The Man Who Killed the Deer Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1942

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: The late 1930’s, before the outbreak of World War II

Locale: The Pueblo Indian Reservation, near Taos, New Mexico

Characters DiscussedMartiniano

Martiniano, Man Who Killed the Deer, Thea young American Indian, part Pueblo and part Apache, tall, broad-shouldered, strong, and capable. Forced, as a boy, to attend a U.S. government boarding school, he returns as a man to his pueblo (village). Spiritually lost, he finds comfort neither in the ways of the white man nor in those of the Indian. For his failure to conform to the Pueblo traditions, he is considered a rebel and is forced to live in a hut outside the compound. After he kills a deer on government land after the close of hunting season, he is fined and humiliated. This action seems to precipitate more and more acts that provoke punishment by the pueblo leadership. He struggles with the injustice of being punished by the pueblo for behavior that he was taught at the white man’s school. He imagines that the deer he killed is still alive and is taunting him. He sees the deer as the symbol of his troubles. He becomes even more depressed when he discovers that his bride, Flowers Playing, seems to possess special powers over the wild deer that roam the area. He hopes that, by joining Manuel Rena’s secret peyote cult, he will begin to develop a faith, but the cult is discovered and must be abandoned. With the birth of his son, he begins to find peace and to understand the beauty of the ways of his ancestors and of the necessity of being a part of their tradition, meanwhile acknowledging the inevitable encroachment of the modern world.

Flowers Playing

Flowers Playing, an American Indian woman, part Ute and part Arapahoe. She is first seen by Martiniano when she is among a group of visiting Plains Indian dancers. He is enchanted with her wild grace and her striking beauty. The two are married and have a good initial year together, though they are ostracized from the pueblo society. An emotional barrier develops between them as a result of Martiniano’s sense of guilt and frustration, and he blames the deer that he has killed for having destroyed his wife’s love for him. Gradually, as they look forward to the birth of their child, the couple’s relationship is restored.


Palemon, the closest friend of Martiniano. Much like Martiniano in appearance, he is slightly older than his friend. One night, he responds to a mysterious inner summons that leads him into the mountains. There he finds Martiniano in a state of semiconsciousness, having been injured by the government agent who had discovered him hunting out of season. Palemon saves Martiniano’s life and continues to be his only friend among the pueblo members, providing support and wise counsel whenever needed.

Rodolfo Byers

Rodolfo Byers, a white man who owns the trading post nearest the pueblo. When Martiniano is assessed a fine of $150 for killing a deer out of season, Byers quietly pays the fine. He also provides credit at his trading post so that Martiniano can purchase items necessary to grow corn on his small plot of land. Byers takes Martiniano and Flowers Playing on a buying trip for the trading post, during which he assures Martiniano that each man has some special burden, such as the deer that haunts Martiniano, and that the burden will pass.

Manuel Rena

Manuel Rena, the leader of the peyote cult. Rena is a member of the pueblo, but, unlike most, he is a rich man, having fertile land, good horses, and a large herd of sheep. A big, handsome man, he wears polished leather boots and the finest of blankets from Mexico. Rena convinces Martiniano that Father Peyote will give him strength and faith. Martiniano, seeking an alternative to the Indian ways and to the domination of the mercenary Catholic priest, joins the cult.

BibliographyBlackburn, Alexander. A Sunrise Brighter Still: The Visionary Novels of Frank Waters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991. Chapters on each of Waters’s novels, with an introduction that surveys the writer’s purposes and his career and a conclusion arguing that Waters is a major American writer. Includes detailed notes and extensive bibliography.Deloria, Vine, Jr., ed. Frank Waters: Man and Mystic. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993. Memoirs of Waters and commentaries on his novels, emphasizing his prophetic style and sense of the sacred.Lyon, Thomas J. Frank Waters. New York: Twayne, 1973. Fills a critical vacuum by analyzing Waters’s themes and artistic style. After sketching Waters’s life, Lyon examines his nonfiction, showing him to be a writer of ideas with a sacred theory of the earth and Hopi mythic values. Focuses on seven novels as narrations of these ideas, from Fever Pitch to Pike’s Peak, and also discusses his minor works, including the biography of The Earp Brothers of Tombstone, the children’s biography of Robert Gilruth, his book reviews, and his essays on writing. The last chapter summarizes the book’s thesis and calls for more study of Waters’s work. Contains a chronology, notes and references, a selected annotated bibliography, and an index.South Dakota Review 15 (Autumn, 1977). A special Frank Waters issue, containing these essays: “The Sound of Space,” by John Milton; “Frank Waters’s Mexico Mystique: The Ontology of the Occult,” by Jack L. Davis; “Frank Waters and the Visual Sense,” by Robert Kostka; “Frank Waters and the Concept of Nothing Special,’ ” by Thomas J. Lyon; “Teaching Yoga in Las Vegas,” by Charles L. Adams; “Frank Waters and the Mountain Spirit,” by Quay Grigg; “The Conflict in The Man Who Killed the Deer,” by Christopher Hoy; “Mysticism and Witchcraft,” by Waters; and “Frank Waters,” by John Manchester.
Categories: Characters