(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Each of Welch’s first two novels focused on one character and fragments of immediate families. Fools Crow, however, is as much about the protagonist’s extended family, band, and tribe as about the protagonist himself. The author has not abandoned one theme for another, replacing alienation with community; rather, he continues to work the same theme turned inside out. The interrelatedness shown in this narrative makes it possible to understand the isolation of the first two novels. Mainstream readers tend to see individualism and a certain amount of isolation as normal. This book makes it clear that the experiences of American Indians are different.

As the story begins, the main character is an uncertain adolescent, named White Man’s Dog, who has no standing among his people. After he conducts himself well on a horse-stealing raid against the Crow tribe, he gains a new name, Fools Crow, and growing status as a healer and leader.

To this extent, Fools Crow is a traditional Bildungsroman, a story of transition from youth to adulthood. Yet this work is exceptional in that as the protagonist grows, his world contracts, collapsed by white encroachment, smallpox, and repeating rifles. Survivors are left sorting through the traditional ways of thinking and healing, looking for explanations that still make sense.

Several options are shown. One Pikuni chief, Heavy Runner, chooses assimilation. He allows his...

(The entire section is 527 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Fools Crow dramatizes Native American life on the plains of eastern Montana toward the end of the era of the free, nonreservation tribe. This novel follows an Indian coming to manhood, his free life, his romantic marriage, his daring attack on an enemy, his struggle with the dilemma of whether to fight the white man and be slain or to submit to humiliating poverty and confinement on a reservation. James Welch inherited sympathy for Native Americans from his Gros Ventre mother and from his Blackfoot father. His mother showed Welch documents from the Indian agency where she worked. The tales of his paternal grandmother concerning the awful massacre at Marias River, Montana, provided basic material and a viewpoint from which to write. Welch’s grandmother, a girl at the time of the massacre, was wounded but escaped with a few survivors. She spoke only her tribal language.

In Fools Crow, White Man’s Dog yearns to find respect. At eighteen he has three puny horses, a musket without powder, and no wife. He joins in a raid, in which he proves himself. He woos beautiful Red Paint. His young wife fears he may be killed yet yearns for his honor as a warrior; in a war raid, he outwits and kills the renowned Crow chief, thereby winning the mature name of Fools Crow. Names such as that of his father, Rides-at-the-door, and of the medicine man, Mik-Api, suggest an Indian culture. The people pray to The Above Ones—the gods—and to Cold Maker, winter personified. These gods sometimes instruct warriors such as Fools Crow in dreams.

Fools Crow follows Raven—a sacred messenger—to free his animal helper, a wolverine, from a white man’s steel trap. Later the Raven requires that Fools Crow lure to death a white man who shoots animals and leaves the flesh to rot. Smallpox ravages the teepees. Settlers push into the treaty territory, reducing buffalo, essential for food, shelter, and livelihood. Fools Crow finds a few of his people running in the northern winter away from the army slaughter of an entire village. In a vision experience, he sees his people living submissively with the powerful whites. Hope for his people resides in such children as his infant son Butterfly.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

White Man’s Dog, an unlucky youth of the Lone Eaters band of Pikuni Blackfeet, is invited by his friend Fast Horse to join a winter horse-riding party on the Crow camp, to be led by the wise warrior Yellow Kidney. Most of the men are young and inexperienced; Yellow Kidney watches Fast Horse carefully, believing him to be too boastful and reckless.

Once at the great Crow camp of Bull Shield, White Man’s Dog and three others are able to separate more than a hundred horses from the large herd and safely escape with them. Only Yellow Kidney, who with Fast Horse went into the camp to steal the powerful horses of the Crow chiefs, fails to return. Fast Horse reports that he last saw Yellow Kidney in the camp, and they fear he is dead.

After a period of mourning, Yellow Kidney’s wife requests that she be allowed to be the Sacred Vow Woman for the next Sun Dance ceremony. She offers this sacrifice to ensure the safe return of her husband. Meanwhile, White Man’s Dog, gaining courage and power with the help of the healer Mik-api, supplies her family with meat and prepares to marry her daughter.

Months later, a weak and mutilated Yellow Kidney returns to the Lone Eaters camp. He relates how the Crows captured him after being alerted by the loud, foolish boasts of Fast Horse. Bull Shield cut off Yellow Kidney’s fingers, a humiliation that will prevent him from hunting and providing for his family ever again. Then he was tied to a horse and sent into the snow. He was found and cared for by the Spotted Horse (Cheyenne) people. When the Lone Eaters council hears Yellow Kidney’s story, they agree to banish Fast Horse for his lies and for causing harm to come to this brave warrior. Fast Horse flees to a renegade band of Pikuni raiders headed by Owl Child.

The Pikunis mass to send a war party of three hundred to avenge the mutilation of Yellow Kidney and punish Bull Shield. White Man’s Dog has the honor of striking the enemy first on behalf of his father-in-law Yellow Kidney, and he manages to kill and scalp Bull Shield. His exploits earn him a new name, Fools Crow. His brother Running Fisher, on the...

(The entire section is 876 words.)