White Man’s Dog is an “unlucky” and “weak” member of the Lone Eaters’ band of Blackfeet Indians. Wealthy and successful warriors, such as White Man’s Dog’s father, Rides-at-the-door, have many horses and wives, but White Man’s Dog has only three scrawny horses and no wives. He also lacks the strong medicine of the other warriors and his spirit animal refuses to talk to him.
White Man’s Dog is soon invited by Fast Horse, a fellow young Pikuni, to join a horse raid on the Crow camp organized by Yellow Kidney, an accomplished warrior and horse-taker. Fast Horse’s father, Boss Ribs, possesses the coveted Beaver Medicine bundle, the most powerful of all the Pikunis’ medicine, and Yellow Kidney believes that the bundle will bring them all luck. Both White Man’s Dog and Fast Horse are plagued by disturbing dreams and visions in the lead up to the raid, however, and while White Man’s Dog proves himself a brave and powerful warrior during the event, it goes catastrophically wrong. The greedy and “reckless” Fast Horse boasts loudly during the raid, giving away the Lone Eaters’ location. Yellow Kidney is subsequently captured and tortured by the Crows, who cut off his fingers.
In Yellow Kidney’s absence, White Man’s Dog begins to hunt blackhorns for the older man’s family and soon falls in love with his daughter, Red Paint. White Man’s Dog also unwittingly becomes an apprentice to Mik-api, the Lone Eaters’ many-faces man, and learns the magic of healing and purification. Mik-api leads White Man’s Dog to Skunk Bear, his elusive spirit animal, who gifts White Man’s Dog the power of the wolverine in the form of a battle song.
White Man’s Dog quickly becomes a respected member of the tribe, while Yellow Kidney, who has finally made it home to his family, lives the remainder of his life in shame. Having married Red Paint and thus become Yellow Kidney’s son-in-law, White Man’s Dog joins a raiding party that advances on the Crows to avenge Yellow Kidney’s attack. He is selected to kill Bull Shield, the Crow who tortured Yellow Kidney. As he moves in for the kill, however, he is shot by Bull Shield and loses his balance, falling to the ground. Bull Shield is momentarily distracted by Fox Eyes, another advancing Pikuni warrior, and shoots and kills him, giving White Man’s Dog time to recover. White Man’s Dog then shoots Bull Shield and takes his scalp, but the other Pikunis’ believe that he had been playing dead all along to fool Bull Shield; they thus grant him the new name of Fools Crow. Of course, Fools Crow was not pretending—he really had been knocked to the ground—and feels his new name is a lie.
As Fools Crow, now revered by his people, takes part in more raids, he grows disillusioned with war; he regrets taking lives and doubts that the benefits of war outweigh the risks. This feeling only becomes stronger when Red Paint tells him that she is expecting a son.
Fools Crow’s life is further complicated by the increasing presence of Napikwans on Pikuni lands and the violence of the blue-coat seizers. The already strained relationship between the Blackfeet Indians and the United States government is worsened by the violent acts of a few rogue Pikuni outcasts, and after Owl Child, a feared and hated member of the Many Chief’s band, robs and kills a respected rancher named Malcolm Clark, the government and the seizers vow to make the other Pikunis pay.
With the Pikunis’ traditional way of life threatened, Fools Crow embarks on a vision quest to discover how to save his people and their way of life. Guided in his quest by Skunk Bear, Fools Crow finds himself in the magical presence of Feather Woman, the mortal Pikuni wife of Morning Star, the son of Sun Chief and Night Red Light. Feather Woman begins to paint on a yellow hide, on which a series of visions begin to form that foretell the end of the Pikuni way of life.
In the hide, Fools Crow sees the devastation of his camp as his people succumb to an outbreak of white-scabs disease; he sees the blue-coat seizers mobilize in the direction of Pikuni lands; he sees the blackhorn driven from his land, along with the other large game; and he sees the forced assimilation of the Blackfeet people and the future boarding schools that litter the Montana Territory. By the end of his vision quest, Fools Crow mourns the loss of his culture on behalf of future Pikunis. However, Feather Woman reminds him of the power of storytelling in preserving his traditional way of life.
The white-scabs disease does indeed break out in the Lone Eaters’ camp, killing nearly half of their people. Soon after, while hunting for much needed food, Fools Crow comes across the grisly remains of another Pikuni camp, in which men, women, and children had been brutally massacred by the seizers.
Eventually Fools Crow, Red Paint, and the surviving members of the Lone Eaters’ band make their way north toward the Canadian border to continue living their way of life to the best of their abilities for as long as possible. As they do, outlying Pikuni bands likewise try to move on after the decimation of disease and the violence of the United States government threatens their way of life. All around, animals big and small carry on as well—just as the Pikunis do.