Relatively few characters are involved in the actual events that take place during the time period covered by the novel, between July 1945 and February 1952. Many other characters are mentioned or remembered, often only in a phrase or a single sentence. These secondary, or remembered, characters are noted in a separate list after the list of main characters.
Main Characters in the Novel
Abel The central character of the novel, born in 1920 of a Walatowa mother and an unknown father. Raised by his grandfather after the death of his mother, he leaves the pueblo of Walatowa to join the army during World War II. His return to the pueblo after getting out of the army begins the novel; his second return ends it.
Francisco Grandfather of Abel and an elder in the village of Walatowa, Francisco is a mediating figure; he maintains the traditional Indian customs but is sacristan to the Catholic priest. He is a supremely religious, conservative man.
Father Olguin Parish priest at Walatowa, he feels keenly his alienation as an outsider in the village, and he is fascinated by the diary of a predecessor at the church.
Bonifacío A young boy who serves as an altar boy for Father Olguin.
Angela Grace (Mrs. Martin) St. John A woman from Los Angeles who visits Walatowa in the early stages of her pregnancy, on the advice of her physician husband, to seek treatment at the mineral baths for a nervous condition. She becomes Abel's lover. Seven years later, she visits Abel in Los Angeles at the hospital where he is recovering from a beating, and she tells him a story about a bear.
Juan Reyes Fragua The albino man whom Abel murders.
John Big Bluff Tosamah Called Priest of the Sun and titled Right Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, he ministers to a congregation of displaced Indians in the inner city of Los Angeles. He is a Kiowa with roots in Oklahoma. The pun in his middle names, Big Bluff, suggests his character as a trickster and verbal manipulator.
Cristobal Cruz One of the disciples of Tosamah. The word cruz means "cross" in Spanish.
Ben Benally A Navajo transplanted from the reservation in northern Arizona to the inner city of Los Angeles, Benally is Abel's mentor, friend, and co-worker; he sings fragments of Navajo ceremonies to cure Abel of his illness. Benally narrates the third of the four main sections of the novel.
Milly A social worker in Los Angeles who befriends Abel and Benally and has an affair with Abel. Milly's family, like the families she helps, was poor and victimized.
Napoleon Kills-in-the-Timber One of the participants in the peyote ceremony.
Henry Yellowbull One of the participants in the peyote ceremony.
Henry Owner of a bar in Los Angeles.
Martinez A cruel, corrupt police officer in Los Angeles.
Manygoats A man whom Benally asks for repayment of a loan. "Manygoats" is a well-known Navajo clan name.
Howard A friend whom Benally meets in the bar after seeing Abel off on the train.
Carlozini An old woman living in the apartment below the one shared by Benally and Abel.
Mercedes Tenorio A woman who starts a stomp dance at the "49."
Daniels Supervisor at the carton factory where Benally and Abel work.
Peter The son of Angela Grace St. John.
Vidal Abel's elder brother, who died when Abel was a young child.
Mariano Francisco recalls besting Mariano in a race many years before the time of the novel.
Nicolás teah-whau A woman from Abel's childhood whom children believed was a witch.
Abel's mother She died when Abel was a very young child.
Juliano Medina A man of the Sia pueblo who took part with Abel and his grandfather in a ceremony during Abel's youth.
Patiestewa Head of the Bahkyush Eagle Watchers Society, one of the societies responsible for maintaining the religious ceremonies of Walatowa.
John Raymond A rancher mentioned in passing; Abel was returning from breaking a horse for him when he saw the awe-inspiring sight of the mating eagles.
San Juanito The man who caught the old eagle during the eagle hunt in Abel's youth.
Fray Nicolás A priest at Jemez during the late 1800s; Father Olguin reads his diary, which contains comments on Abel's forebears.
Viviano A boy mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary, said to be a brother of Francisco, Abel's grandfather.
Tomacita Fragua Tomacita is a woman mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary.
Antonio and Carlos Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary; two men who help bury Tomacita Fragua.
Juan Chinana Mentioned by Fray Nicolás as his sacristan.
Inocencia, San Juanito, Avelino, Pasqual, Lupita, Augustin Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary as having taken part in a living crèche, a Nativity representation, at Christmas, 1874.
Domingo Gachupin Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary as having taken care of a statue of the Infant of Prague between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany (6 January).
Avenicio Lucero and Jesus Baca Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' journal as having died.
Maria Delgado Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' journal.
Manuelita and Diego Fragua Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' journal as parents of the albino baby. The diary refers to Diego as the son-inlaw of Tomacita Fragua.
Catherine Sister-in-law of Fray Nicolás, mentioned in his letter to his brother, J.M.
Porcingula Pecos Mentioned in Fray Nicolás' diary as being impregnated by Francisco — therefore, possibly Abel's grandmother.
John Youngest of the four evangelists and author of the last of the four Gospels. His name is linked with Tosamah (John Big Bluff) and Angela (St. John).
Fat Josie Abel remembers how she snapped his back into alignment after a fall from a horse.
Bowker A soldier whom Abel remembers as testifying during the trial about Abel's bravery under fire.
Corporal Rate and Private Marshall Soldiers who figure in Bowker's story of Abel's courage.
Daley Fletcher In Milly's story, the neighbor who drives her to the train when she leaves home.
Matt Milly's ex-husband.
Carrie Milly's daughter, who died at a young age of a mysterious fever.
Mr. Hitchcock In Milly's story, the druggist whom she goes to for help for her child.
Aho Grandmother of Tosamah.
DeBenedictus A workman in the carton factory who had been laid off before Abel applied for a job.
Frazer The manager of a trading post whom Benally remembers from his childhood.
Sam Charley A friend whom Benally recalls from his youth.