Critical Evaluation

Combining history, fiction, and legend, Fools Crow received the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award in 1987. Perhaps the novel’s outstanding achievement is its evocation of the daily life and worldview of the Pikuni Blackfeet people. James Welch, who is of Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, and Irish ancestry, researched details of custom and ceremony. He translates names and idioms literally to suggest the flavor of Pikuni speech. For example, the moon is called Night Red Light, Fools Crow’s power animal is Skunk-bear (wolverine), and the white soldiers become the seizers.

The novel culminates in the historic Marias River Massacre of January 23, 1870, in which 173 Blackfeet, mostly old people, women, and children, were attacked and killed by United States troops. The dead were members of the Pikuni band led by Heavy Runner, a chief friendly to the whites, who was given written assurance of safe conduct by General Alfred H. Sully. Welch’s own great-grandmother, Red Paint Woman, was a survivor of this terrible event. This massacre of peaceful civilians has been ignored or forgotten in the annals of American history. The “massacre” six years later of General George Armstrong Custer’s 210 armed troops, who were making war on the Indians, by a much larger force of Sioux and Cheyennes, however, has not been. Welch brings a different perspective, that of the Native American, to United States history.

In the world of Fools Crow, there is a blurring of the line between the truth of everyday reality and the truth of dream and legend. A dream may serve as a source of power; a myth offers an alternate perception of the world. Welch’s characters readily accept both. Fools Crow’s repeated dream of the...

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