A former fisherman from Norway who immigrates to the Dakota Territory with his wife, children, and other friends. A man of action and a natural pioneer, Per possesses indomitable optimism and courage in the face of hardship. He dreams about building a kingdom in the Great Plains for his wife and family. Intelligent and strong, Per becomes the natural leader of his community, seeming to succeed at almost everything he does. To protect his friends and neighbors, he removes the stakes he finds in their land that belong to earlier settlers. Although he is capable of great tenderness in his relations with his wife and children, he gradually drifts apart from his wife. Unlike his wife, Per exudes warmth, cheer, and good humor.
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Per's suffering wife. Unlike her husband, Beret cannot endure life on the prairie, and she longs to return to the comforts of her home in Norway. However, she still loves her husband and does not blame him for persuading her to emigrate. She constantly fears the unknown, lurking threats of the wilderness. Incapable of severing ties to her old country, she gradually sinks into depression and thinks about death. When a plague of locusts arrive, Beret descends into madness, and Per fears for her and the children's safety. A traveling minister finally cures Beret, but she only replaces her former madness with a religious mania. Unlike her husband, she is a thinker and an introvert and at times displays a cold personality.
Per and Beret's oldest son. Ole helps his father work the land with the help of his brother Store-Hans. Ole often assumes the responsibility of oldest child.
Per and Beret's second son. Hans Kristan—or Store-Hans, as he is often called—is an inquisitive and playful child. He helps his father work the land and often accompanies his father on trips.
Per and Beret's daughter. Often called And-Ongen, she is an affectionate and playful girl.
Per and Beret's youngest child. Peder Victorious is born on Christmas Day during their first winter in the Dakota Territory. He provides a source of amusement for the settlement during the lonely winter. When Per wants to baptize the child Peder Victorious, Beret refuses to accept the name, reasoning that the name is sacrilegious.
Per's best friend and Beret's childhood friend. Hans was a fisherman in Norway along with Per until Per persuaded him to move to America. The two friends become neighbors in the Dakota Territory. Hans is naturally good-natured, physically strong, and mentally slow. He prospers along with Per, but they both become victims of the harsh environment when they die from the fierce winter of 1880–1881.
Hans Olsa's wife. Sorine is a kind-hearted spirit who continually helps Per and Beret through their troubles. She becomes almost a second mother to Beret's youngest child, Peder Victorious, when Beret sinks into depression and insanity.
Hans and Sorine's daughter.
Another Norwegian immigrant like Per and Hans who becomes their neighbor in the Dakota Territory. Although Tonseten is not as physically strong as Per or Hans, he is bright and humorous, with a quick mind. As the community grows, Tonseten is elected justice of the peace.
Tonseten's kind and good-natured wife. Kjersti often helps Sorine take care of Per and Beret's household, and she aids Beret during childbirth. Kjersti often regrets having no child of her own.
American-born settlers of Norwegian origin. Henry and Sam join Per, Hans, and Tonseten to form a small settlement along Spring Creek. They frequently serve as interpreters because the other men do not know English. Henry becomes the settlement's schoolteacher.
An unnamed character who arrives on the settlement one day and holds divine services at Per's house. The minister comforts Per and Beret, and his sermon and communion service succeed in restoring Beret's sanity. However, Beret only replaces her former depression with religious mania.
A Norwegian immigrant who arrives in the settlement one day with her husband. Kari is insane with grief. Her husband tells Per that she became insane when their youngest son died. Lost in the middle of the prairie, they had to bury the son without a service and coffin.