the bedroom above the living room so he can eavesdrop. Wesley asks everyone to sit down, tells Gail to go get coffee, and then asks Grandpa Hayden if he wants to hear his side of the story. Grandpa Hayden says they heard Frank got arrested for beating up a Native American, and wonders when people started getting arrested in this part of the country for fighting. Wesley realizes that things have been misconstrued, and tries to delicately tell his parents of Frank’s true crimes. This doesn’t cut it for Grandpa Hayden, who reacts disbelievingly when Wesley says he’s been investigating into the sexual assault charges against his brother. Grandma Hayden tries to make excuses for her son, suggesting that perhaps the Native American girls, unfamiliar with formal doctor visits, misunderstood Frank’s actions, but Wesley begs her to stop. Grandpa Hayden tells his wife to leave the room, so Wesley can tell him full details. Once the women go into the kitchen, Grandpa Hayden accuses Wesley of being jealous of Frank and his achievements in the war. He believes that Wesley arrested his brother out of jealousy, because otherwise why would he arrest Frank for sexually assaulting a Native American? Wesley says that’s not the extent of Frank’s crimes, but is reluctant to say the whole truth until his father goads him into yelling “Murder!”

Gail and Grandma Hayden come running back into the living room as Wesley screams murder. Grandma Hayden starts sobbing, and Grandpa Hayden blames Wesley before asking who Frank supposedly murdered. When Wesley says Marie, Grandpa Hayden is incredulous, because everyone knows that Marie had pneumonia. He asks about the strength of Wesley’s evidence against Frank, and Wesley replies it’s up to Mel Paddock to decide. At this Grandpa Hayden commands Wesley to stop everything before he has to stop it himself, but Wesley says it’s not for any of them to stop or start. Grandma Hayden begins to beg Wesley, but Grandpa Hayden tells her to stop, that they won’t beg him for anything. They leave, and David is at first scared to go back downstairs, but the thought of chocolate cake in the kitchen helps him find the courage. Downstairs, he sees his father on his knees with his head in his mother’s lap. Wesley looks old and worn-out, and David begins to worry that his father isn’t strong enough to stand up to Grandpa Hayden. Wesley gets up from the floor, and says they should all go to bed. David wants to ask questions about the night’s events, but Wesley is embarrassed that David saw him on the floor, so David must go to bed. As David starts to go to his room, his father stops him and tells him not to let his grandparents into the house if he’s not home. In bed, David cries for the first time since the whole set of tragic, sordid chain of events began. He doesn’t cry for Marie, his uncle, his parents, his grandparents, his community, or his life, all things that are irreparably altered. He actually cries for his horse Nutty, because he fears he’ll never get to see him again. The distance between them seems too vast for either of them to cross.

The next day Gail stays home from work so David won’t have to be alone in the house with Frank. She sends David to the grocery, and while in town David realizes that he no longer feels proud of his family name, but ashamed. His entire life he knew without being told that the Hayden name garnered a certain respect and deference in Bentrock, but his uncle’s crimes would destroy all of that once they became public knowledge. So he hurries quickly through town to complete his mother’s errand, but bumps into two of his uncle’s white female patients and begins to wonder if his uncle assaulted them too. The thoughts stir David sexually, which makes him feel sick and ashamed, and he runs home. At home David asks his mother how long Frank will be in the basement, and she says his father is working on a solution. After that, she says, there will be a trial, but David argues that Grandpa Hayden will just get Frank off. Gail agrees that could happen, and David wonders what the point of everything is. Gail tells him his father is doing what’s right, and David replies that they’re the ones getting the short end of the stick.

Later on in the day David notices a truck circling his house. Four men are in the truck, and he recognizes one of them as Dale Paris, the foreman of Grandpa Hayden’s ranch. David deduces that the other men are probably also his grandfather’s employees, and that they must be here to break out Frank. Gail catches David looking out the window, and at first he tries to keep the truth from her, but eventually he tells her his grandfather’s men are here for Frank. Gail tells David to call Wesley, but he’s not at the office. Maxine, his secretary, tells David to try Mel Paddock’s office. David turns to ask his mother for the state attorney’s number, but she’s gone, and through the window he sees the four men have left the truck and are crossing his lawn. None of the men appear to be armed, but Dale Paris is carrying an axe. Just then Gail returns to the kitchen carrying Wesley’s shotgun and bullets. David tells her Wesley nor Len are at the office while she struggles to load the gun. David is shaken at the sight of his mother (who abhors guns) holding one, and offers to take the gun instead, but she orders him to run and get help.

David runs across the street to the courthouse in search of his father, but Flora Douglas, Mel Paddock’s secretary, says neither his father nor Mel are in. David then runs to the jail in the basement, but only Maxine is there. She still doesn’t know where Wesley is, but believes he’s somewhere in the building. When Maxine looks up and sees the panic on David’s face she asks him if something happened to Gail, but David is already running out the door. As David runs across the street he hears the boom of the shotgun and his heart jumps. He bursts through the front door of his house and sees his mother poised for shooting in the kitchen. He can tell that she didn’t hit anyone, but simply fired a warning shot. As Gail loads another bullet she yells to the intruders to get away from her house. David comes up behind her and plans on wrestling the gun away from his mother, because he doesn’t want her to kill someone and have their blood on her hands. But before he can stop her, Len steps through the hedge dividing his property from the Haydens’. Len is half dressed and barefoot, but he’s carrying a long-barreled revolver. He runs quickly across the yard towards the back door of the basement, drops to one knee, and aims his gun at the four men. He orders them to leave, and the men begin to slowly back away from the house towards their truck. Len yells into the house whether everyone is okay, and Gail yells back that they’re fine. She runs out of the house, carefully lays the shotgun on the ground, and throws her arms around Len. Len doesn’t return her hug, but raises one arm to keep his gun hand free. Gail turns and tries to pull David into the embrace, but David stays put, feeling as if he would be betraying his father.

Just then Wesley runs up, sweating, red-faced, and unarmed. At the sight of her husband Gail leaves Len’s side and runs to Wesley, who asks what’s happening. Len explains that some of Grandpa Hayden’s men came to bust Frank loose, but he and Gail sent them packing. Wesley explains that he was meeting with Ollie Young Bear, who’s found two women from the reservation who are willing to testify against Frank. The only charges they will file are for sexual assault, because there’s no chance of indicting Frank for Marie’s murder. Len tells Wesley to act quickly, because Grandpa Hayden will try again, and Wesley replies that Frank will be up for arraignment either later today or tomorrow. As the men continue to talk, Gail pulls David back into the house. The men come moments later, and Wesley explains that whenever he’s not home Len will be around to protect him. He’s also going to call his father and tell him to stop his attempts to break Frank out. While Wesley speaks he sounds apologetic, and Gail tells him all of this would be unnecessary if he just lets Frank go. Wesley says she doesn’t mean that, but Gail is at wit’s end and launches into a rant about why they should release Frank. Wesley asks Len for his opinion, and Len agrees with Gail because he thinks it’ll be difficult to convict Frank based on who he is, who his father is, and who Frank’s victims are. Len continues to add that with the upcoming election Wesley needs to garner as much popularity as possible, but a case like this will tear up Mercer County and make reelection difficult. Wesley realizes that Grandpa Hayden has been talking to Len, which Len confirms, but Len also says that he’s on Wesley’s side because Wesley is the sheriff and Len’s his deputy.

Wesley smiles briefly at this before turning and staring at David, as if asking for David’s opinion. David, accustomed to being left in the dark about the whole situation, says nothing, and waits out his father’s stare. Eventually Wesley turns away and descends the stairs into the basement without saying a word to anyone. Gail asks Len how he thinks Frank killed Marie, and Len says perhaps pills, or an injection, or even smothering. Despite the brutality of the conversation Gail doesn’t shoo David away, too tired to continue protecting him from the evil and horror of his uncle’s crimes. As Gail and Len continue their conversation, David marvels at how easily they talk to each other, an ease that seems to depend on Wesley’s absence. Eventually Len leaves to check on Daisy, and Gail and David wait in the kitchen for Wesley and Frank to ascend the stairs. But when Wesley comes up, he’s by himself. Before they can ask, Wesley announces that he’s going to move Frank to the jail first thing tomorrow morning, but he cannot let Frank go because his brother is guilty as sin. He says that perhaps a jury will let Frank go, but he himself cannot. Gail is upset, and Wesley says he wishes it could be different, but Frank has less remorse about killing Marie than if he had killed a dog. At this Gail looks like she’s about to gag, and Wesley says he cannot let Frank go and live with himself. David observes how his parents have reversed their roles, with Gail now standing for practicality and Wesley now standing for moral absolutism. But Wesley looks deeply anguished, so Gail tells David to go pick up his favorite food for dinner in an attempt to get him out of the house. As David leaves he looks back at his parents and feels a great distance between them all.


Wesley’s continued inner struggle with his loyalty to his family, his sense of morality, and his responsibilities as sheriff comes to a head in this part of chapter three. Marie’s murder is Wesley’s breaking point, and he decides to arrest his older brother even though it clearly pains him. And as predicted the backlash is swift, with his parents arriving at his house in the middle of the night demanding he release Frank. Grandpa and Grandma Hayden’s visit showcases many of the central themes in Montana 1948. Grandpa Hayden demanding Wesley release Hayden, before he has to do it himself, demonstrates that Julian has no problem wielding the sheriff’s power in corrupt ways. Grandma Hayden echoing many of the same excuses Wesley originally tried to use to deny the allegations against Frank shows that stereotypes about Native Americans are widespread. And of course, family plays a huge role in the visit. As Grandpa Hayden points out, Wesley holding Frank in the basement and not at the town jail demonstrates that this is in part a family matter.

Wesley being able to withstand the pressure from his parents says much about his morality and sense of justice. Though it takes some time for him to realize his brother’s crimes cannot be overlooked, he finally does the right thing and arrests Frank. And even after Grandpa Hayden sends a band of cowboys to release Frank, Wesley remains steadfast in his decision. Interestingly, Gail, who has had the moral high ground the entire time, slips and allows her fear and desire to be free of Frank’s drama to compromise her morality and sense of justice. Gail is proof that even the most well-meaning people have limits.

After their standoff with Grandpa Hayden’s men, Wesley announces that Frank will only be charged with sexual assault, because there’s no chance he will be indicted for Marie’s murder. This is ironic, as it’s Marie’s murder that convinces Wesley to arrest Frank in the first place. Marie’s death will be the catalyst of the justice Frank’s other victims receive, but she herself will not get justice in the eyes of the law. This again brings up questions about justice, especially concerning who deserves it and who gets it. Would it be easier for Wesley to get justice for Marie if she were a white woman? And now that Marie is dead, what would justice for her look like? Is it enough for Frank to be punished for his other crimes? These are all quandaries that Montana 1948 presents.

Small town life is another important theme in this chapter of the novel. When David walks the streets of Bentrock, he reflects on the eccentric and odd people that make up his town. Though David doesn’t explicitly say it, it’s suggested that Frank’s crimes could be common knowledge in Bentrock, but like the other aberrant things that happen in town, people just turn a blind eye. As David points out, this goes against the stereotype of small towns as being narrow-minded and intolerant.

Small towns are also known for their tranquility and quiet, and on the surface Bentrock does live up to this stereotype. While there is evil and corruption simmering underneath the surface, from an outside perspective Bentrock is the epitome of a quaint and peaceful Western town. This peace is shattered by the sound of Wesley’s shotgun the day Grandpa Hayden sends his farmhands to break Frank out of Wesley’s basement. Though the standoff between Gail, Len, and Grandpa Hayden’s cowboys is reminiscent of the classic cowboy “guns drawn at high noon” movie scene, it’s fundamentally different. This is primarily because of Gail having to wield and use a gun in a space typically reserved for men. Frank’s crimes have forced all of the characters out of their traditional roles and comfort zones, and now everyone is struggling to find their footing.