Winter in the Blood (1974), the first novel by James Welch, is set on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana, which is located forty miles south of the Canadian border and twenty miles north of the Missouri River. It is the fourth largest Indian reservation in Montana; more than five thousand people live there. The protagonist and narrator of the novel is a thirty-two-year-old Blackfeet Indian whose name is never revealed. He lives on a cattle ranch with his mother and stepfather, but he is an alienated individual who feels little affection for his family. The narrator seems to have no purpose or direction in life, and when he visits the small towns that border the reservation in search of his girlfriend, he gets drunk in bars and indulges in meaningless sex with women he picks up there. However, the narrator also has significant encounters with an old Indian named Yellow Calf, through which he learns more of his family heritage.
With its sharp poetic imagery and its realistic portrayal of life on a Montana reservation, Winter in the Blood is considered one of the most important works of the movement known as the Native American Renaissance. This refers to works published from the late-1960s onwards, when Native American writers began to become more prominent in the American literary landscape.