The Virginian Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1902

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Western

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Wyoming

Characters DiscussedThe Virginian

The Virginian, TheVirginian, 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

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

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.

BibliographyCobbs, John L. Owen Wister. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Argues that Wister was a good writer whose works deserve more attention. Devotes one chapter to a discussion of The Virginian and provides a good survey of other secondary sources on the book through the early 1980’s.Etulain, Richard W. Owen Wister. Boise, Idaho: Boise State College, 1973. A brief survey of Wister’s career and a good introduction to his writings. Includes some perceptive comments about The Virginian.Lambert, Neal. “Owen Wister’s Virginian: The Genesis of a Cultural Hero.” Western American Literature 6 (Summer, 1971): 99-107. A perceptive analysis of the development and meaning of the central figure of Wister’s novel by one of the leading students of his work.Payne, Darwin. Owen Wister: Chronicler of the West, Gentleman of the East. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985. The best available biography of Wister, which draws on extensive research in his papers at the Library of Congress and other manuscript collections. Contains an abundance of material on the history of The Virginian and the response it evoked during Wister’s lifetime.White, G. Edward. The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968. Examines the way in which Wister interacted with the West and the historical circumstances that led him to write The Virginian. White deals with Wister’s links with participants in the Johnson County War of April, 1892.
Categories: Characters