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Carl Tiflin is the father of Jody. As head of the ranch and the family, he is a practical man, a hard worker, and a strict disciplinarian. He is stern with his son and rarely communicates with him except to give him orders or to punish him. His greatest desire for Jody is that he becomes a self-disciplined, responsible, and independent young man. To help in this effort, he brings home a colt for Jody to raise. The boy names the horse Gabilan and begins to carefully take care of it.
Mr. Tiflin is proud of the way that Jody handles the responsibilities of raising the horse and even praises the boy, showing he does have a softer side. In truth, Mr. Tiflin has a gentle nature underneath his stern exterior. He loves nature and notices the smaller things it has to offer. He encourages the birds to come to the ranch by feeding them grain and refuses to let anyone fire a gun on his property, fearing it will drive the birds away. He also feels terrible for Jody when Gabilan dies. In fact, he will allow Jody to have a second colt if he is willing to work hard to pay for it. When Jody is concerned about Nellie safely delivering his new colt, Mr. Tiflin is touched by the worry and again praises his son for a job well done.
Mr. Tiflin has a hard time dealing with old age and death. When Gitano comes to the ranch to die in his place of birth, Mr. Tiflin callously tells him he can stay only one night; he does not want to deal with Gitano's death. In fact, he compares Gitano with his old horse and says both of them are worthless. When the old paisano takes Easter, Mr. Tiflin feels relieved that he will not have to bury the old horse. When grandfather arrives at the ranch, he resents the old man telling his stories and says that he should just forget the past. Mr. Tiflin is not really being cruel; he just cannot reconcile the old with the new.
Billy Buck is a middle-aged ranch hand who has worked for the Tiflins for a long time. A hard worker and a good teacher, he spends time with Jody, teaching him about horses and the ranch. Jody views Billy as a substitute father and goes to him with all his questions and problems.
Billy convinces Mr. Tiflin to give Jody a pony of his own in order to teach the boy responsibility. Mr. Tiflin agrees and brings his son a colt that Jody names Gabilan. Billy teaches the boy all about taking care of the pony. When he sees that Jody is overprotecting the horse, he tells the boy to leave the horse in the corral while he goes to school; he promises Jody that the weather will be good. Unfortunately, the weather grows bad and the pony gets drenched and catches a cold. Although Billy does everything to try and save the pony, including making an incision in its windpipe, Gabilan dies and Jody blames the ranch hand, whom he no longer trusts.
Billy wants to re-establish the relationship with Jody. He goes to Mr. Tiflin and convinces him that Jody should be given another pony to raise. Jody's father agrees to breed Nellie, the mare, and give his son her colt, provided the boy works hard to pay for the animal and care for Nellie. Jody lives up to his promises and eagerly awaits Nellie's delivery. He tries to make Billy promises that the colt will be fine, but Billy refuses to promise anything to Jody again that he cannot control; he has learned his lesson. As a result, he simply tries to reassure the boy by saying Nellie has given birth to several fine colts in the past.
When Nellie has trouble delivering the colt because it is in the wrong position, Billy, without hesitation, decides to sacrifice the mare to save Jody's colt. He slits open the mare's abdomen and pulls Black Demon to safety, re-establishing Jody's faith and friendship. In the end, Billy is probably the most positive influence on Jody's maturing.
Mrs. Tiflin is Jody's mother, who plays a passive role rather an active one in the novel. She is usually pictured working in the kitchen, either cooking or washing dishes. Of course, ranch life is never easy for a woman. Still she takes time to care for and communicate with Jody, unlike her husband. She gently reminds him of his chores and encourages him to study. She is also very understanding when Jody loses Gabilan and when he is worried about Nellie safely delivering a good colt.
The only time she takes a stand in the entire novel is when her husband complains about he father. She criticizes his lack of understanding and begs him to try and listen to the stories her father tells. She knows he is an old man, close to death and reliving the past. In the same way she was kind to Gitano, sending out blankets to keep him warm.
Gitano is an old paisano who comes to the ranch in order to die at his place of birth. Steinbeck says that "his whole body had sagged into a timeless repose," as if he were already half dead. Jody finds him mysterious and fascinating and associates him with the mountains to the West, from where he seemed to come.
Mr. Tiflin has no use for the old man and will not allow him to stay on at the ranch, claiming he cannot afford to feed him. In truth, Tiflin simply does not want to have to deal with Gitano's impending death. Therefore, he tells the old paisano he can stay in the bunkhouse for one night only; he must then leave the ranch. When Gitano goes, he takes the old horse Easter with him and heads towards the mountains. He is obviously going away into nature to die in peace.
The character of Gitano is meant to be a universal type. He represents old people who are judged to be useless and rejected by society.
Jody's Grandfather is Mrs. Tiflin's parent; he comes to the ranch for a visit at the end of the novel. Like Gitano, he is old and ready to die. He constantly reminisces about his past, successfully leading a wagon train West while facing many dangers. No one really wants to listen to his stories except Jody, who wants to learn all that he can about Indians and wagons. Since no one will listen, grandfather feels rejected, especially when he hears his son-in-law say that he should just forget the past. According to grandfather, modern man has gone soft and lost his courage and zeal for living.