"Breck" Elkins is a hillbilly from Bear Creek, a fictional location in the Humboldt Mountains of Nevada. He is "mighty of stature and small of brain"—a physically huge and imposing figure, and his reputation as a short-tempered and ferocious fighter often precedes him throughout the Southwest. He is usually found in the company of Cap'n Kidd, his equally fierce and cantankerous horse. He sometimes wears a coonskin cap and is depicted wearing one in several illustrations that accompanied the stories in the original pulp magazine. Elkins is a man of limited intelligence and education, illiterate in some of the stories, while able to read in others.
Although Howard referred to the Elkins stories as "Westerns," they all have exaggerated elements and humor that make them closer in tone to Texas "Tall Lying" stories (such as the well-known tall tales of Pecos Bill) than to traditional Western action stories. Breckinridge is a larger-than-life figure whose abilities to dish out and absorb punishment go well beyond the limits of credulity. He is the first-person narrator (in hillbilly dialect) of all of his stories, and much of the humor is derived from his limited understanding of situations, leading to confusion and complications. His ill-fated attempts to help friends and relatives usually come to grief for himself and often those he was ostensibly aiding. His repeated romantic failures in wooing the eligible women he encounters are another recurring theme in the stories.