Fools Crow

Fools Crow

Fools Crow Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on James Welch's Fools Crow. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of James Welch

Welch was born to James Phillip Welch, Sr. of the Blackfeet tribe and Rosella Marie O’Bryan of the Gros Ventre People. Both his parents were also of Irish ancestry but grew up in tribal life. Welch lived his early childhood years on reservations and attended elementary school on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations. He later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and graduated from Washburn High School in 1958. Welch attended the University of Montana, where he began to write poetry, and earned a B.A. in liberal arts in 1965. After college, he worked a series of odd jobs, including a short stint as a firefighter for the United States Forest Service, before turning to writing fulltime. In 1968, Welch married Lois Monk, a professor of comparative literature and head of the English department at the University of Montana, and they remained together until his death in 2003. Welch wrote mainly poetry in his early career, publishing his first and only collection of poems, Riding the Earthboy 40, in 1971. Winter in the Blood, Welch’s first novel, was published to critical acclaim in 1974, and this success was continued with the 1986 publication of Fools Crow. Winning the American Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Pacific Northwest Book Award, Fools Crow is widely accepted as Welch’s greatest work. He was later awarded Honorary Doctorates from Rocky Mountain College in 1993 and the University of Montana in 1997. That same year Welch was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas. He died in Missoula, Montana, at the age of 62 from a heart attack, leaving behind a rich legacy of Native American literature. 
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Historical Context of Fools Crow

At the climax of Fools Crow, Welch writes about the historic Marias Massacre, also knowns as the Piegan Massacre or Baker Massacre, in which nearly two hundred Blackfeet Indians were slaughtered by the United States military. In the early morning hours of January 23, 1870, Major Eugene M. Baker led 150 soldiers and three scouts in an attack against Chief Heavy Runner’s camp in an effort to defeat Mountain Chief and his unruly band member, Owl Child, who’d killed a white rancher named Malcolm Clark. Of course, just as in Welch’s novel, neither Mountain Chief nor Owl Child were part of Heavy Runner’s camp, and instead, the army opened fire on approximately two hundred and thirty sleeping elderly men, women, and children. Despite public outcry, there was never an official investigation into the massacre, and General Baker, widely known as an alcoholic who tried to cover up the severity of the slaughter, did not suffer any consequences. He was later promoted to command Fort Ellis; after being arrested in 1872 for heavy drinking, Baker was demoted to purchasing horses for the army troops. The massacre did prompt President Ulysses S. Grant’s “Peace Policy,” however, and the tension between the Blackfeet Indians and the United States government lessened.

Other Books Related to Fools Crow

James Welch is generally considered to be one of the writers who prompted the Native American Renaissance, a term created in 1983 by critic Kenneth Lincoln to describe the prolific outpouring of Native American literature beginning in the 1960s. Fools Crow is a prime example of this work. The Native American Renaissance, which seeks to reclaim native heritage and voice through literature, brought about a renewed interest in tribal life and history. Other notable works of the Native American Renaissance include the 1969 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, and Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart by Gerald Vizenor. An Anishinaabe scholar and critic, Vizenor also coined the Postindian theory of Suvivance, a concept that explores native presence and absence, in his 1999 book Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance. Theses earlier works by Welch and others paved the way for a continued native presence within literature, including The Round House by Louise Erdrich, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction, and Erica T. Wurth’s Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend. Welch was also greatly inspired by Richard Hugo, a famed American poet under whom Welch studied at the University of Montana. Like Welch, Hugo was a regionalist and his work is set primarily in the state of Montana. Hugo, like Welch, pays close attention to the natural world within his poetry.
Key Facts about Fools Crow
  • Full Title: Fools Crow
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: Montana
  • When Published: 1986
  • Literary Period: Native American Renaissance, contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary American Fiction
  • Setting: The Montana Territory, 1870
  • Climax: The Marias Massacre, in which nearly 200 innocent Pikuni Indians are slaughtered by the blue-coat seizers in retaliation for Owl Child’s murder of rancher Malcolm Clark
  • Antagonist: Fast Horse
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Fools Crow

On parole. For over ten years, Welch sat on the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole and served as the Vice Chairman of the committee.

Self doubt. James Welch described his career as “lucky” and believed that his success was more indicative of “being in the right place at the right time” than talent.