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The novel is really the coming of age story of Thomas Black Bull. He does not have a single antagonist, but must fight many adversaries as he grows up on the reservation and in the white manís world.
The protagonist of the novel is Thomas Black Bull, a young Indian man from the Ute tribe. He is raised by his parents in the wilderness. After their deaths when he is still young, he is taken back to the reservation against his wishes and forced to attend school for the first time. The transition back to civilization is difficult for him and influences his later life. Eventually he trains to be a bronco rider and takes his anger out in the ring; because he is tough and seems fearless, he becomes well-known. Symbolically, Tom stands for all the Indians who were displaced from their natural habitat to live in a strange, difficult, materialistic world controlled by white people. He also stands for all people who have lost and then search for their own identity.
Tomís antagonist is growing up, which is made more difficult when he is forced to return to the reservation and then live in the white manís world. As he matures, he must face and overcome many obstacles and adversaries. One particularly difficult person he must deal with is Blue Elk, a Ute Indian, who lives apart from the tribe. He claims to have his peopleís best interests at heart, but in reality, he is greedy for money and will take advantage of anyone and any situation to make a profit for himself. He is the one who forces Tom out of the wilderness and who steals everything in his lodge. In the whiteí manís world, Tom grows very angry and frustrated, feeling that everyone is trying to control him, especially Red Dillon. He takes out his anger on the broncos that he rides in the ring.
The climax occurs after Tom has his accident and retires from being a bronco rider. Working as a sheep herder, he spends a lot of time in the mountains and thinks about his past and who he is. One day he falls asleep and has a dream about the Indian All- Mother. She calls to him and says Tom is her son. He then makes peace with himself and again adopts the old Ute ways of his parents. No longer running from his past or his true identity, he accepts who he is and proudly embraces his heritage.
The story ends in comedy, for Tom finds himself. After he is forced at a young age from his lodge on Granite Peak, Tom spends much of his life denying his roots. When an accident causes his early retirement from bronco riding, he seeks and finds himself. He apologizes to the All-Mother for denying his past and running from the place he belongs. Finally accepting his identity and finding peace, he builds another lodge on Granite Peace and lives off the land, following Ute custom.