When the Legends Die Study Guide
Pg. 3: After the first paragraph: Make a Prediction
Who do you think “they” is when the Ute man says “They will come after me?”
Pg. 4 top of the page. “The magpies(birds) screamed for a moment, then they were
silent.” What literary element is being used here? Why do you think the author uses
it? What does it add to the story here at this moment? (Think critically about what is
happening in the story thus far.)
There is a FLASHBACK in the reading on pg. 6. What line signifies this
Insertion of a scene or event that took place in the A novelist may include a flashback to reveal a
past, often appearing as a memory childhood incident in the life of an adult character.
Why were the Utes in trouble? Who is coming after them? Do you think that it is
fair that someone come after them? Why or why not? Pg. 7-8
What signifies the end of the FLASHBACK? Why do you think the author included
this flashback into the story? THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT IT.
How do Bessie, her man and her son lose their identity to the “white” man? How do
you feel about this incident? Why do you think the Whites were doing this to the
Where do Bessie, her son and her husband wish to go back to? Why?
SYMBOLISM: What do you think the “roundness” of the song Bessie remembers
symbolizes about life in her eyes?
“The star that was a hunter with a pack on his back was halfway down the sky in the
northwest when she went out on the step and listened.” What literary element is
being used here and why do you think it is used? THINK CRITICALLY.
Pg. 13 PREDICT Where do you think Bessie is going with the axe and her son?
Pg. 14 “The star was the hunter with a pack on his back was down near the horizon,
making the big circle the stars made every night. It was good to know the roundness,
the completeness again, not the squareness of houses and streets.” What do you think
she means by this? What does this ROUNDNESS symbolize?
Pg. 15-16 What three things does Bessie do on pg. 15-16 to show her respect for nature?
(Look for how she speaks with nature) What does this tell you about her culture and
Who came to meet up with Bessie and her son?
Pg. 18 “I don not want a house. I want a lodge that is round like the sun and the path
of the stars. I want a lodge that is like the good things that have no end.” What does
she mean when she says this and why does she say it like this?
On pg. 19 What do you think the author means when he says “They speak its
language” at the top of pg. 19?
Describe the horrible thing that happens in section 6. How do they respond to this
tragic happening in a traditional way? What does the mother say to him?
“In the darkness, with the stars watching them.” What literary element is this? Why do
you think the author uses it here at this moment in the story? THINK
What are at least 5 things that the family does that are similar to the “old days?”
What do you think Bessie means when she says, “Soon you will know a name for
yourself,” on pg. 22?
“Summer passed like a white cloud drifting over the mountain.”
What literary element does this line represent? Why does the author use THIS line
to describe the passing of the summer? THINK CRITICALLY
pg. 22 Do you think it is a good idea for them to go to Pagosa? Why or why not?
Pg. 24 Why is Bessie afraid when she is at the store?
Pg. 25 Who does the boy befriend? How does the mom react?
What do you think of Jim Thatcher? Why?
What do you think of Blue Elk? Why?
What details from the story thus far signify that the boy is “coming of age?” (Find at
What tragic thing happens at the end of section 9? How did you feel as you read it?
Pg. 31 Who does Bear Brother make friends with? What are your thoughts about
What is being personified in this section?
Toward the end of pg. 32- What do you think the man is doing there and what do you
think he wants?
What horrible thing happens in this section?
How did the boy become friends with the cub bear?
What is the conflict at the beginning of this section?
Pg. 39 How do you feel about what the Preacher wants for the boy? Is it right or
Explain what the boy meant when he said, “How can there be an end (to the old days)?
There is roundness.
What do you think Blue Elk means when he says? “It is good for a people to change but
it is not good for them to forget.”
How does Bear Brother help Blue Elk remember the culture he seemed to have
forgotten? Support with examples from the reading!
What happens at the end of this section? How do you feel about it? Is it a good
decision or not? Why or why not?
1. Explain the meaning of the expression, “What have you got up our sleeve this
time?” pg. 51
2. Blue Elk says that Thomas Black Bull is about eleven years old. Do you think that
is right? Why or why not?
3. Explain the agent’s statement, “You would sell your own grandmother, wouldn’t
you Blue Elk?”
4. Why didn’t Blue Elk like the deal the agent offered-giving him the bear in
exchange for bringing the bow to the reservation?
5. How did Blue Elk plan to get money if the agent was not going to pay him?
6. At the end of chapter 13, Blue Elk says he is glad the bear is not guarding the lodge
on Bald Mountain. What do you think this statement is foreshadowing?
1. The people at the school had trouble with the boy. If you were in charge, what
would you have done with the boy?
2. How do you feel when Miss Ellis says the following? “He has had a very
interesting life and soon he will tell us about it. But first we are going to teach him
3. What happens to Benny when Thomas starts singing the sorrow song? What are
your thoughts about this scene?
4. Why didn’t Benny want the bear killed?
5. What is Benny like?
6. What is Benny’s internal struggle or internal conflict?
1. How is Blue Elk affected by Thomas’s chanting of the sorrow song? Why is this?
2. Why couldn’t Blue Elk take the bear back to Bald Mountain?
3. How did the agent show that he knew what a liar Blue Elk was?
4. At the very end of chapter 14 Blue Elk is characterized as the following: Then he
turned and left. A tired and bruised old man who somehow, the agent couldn’t figure
quite how, represented the pride and dignity of a whole race.” Why does the agent
make this remark and observation about him?
5. Why do you think the agent called on Blue Elk-instead of someone else-to do
1. Did Thomas start the trouble? What did the other boys tease him about?
2. If you had been in charge at the school. What punishment would you have
chosen? For whom?
3. Do you think Thomas wants to be like the other boys? Why or why not?
4. How important is maintaining one’s identity as a young adult? Why?
5. What would you have done if you were in Thomas’s shoes?
1. Why do you think Blue Elk burned the lodge?
2. How do the woodland creatures react when they see Thomas? Why do you
think they act this way?
3. What does Thomas say about big grief? How does one handle them? What
are thoughts about this reaction to big grief?
4. Why did Thomas start back to the valley after seeing the burnt the lodge?
1. What signals signified Thomas succumbing to the White ways?
2. Why does he “behave” when he comes back to the reservation school?
3. What did Thomas know was going to happen to the bear? How did he know
4. Why did Thomas come back after going a little way with the bear?
5. The simile on pg. 73 that is used to describe Thomas is very powerful. “They
stepped aside, made way for him, and later they said it was like seeing a
strange man, a remote and terrible man, not a boy.” What is the meaning of
this simile and why does the author use it here?
1. Why doesn’t Thomas like the idea of plowing the land?
2. How did Thomas begin to regain his sense of mastery?
3. How was Thomas’s way of taming horses different than the other’s?
1. How did Albert treat Thomas?
2. Why did Thomas like being a sheep herder?
1. How did Thomas earn his first quarter?
2. Was it fair for Red Dillon to make Tom treat for the food? Why or why not?
3. If you were in Thomas’s position, would you take the job with Red Dillon?
Why or why not?
1. Describe the origin and destination of Thomas’s trip with Red.
2. What kind of teacher was Red Dillon?
3. What kind of lessons did Red Dillon try to teach?
4. Why wasn’t Tom able to win at Aztec?
1. Why did Red Dillon act like a drunken braggart?
2. Why did Tom go along with Red? What kind of cut was he going to get?
3. Red encouraged Tom to treat horses in a certain way. How did this kind of
treatment conflict with Tom’s Ute background?
1. What sort of man was Red Dillon?
2. Would you like to work for Red? Why or why not?
1. How were Meo and Tom alike?
2. What was Meo trying to get Tom to do?
3. What were Meo and Tom talking about when they were talking to the beans?
1. What could Tom do to lose a rodeo ride?
2. Why was losing a ride hard for Tom?
3. What does “hard on the spirit” mean?
1. How old is Tom at this point?
2. At what point does Tom’s riding become something more than riding?
3. What does it become for Tom?
4. Why do you think this change occurs?
5. Is the change largely the result of influences inside Tom or forces outside?
6. The author provides a great deal of information to explain rodeos and bronc
riding. Why do you think he does this? How do you as a reader react to all
7. What signs do we have that Tom is changing his attitude toward the world,
himself and the past?
8. What new things does he do that reflect these changes?
9. Describe the relationship between Tom and Meo. How are they alike? & How
are they different?
10. What do you think is most important to each?
1. Tom’s clothing style throughout the novel provides a clue to his identity. Examine
his clothing as an Indian, at the school, as a rider for red and finally as a “dude” rider.
How does each style reflect what is happening in Tom’s life and how he feels about
2. How does Tom ride the horses? How does he treat them?
3. How is this treatment symbolic of his life?
4. How do you feel about his treatment of the horses?
5. Why does he treat them this way?
6. What changes take place in Red and Tom’s relationship?
7. What factors cause these changes?
1. Philosophical mood: Doc Wilson says, “Time is the rider that breaks youth.”
How does this statement apply to Red? To Meo? To Tom?
2. How does Red react to Tom when in chapter 31? What do his feelings for him
seem to be?
3. In turn, what do Tom’s feelings seem to be for Red?
4. At the end of this chapter, do you think Tom will find himself in Odessa? Why or
5. Do you think Tom is finding himself? What signifies he is? Or… Why do you
think he isn’t finding himself?
6. Describe the relationship between Meo and Tom.
7. How do you think Tom feels at the end of Chapter 32?
8. How do you feel?
9. How did Tom show he had grown up?
10. Why didn’t Tom tell Meo he had been named the best first-year man on the
chapters 35, 36 & 37
1. What did the statement, “Old Man Satan never had to win a title to prove
how good he was” mean?
2. Why was Tom compared to the devil?
3. What do you think was driving Tom?
4. Tom’s life was lonely. How has he changed since he was a small boy?
5. What was Tom remembering when he saw blue?
6. What signs of prejeudice does Tom encounter in New York?
7. What is the outcome of Tom’s ride at Madison Square Garden?
38, 39, & 40
8. What hospital scenes spark Tom’s memories of the past and what does he
9. What is Tom’s attitude in the hospital and why?
10. What do you think Tom’s dream represents, where he says in chpt. 38 that all
his dreams end in the same way of falling, being trapped in the saddle, and
falling but never landing.?
11. Why is Tom determined to return to the rodeo arena?
12. Why is Mary Redmond angry when Tom tries to walk without Dr. Ferguson’s
13. What did the surgeon mean when he said, “You still got gravel in your craw?”
14. Why do you think the author included the detail about Mary’s dog?
15. Why did Mary get angry with Tom? Was her anger justified?
16. How did Tom remind of Bart Huntley?
41 & 42
17. Why does Tom decide not to convalesce at Nyack?
18. Tom “almost wished the superviser, or someone, would stop him” when he
was leaving the hospital. Why?
19. Whom did Tom recognize?
20. Why do you think Tom went back to the reservation town?
21. What was coincidental about Tom’s getting a sheepherder job?
22. How does Tom react on his return to Pagosa?
23. Why does the clerk laugh at Tom’s remark that he once herded sheep near
24. What is significant about the name Tom uses to introduce himself to Jim
43 & 44
25. What pattern is emerging, that is, how is Tom’s life turning out to be
26. Is Tom following Dr. Ferguson’s order for recovery?
27. In what ways does the analogy Tom makes between time and an opinion
anticipate the remaining action of the book?
28. What does Tom mean when he says that he killed Blue Elk, Benny Grayback,
29. Explain the significance of Tom’s dream about Blue Elk.
End of Book Study Guide
Jot down notes where you notice Tom going back to the old ways and gradually
peeling away the layers of time to rediscover what was once important to him and
what once defined him. How is regaining his natural intuition and oneness with
nature? How is he in some cases a stranger to what he once knew?
1. Explain the significance of Tom’s dream about Blue Elk
2. In what ways is Tom’s dream about his mother and the lodge ironic?
3. Why does Tom decide to return to Horse Mountain in search of the bear?
4. What does Tom’s camp at West Fork indicate about his relationship with
5. Why does Tom have second thoughts about killing a deer when he doesn’t
need all the meat?
6. Why doesn’t Tom kill the bear?
7. What do his dreams atop Granite Peak reveal to Tom?
8. How is the killing of the second deer different from the slaughter of the first?
9. What are the effects of Tom’s memories as he sews moccasins at his new
Granite Peak lodge?
10. Why does the author include the dream about All-Mother chanting? What
does it add to the story?
11. Tom dreamed about talking to the mountain and saying, “I have forgotten
who I am.” What does it mean to “know who you are?”
12. When Tom awoke from the dream, “The white was all around him, the white
light of truth and understanding.” How did Tom show he was changed?
13. What was the journey up the mountain really about?
14. What meaning does Tom give the chipmunk’s stripes?
15. Although Tom has in many ways returned to his beginnings, how does the
man differ from the Ute boy?
16. What is the significance of Tom’s return to the old ways at the end?
17. What does the bear symbolize?
18. Throughout the novel, what does the author seem to be saying about the
treatment of Native Americans?