As White Man’s Dog hunts and wars his way to becoming Fools Crow, an honored and respected member of the Lone Eaters, his journey is guided, and at times complicated, by numerous dreams and visions. Other Pikunis also experience dreams and visions, which hold great significance within their native culture. Although their meanings are usually obscure and understood only in hindsight, dreams and visions are often harbingers of death. They also serve as a connection to the spiritual world—a metaphorical highway that allows Pikunis access to the Sand Hills of the Shadowland, their native afterlife, or to the magic and “strong medicine” of their elusive spirit animals. Dreams and visions help the Pikuni people understand their world and surroundings. Above all, dreams and vision within Fools Crow relay Pikuni history and stories, and it is this storytelling that serves to preserve the traditional Pikuni way of life.
Several characters within Fools Crow experience dreams and visions, and each one foretells danger in some way. When Yellow Kidney leads White Man’s Dog and the other Pikunis on a horse raid to the Crow camp, Fast Horse has a dream that Cold Maker, the Pikuni spirit of winter, demands his assistance in exchange for a blessing of their raid. Cold Maker says that a large boulder has fallen into his favorite drinking spring, and Fast Horse must locate it and remove it. If Fast Horse fails, Cold Maker says they must turn back, or he will make the entire party pay. Fast Horse does fail, and Yellow Kidney fails to take his dream seriously; in the end the raid goes horribly wrong for both Fast Horse and Yellow Kidney.
While on the Crow horse raid, White Man’s Dog also repeatedly dreams about a strange white-faced girl who beckons him into a dark lodge. He is tempted to follow, but he never does—somehow, he senses “there is danger in that direction.” He doesn’t quite understand the significance of the dream and keeps it to himself. Later, Yellow Kidney hides in a darkened lodge after their raid goes wrong, and he slips under the robes of a white-faced girl. Overcome by desire for her body, he rapes her, discovering after that she is suffering from small pox, or the white-scabs disease. White Man’s Dog never understands the dream until Yellow Kidney returns and tells his story.
Prior to Yellow Kidney’s return, Eagle Ribs, a warrior in Yellow Kidney’s horse raiding party, tells the others about a dream he had in which he saw a small white horse, the “death horse,” along with a face “in the sky behind it.” Eagle Ribs suspects that Yellow Kidney is either dead or in trouble, but this dream doesn’t completely make sense either until Yellow Kidney returns to the Lone Eaters’ camp months later riding a small white horse after being captured and tortured by the Crows.
Lastly, during the Sun ceremony, a religious festival that honors the Above Ones, White Man’s Dog dreams that Skunk Bear, his spirit animal, visits him at the foot of a strange riverbed covered with white rocks and frost. Skunk Bear gifts him “powerful medicine” in the form of a white rock and a battle song, and when White Man’s Dog asks his animal why everything is so white, Skunk Bear replies, “Because that’s the way it is now.” The white rocks and frost of White Man’s Dog’s dream metaphorically represent the presence of the white settlers and the dangers of westward expansion. Together these examples underscore the importance of listening to and respecting dreams and visions in Pikuni culture.
Additionally, when White Man’s Dog, now Fools Crow, fears that the encroachment of the white settlers will lead to the end of the Pikunis, he embarks on a vision quest to learn how to best help his people. After walking for days, Skunk Bear finally leads Fools Crow to Feather Woman, the mythical wife of Morning Star, the son of the Sun Chief and Night Red Light, the moon. Feather Woman possesses a magical hide which reveals multiple visions to Fools Crow. Fools Crow’s visions reveal the decimation of his tribe by the white-scabs disease, and they foretell the violent massacre of the Pikuni people perpetrated by the United States government. The danger that Fools Crow suspects is headed for his people is confirmed in his vision. Furthermore, through his vision, Fools Crow sees the continued displacement of the blackhorn buffalo from Pikuni land by the future presence of white settlers, and sees his people moved to boarding schools and assimilated through forced haircuts and education.
In addition to the short-term dangers awaiting the tribe, then, Fools Crow’s vision quest also reveals the long-term fate of the Pikuni people and the end of their traditional way of life. Though visions often foretell danger and tragedy, they also imbue the Pikuni people with strength. Fools Crow is ultimately reminded by his vision quest that his people and their way of life will live on indefinitely through the power of their stories. Indeed, Welch turns to dreams and visions throughout the novel as means to tell such stories that risk being forgotten. In describing Feather Woman and her in-laws, the Above Ones, Welch exposes Pikuni culture and history despite the best efforts of white settlers, or Napikwans, to erase it.
Dreams, Visions, and Storytelling ThemeTracker
Dreams, Visions, and Storytelling Quotes in Fools Crow
White Man’s Dog raised his eyes to the west and followed the Backbone of the World from south to north until he could pick out Chief Mountain. It stood a little apart from the other mountains, not as tall as some but strong, its square granite face a landmark to all who passed. But it was more than a landmark to the Pikunis, Kainahs, and Siksikas, the three tribes of the Blackfeet, for it was on top of Chief Mountain that the blackhorn skull pillows of the great warriors still lay. On those skulls Eagle Head and Iron Breast had dreamed their visions in the long-ago, and the animal helpers had made them strong in spirit and fortunate in war.
[White Man’s Dog] pulled back the entrance skin and saw several dark shapes around the perimeter of the lodge. As his eyes adjusted, he saw that the shapes weren’t breathing. Then, opposite him, of the shapes lifted its sleeping robe and he saw that it was a young white-faced girl. She beckoned to him, and in fright he turned to leave. But as he turned away he looked back and saw that the girl’s eyes desired him. Then all the dark shapes began to move and he saw that they were all young girls, naked and with the same look in their eyes. The white-faced girl stood and held out her arms and White Man’s Dog moved toward her. It was at this point that he would wake up.
“I have had a bad dream and it troubles me. I came and went so fast, I could make little of it. In my dream I saw a small white horse wandering in the snow. Its hooves were split and it had sores all over. It was wearing a bridle and the reins trailed after it. But it was the eyes. I looked into the eyes and they were white and unseeing. As I drew closer I saw across its back fingers of blood.”
White Man’s Dog had settled down into the routine of the winter camp but there were days when he longed to travel, to experience the excitement of entering enemy country. Sometimes he even thought of looking for Yellow Kidney. In some ways he felt responsible, at least partially so, for the horse-taker’s disappearance. When he slept he tried to will himself to dream about Yellow Kidney. Once he dreamed about Red Old Man’s Butte and the war lodge there, but Yellow Kidney was not in it. The country between the Two Medicine River and the Crow camp on the Bighorn was as vast as the sky, and to try to find one man, without a sign, would be impossible. And so he waited for a sign.
“It surprises you that I speak the language of the two-leggeds. It’s easy, for I have lived among you many times in my travel. I speak many languages. I converse with the blackhorns and the real-bears and the wood-biters. Bigmouth and I discuss many things.” Raven made a face. “I even deign to speak once in a while with the swift silver people who live in the water—but they are dumb and lead lives without interest. I myself am very wise. That is why Mik-api treats me to a smoke now and then.”
But all that had changed now because Fast Horse had changed. He had become an outsider within his own band. He no longer sought the company of others, and they avoided him. The girls who had once looked so admiringly on him now averted their eyes when he passed. The young men considered him a source of bad medicine, and the older ones did not invite him for a smoke. Even his own father had begun to look upon him with doubt and regret. As for Fast Horse, the more he stared at the Beaver Medicine, the more it lost meaning for him. That would not be the way of his power. His power would be tangible and immediate.
“[…] It was there, that day while looking at my scars and my hands, that I knew why I had been punished so severely. As you men of the warrior societies know, in all things, to the extent of my ability, I have tried to act honorably. But there in that Crow lodge, in that lodge of death, I had broken one of the simplest decencies by which people live. In fornicating with the dying girl, I had taken her honor, her opportunity to die virtuously. I have taken the path traveled only by the meanest scavengers. And so Old Man, as he created me, took away my life many times and left me like this, worse than dead, to think of my transgression every day, to be reminded every time I attempt the smallest act that men take for granted.”
“It is good to see you again, brother,” [Skunk Bear] said. “I have got myself caught again and there is no one around but you.”
“But why is it so white, Skunk Bear?” White Man’s Dog had to shield his eyes from the glare.
“That’s the way it is now. All the breathing things are gone—except for us. But hurry, brother, for I feel my strength slipping away.”
“I do not fear for my people now. As you say, we will go to a happier place, far from the Napikwans, this disease and starvation. But I grieve for our children and their children, who will not know the life their people once lived. I see them on the yellow skin and they are dressed like Napikwans, they watch the Napikwans and learn much from them, but they are not happy. They lose their own way.”
“Much will be lost to them,” said Feather Woman. “But they will know the way it was. The stories will be handed down, and they will see that their people were proud and lived in accordance with the Below Ones, the Underwater People—and the Above Ones.”