by robert l. gale

No Native American Fiction writer is more esteemed than James Welch (1940-2003). Of Blackfeet-Gros Ventre extraction, Welch was born on a Montana reservation and in due time graduated from the University of Montana. After trying poetry, Welch found his stride with five novels, all from the point of view of the aggrieved American Indian. The unnamed narrator of Winter in the Blood (1974) tells how he tried to find his place in ancestral lands despoiled by intruding whites. The very title of The Death of Jim Lonely (1979) predicts the outcome of another Indian hero – hopeless because he is half Indian, half white, and permanently homeless. The historically grounded Fools Crow (1986) recounts the tragic dilemma of Blackfeet Indians in the 1870s: Should they fight for everything that was theirs or surrender to the creep of white “civilization”? Sylvester Yellow Calf is The Indian Lawyer (1990); he wonders whether to capitalize socially, financially, and politically on his popularity as an American attorney in Montana, or quit ignoring his Native-American roots. Welch in real life, like his fictional Yellow Calf, was on officer of the Montana state parole board, which infuses the plot with blackmail and adultery. The Heartsong of Charging Elk (2000) tells how an Oglala Sioux survives being abandoned by Buffalo Bill’s Wild West fellow showmen in France, survives being imprisoned after murdering a French sadist, and tries to make France his new home.


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