"Longhair" could describe Francisco, grandfather of Abel, the novel's protagonist. Francisco is an elder of the village. The word "Longhair" can also refer to an American Indian man who maintains the old ways, a cultural conservative who does not adopt the modern practice of cutting his hair; it can also indicate a man who has not been educated in the boarding schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which used to force Indian boys to cut their hair.
The first and last of the four dated sections of the novel take place in and near Jemez pueblo, one of several Pueblo Indian communities in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. The people of Jemez call their pueblo Walatowa. Place names in the Southwest reflect the region's multicultural character: Jemez and Walatowa are two names for the same pueblo; Cañon de San Diego was named by the Spanish colonists and means the Canyon of Saint James. The date is just before the end of World War II.