Author: Owen Wister
First published: 1902
Time: Late nineteenth century
The Virginian, a cowboy in Wyoming who is one of nature's gentlemen. He can perform his duties well and hold his own in practical jokes, drinking bouts, and poker games. When given an opportunity, he proves to be an apt leader of men and a successful ranch foreman. He falls in love with a young schoolteacher from the East and by his manly behavior proves his worth to the woman, who finally marries him, even though he is a rough-and-ready man by her standards. The Virginian believes in law and order, even if violence is required to maintain them; one of his most difficult experiences is the hanging of a friend who has turned cattle rustler.
Molly Wood, a very feminine but efficient young woman from Vermont who goes to Wyoming to teach in the grade school at Bear Creek, Wyoming. She entrances the Virginian, who almost immediately falls in love when he rescues her from a stagecoach marooned by high water. Molly acts the coquette at first with the cowboy, but she falls in love with him, even risking her life to attend him when he is wounded by hostile Indians. She tries to keep him from a gunfight by threatening not to marry him, but when he emerges from the duel unscathed, she is too happy that he is left alive to make good her threat.
Trampas, a cowboy who becomes the Virginian's enemy when the latter accuses him of cheating at cards and faces him down without a fight. Trampas turns cattle rustler and becomes an outlaw, even killing a fellow rustler to save his own life. He is killed by the Virginian in a gunfight.
Steve, a cowboy, one of the Virginian's close friends. He becomes a cattle rustler and is hanged by a posse of which the Virginian is a member. When caught, Steve refuses to speak to his friend, who feels bad about the death of Steve, outlaw or not.
Judge Henry, the owner of a cattle ranch at Sunk Creek, Wyoming, where the Virginian works. Judge Henry is impressed by the Virginian and makes him his foreman.
Shorty, a cowboy who becomes one of Trampas' fellow rustlers. He is killed by Trampas when his death will allow the other outlaw to escape justice.