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Free Study Guide-When The Legends Die by Hal Borland- Free Book Notes
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The story begins in Piedra Town, Arboles, on the Southern Ute reservation, in Southwestern Colorado.

When Tom, the protagonist, turns five, his parents take him to Horse Mountain. After his parents pass away when he is still young, he is taken back to Piedra Town against his wishes and forced to attend school. He manages to run away to Horse Mountain in order to search for his lost friend, a bear cub. When he finds nothing left of his lodge, he returns to Piedra Town in disappointment.

Tom grows up and moves to Bayfield, where he works with Albert Left Hand. He then joins Red Dillon and trains him to be a bronco rider. His shows take him to various places like Aztec, Bernalillo, Carrizozo, Socorro, Eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, El Paso, Fort Stockton, Sonora, Fredericksburg, Uvalde Country, and Odessa, Texas.

After Red dies in Odessa, Tom travels alone to Albuquerque, Wolf Point, New York, and Pagosa. He becomes a well-known bronco rider, who is feared by all. After he has an accident, Tom is forced to retire. He returns to Pagosa and settles down at Granite Peak.


Major Characters

Thomas Black Bull/Killer Tom Black

The main character and protagonist of the novel. Originally raised by his parents in the wild, he adopts Ute Indian values. When he grows up, he becomes a famous bronco rider.


Tomís mother, who is a Ute Indian. She is wise and can see people for what they are. She also teaches Tom about all the old Ute traditions and customs.

George Black Bull

Tomís father, who loves his wife and son dearly. He imparts his knowledge to Tom and teaches him how to survive in the wild. He is an honest and hard working man. He kills a thief who repeatedly steals his hard-earned money.

Blue Elk

A member of the Ute tribe who lives in Piedra Town. He is a greedy old man, always seeking to make a profit from any situation. He lies and cheats his own people for monetary gain, claiming to work for their good.

Benny Grayback

A stocky thirty year old Ute man who works as a vocational instructor in charge of a carpenter shop on the reservation. He teaches Tom to be practical and adapt to the new ways of the white world.

Albert Left Hand

A short, fat man who owns a little band of sheep on the flats at the northern edge of the reservation. In need of a helper, he hires Tom when he is only eleven years old.

Red Dillon

A wiry red-haired man with a crooked nose. Even though he is a gambler and an alcoholic, he owns a ranch in New Mexico, just on the other side of the reservation. He teaches Tom, at the age of eleven, to be a bronco rider. Tom travels with him to many shows throughout the southwestern United States.

Minor Characters

Meo Martinez

A retired bronco rider. After one of the horses falls on him and hurts his back, he becomes a cook for Red Dillon. Although he is an illiterate Mexican, he understands Tom almost better than anyone. The two of them become friends.

Charley Huckleberry

A friend of Tomís father. A member of the Southern Reservation near Arboles, he is a member of the council and in charge of his people.

Frank No Deer

An Indian with mixed-blood from the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in New Mexico. He works with Tomís father, but is killed by him for repeatedly stealing money.


The Sheriff of Piedra Town.

Jim Thatcher

A kind store owner who trades with the Indians.

Luther Spotted Dog

A fourteen-year-old boy, who has to share his room with Tom.

Neil Swanson

The man in charge of the stables and livestock, who allows Tom to keep his bear in the stable. When he hires Tom, he thinks he is not good at his job and is mean to him.

Miss Rowena Gllis

The woman in charge of the girlís dormitory, who also teaches English. She is unmarried, slightly plump, and in her early forties. She serves as the unofficial mother to every shy, homesick boy or girl in the school. She is kind to Tom.

Ed Porter

A half-blood, in charge of the cobblerís shop at the school. He notices Tomís skill at basketmaking.

Dolly Beaverfoot

Edís wife and the teacher of basketry. She is a Paiute, originally from Utah.

Dr. Wilson

A doctor who helps Tom with his arm.

Mary Redmond

A nurse in her mid-thirties. She is vivacious, talkative, and slightly plump and has coppery hair and blue eyes. She takes good care of Tom in the hospital. After some resistance, Tom ends up liking her.

Dr. Ferguson

A doctor at the hospital who advises Tom never to ride broncos again.

Jim Woodward

The owner of a flock of sheep at Pagosa. He hires Tom as a herder after his accident.

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