Places: Fools Crow

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1986

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical realism

Time of work: 1868-1870

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Bozeman Trail

*Bozeman Fools CrowTrail. Anglo-American migration route that begins in the northwestern corner of Colorado and extends northwestward, through the panhandle of Nebraska and across Wyoming, bisecting both Crow and Blackfeet settlements on its way toward the town of Bozeman, located at the southern end of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. Although the trail is not mentioned by name in the novel, it is the unstated cause of the increasing numbers of westward settlers during the time period of the novel, traversing Crow and Blackfeet encampments, and is thus central to the white-Indian conflict that builds toward the novel’s conclusion.

*Bighorn River

*Bighorn River. Largest tributary of the Yellowstone River; rises in west-central Wyoming and joins the Yellowstone in southern Montana. The Little Bighorn River–near which the 1876 battle between the U.S. Cavalry and the Oglala Lakota was fought–separates from the Bighorn River in southeastern Montana in what was historically Crow country, west of Cheyenne settlements and generally south of the various bands of the Blackfeet.

*Fort Benton

*Fort Benton. Seat of Chouteau County in north-central Montana on the Big Missouri River, which allowed the town to develop into a regional steamboat port. The town experienced boom times due to gold-seekers and cattlemen who used the town as a supply port.

*Milk River

*Milk River. River in northwestern Montana, both of whose branches flow northeastward into Alberta then back into Montana. Fools Crow fears the movement of the Napikwans (white men) from Many Houses (Fort Benton) to the Four Horns Agency on the Teton River, since it put his people into closer proximity and contact with culturally different outsiders.

*Montana Territory

*Montana Territory. Setting for the entire novel. The territory was originally populated by a variety of Indian tribes, including the Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Blackfeet, Crow, Assiniboine, Cree, Gros Ventre, and Flathead. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806 opened the area to American penetration–first to trappers and traders, later to Roman Catholic missionaries and settlers. The immense geography of Montana can perhaps best be appreciated by the fact that among the states of the United States, only Montana has rivers that drain into three different watersheds: the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay.

The novel is filled with references to Indian place-names in Montana whose locations cannot be identified with any certainty: Woman Don’t Walk Butte, Heavy Shield Mountain, Jealous Woman Lake, Old Man Dog Mountain, Sweet Grass Hills, Bear Paws Hills. These names are either James Welch’s fictional creations or are sufficiently localized not to appear in any territorial or state map of Montana.

BibliographyBarry, Nora. “‘A Myth to Be Alive’: James Welch’s Fools Crow.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 17, no. 1 (Spring, 1991-1992): 3-20. An examination of Fools Crow’s role as character and mythic hero. Links him to the legend of Scarface, the unpromising hero, contrasted with the failed heroes Fast Horse and Running Fisher.Gish, Robert F. “Word Medicine: Storytelling and Magic Realism in James Welch’s Fools Crow.” American Indian Quarterly 14, no. 4 (Fall, 1990): 349-354. An excellent discussion of the multiple levels of storytelling and language, dreams and Magical Realism present in the novel. Suggests that Native American literature establishes a crucial link between primitive and modern worldviews.Murphree, Bruce. “Welch’s Fools Crow.” Explicator 52, no. 3 (Spring, 1994): 186-187. Applies the legend of Seco-mo-muckon and the firehorn to the relationship between Fast Horse and Yellow Kidney during the horse-stealing raid on the Crow camp. Underscores the importance of tribal unity apparent in both legend and novel.Ramsey, Jarold. “Fools Crow.” Parabola 12, no. 1 (February, 1987): 108, 110-112. Praises the novel as a “magnificent” blending of historical accuracy and tribal myth, at the forefront of Native American literature.Wild, Peter. “Visions of a Blackfoot.” The New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1986, 14. Explores the new direction taken by Welch in this novel. Notes how the spiritual and cultural implications of Fools Crow’s coming-of-age weave this world and the world of visions together.
Categories: Places