John Grady Cole
John Grady grew up on his family's large cattle ranch outside of San Angelo, Texas. He's physically tough, but his personality is restrained and respectful. He's an expert horseman who romanticizes the life of the rancher, despite the fact it is a bygone way of life by the late 1940s. After the family ranch is sold, he and his best friend, Lacey Rawlins, head south to Mexico by horseback. He hopes to find in Mexico what has been denied to him back home: a true cowboy existence. After wandering around different villages, John Grady and Rawlins find work taming wild horses for a wealthy rancher. John Grady begins a secret relationship with the rancher's beautiful daughter, Alejandra, and for a moment it seems like his rugged Western fantasy has finally come true. Alas, the romance is not to be. The barrier of societal expectations is too wide for his naïve teenage love to overcome. Her rejection and his abuse at the hands of corrupt Mexican police and criminals force him to recognize the world as it truly is. He eventually returns to Texas, about four months after his journey begins, but he is changed. He may even be a man.
Lacey Rawlins—usually referred to as Rawlins—is a 17-year-old Texan. Like John Grady he is an accomplished rider and horse-breaker. However, he is much more outspoken and often expresses his opinions and worries. Despite being older than John Grady, he is the follower in the relationship. He has an impatient streak and angers quickly—particularly when he interacts with Jimmy Blevins. Still he is a loyal friend of John Grady's, and he sticks by him even when he thinks John Grady is courting disaster, such as when he begins his forbidden relationship with Alejandra. Rawlins likes a good adventure as much as the next 17-year-old, but in many ways he is more stoic about life than John Grady, who is caught up in youthful fantasies. Rawlins presents himself as a tough guy, but he also isn't afraid to be vulnerable, at least with John Grady. He expresses deep sadness over Blevins's death at the hands of the captain.
Jimmy Blevins is the swaggering young horseman who pushes his way into joining John Grady and Rawlins. His motives for crossing into Mexico are unclear, but he implies he's escaping from an abusive family situation. He looks about 13 years old but claims to be 16. He rides a powerful, beautiful bay horse and carries an old Colt pistol. Rawlins seems to dislike Blevins and constantly calls him out for his bravado, but John Grady treats Blevins patiently and looks out for him as much as possible.
Alejandra is Don Rocha's beautiful daughter. She lives an aristocratic life of horses, socials, and travel, and she shuttles between her house in Mexico City and the sprawling family ranch that John Grady and Rawlins have turned up at. Her great-aunt, Dueña Alfonsa, has forbidden her from getting involved with John Grady, but one night she sneaks out to visit him in his staff quarters. Before long they embark on an intense secret romance. After her aunt and father discover her relationship, however, she realizes that she is not willing to defy her family and the expectations of a woman in her social class, so she breaks off the relationship with John Grady.
John Grady and Rawlins are brought before the captain in a jail in Encantada after they are arrested at Don Rocha's ranch. The captain hints he will release the boys if they pay him, but John Grady insists they don't have any money and are innocent anyway. The captain is a corrupt, sinister figure obsessed with cultivating a reputation as a tough guy. He kills Blevins in exchange for a bribe from the charro and suggests that he once assaulted a prostitute for playing a prank on him. After John Grady returns to Encantada and takes him hostage, he nearly dies on their treacherous journey north.
Dueña Alfonsa is the 73-year-old matriarch of the Rocha family who sees herself as Alejandra's protector. Her traumatic experience during the Mexican Revolution, an extraordinarily turbulent and violent era, turned her from a youthful idealist into a cynical realist. Because of this she opposes John Grady and Alejandra's relationship, believing it would harm Alejandra's reputation and limit her life prospects. Despite her harsh stance, Dueña Alfonsa is sympathetic to John Grady and pays to get him released from prison in Saltillo.
Don Héctor Rocha y Villareal
Don Rocha owns the sprawling Mexican cattle ranch where John Grady and Rawlins find work as horse wranglers, Hacienda de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción. He is also the father of Alejandra, John Grady's 17-year-old love interest. He has a house in Mexico City and travels between both locations by flying his own plane. At first Don Rocha takes a liking to John Grady and is deeply impressed by the young Texan's horse-breaking skills. However, he is scandalized when he finds out about John Grady's romantic interest in Alejandra. In an attempt to break up the budding relationship, he informs the Mexican police that John Grady and Rawlins are living on his farm (the police had been looking for the Americans who stole a horse in Encantada). The police arrest the boys and take them back to Encantada to face the captain.