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Free Study Guide-When The Legends Die by Hal Borland- Free Book Notes
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As a newcomer to the Odessa rodeo, Tom observes everything around him with a sharp eye. He also listens to the veteran riders discuss the competition and the horses. He wants to be ready for the first event.

In the first round, Tom is nervous and does not ride well. He does better the next day, but he is still too tense. In the final round, Tom draws a big, mean bronco, and he rides the way he has hoped he could do. At the end of the competition, he is in second place.

Tom continues to enter rodeos, and for awhile, he does better in each new one. Before long the crowds begin to recognize him and cheer him on. Then Tom begins to lose. He remembers Redís warning about riding for the crowd, wanting to be their hero. He knows he must simply ride for himself, giving it his all. When he forgets the crowd, Tom begins to win again.

After summer passes, Tom goes to visit Meo, who does not at first seem to recognize him. Tom tells him about the rodeos on the big circuit, but Meo is not the least bit interested. Feeling that Meo is simply not himself, Tom decides he should hide all his money in his car. He leaves only ten dollars in his pocket. Later Tom spots Meo looking through his pants, but his ten dollars is still in his pocket the next morning.

After three days, Tom is ready to leave. He gives Meo half of his money and promises him he will return to visit him soon.

Tom returns to Odessa, where he does well in the beginning. Then in May he is thrown by a bronco. When he analyzes why he has fallen, he realizes that he has once again been playing to the crowd, instead of concentrating on doing his best. He tries harder and improves to some degree. Then in June, he is again thrown by a bronco, which is raving mad and has to be shot. Tom lands heavily against the chute and has to be taken to the hospital. He has broken his right arm and a few ribs. In spite of the pain, he leaves the hospital and heads to the range to visit Meo.


Even though Red is no longer alive, he still influences Tomís life. When he starts losing rodeo competitions, he thinks about all that Red has taught him. He realizes that he has become too interested in attracting the attention of the crowd rather than concentrating on his riding. As a result, he tries not to think about the crowdís reactions; instead, he concentrates on doing his best. As a result, he begins to win again.

Being alone on the rodeo circuit in and around Odessa helps Tom to mature. By the time he goes back to visit Meo in the fall, Tom has grown into a man. At first, Meo does not even recognize him because he has changed so much. Meo is also a changed man. He seems to have lost his zest for life. He does not question Tom about the rodeo, and when Tom talks about the competition, Meo seems to have no interest. All he seems to care about are the beans that he is growing. As a result, the kind Tom stays long enough to help with the bean harvest. He also shares half of his money with Meo. When he is ready to depart, Tom promises that he will return soon for a visit.

When Tom returns to Odessa to rodeo, he again lets the cheering crowds distract him. He reflects on Redís teachings and tries to concentrate. Then in June, he is thrown from a particularly mean bronco and breaks his arm and several ribs. He gets out of the hospital as quickly as he can and heads home to see Meo.



Tom reaches Meoís cabin and finds that he is gone. He goes to Dr. Wilson and learns that Meo has died a month earlier. The doctor insists upon examining Tomís arm. He advises him to give up wild bronco riding.

Tom returns to the cabin, but he cannot make himself do much. Instead, he retreats into himself, feeling hurt and resentful. It seems to him he has lost everything. Meo and Red are dead, and he knows he should give up the rodeo, as the doctor has advised. He does try to care for his arm, exercising and massaging it.

Tom spends hours outside in nature, which brings back memories of Albert Left Hand, Benny, and Blue Elk. Tom is uncomfortable with the memories, for these people now seem like strangers to him. He tries to push the past away; but he does not like the present either. In his misery, he can do nothing but feel sorry for himself. Then one day he decides to burn the barn. Then he sets fire to the cabin as well. With nothing left of Meo and Red, Tom leaves for a rodeo at Wolf Point.


This is a very emotional chapter for Tom. When he finds that Meo has died, he feels that he has lost everything. Both Red and Meo are gone, and now the doctor advises him to give up bronco riding.

Feeling totally lost and lethargic, Tom idles away his time at Meoís cabin; but he is haunted by feelings of loneliness and sorrow, for he does not believe he belongs anywhere. He is also haunted by memories of the past, which he tries unsuccessfully to repress.

After spending a miserable month at Meoís cabin, he finally burns the barn and the house, as if to wipe out the past. He then departs for a rodeo at Wolf Point.



Tom is in deep pain as he rides in the first two rounds at Wolf Point; but he is determined to continue and succeed. In the final round, the horse he is riding is snorting bloody foam. The crowd applauds Tomís brutal and spirited performance.

The next day, Tom leaves for the next rodeo. He plans to continue on the circuit, riding until he overcomes the pain he is feeling. Although he enters many wild bronco events during the season, he does not win the championship. Soon, however, he comes to be known as Killer Tom Black, a hostile and silent man. His reputation spreads far and wide.

As the years pass, Tom continues to ride in rodeo arenas. He takes out his frustrations on the broncos, riding them brutally. Although he has many accidents, he will not stop performing. Mastering a bronco seems to be the only thing that gives any meaning to his life; but even his victories give him little pleasure. It is obvious that Tom has become an angry, resentful man.

One night in Chicago, Tom tries to ease his pain by drinking too much. In an inebriated state, he gets into a fight and has to have thirty-seven stitches in his shoulder. He remembers Redís advice to take out his frustrations only on the broncos. As a result, he decides not to drink any more and to ride harder in the arena. His performances become more brutal than ever. At the same time, Tom becomes more reclusive.


Tom is an angry and troubled man. He takes out his frustrations on the broncos that he rides, giving exciting and brutal performances that the crowd cheers. His victories, however, give him no pleasure. He takes up drinking, hoping to make himself feel better; but the alcohol only makes things worse. When he gets into a fight while intoxicated, he has to have thirty-seven stitches. After he recovers, he promises to take his anger out only on the horses, as Red has taught him to do.

Because Tom has not faced or dealt with the underlying issue that is troubling him, he can find no peace in his life. He no longer knows who he is or what he wants. When he thinks of his past, he fights to repress the memories; but the present does nothing but cause him pain. Tom truly feels like a lost soul who belongs no where.

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