"Crow Mary" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Author Kathleen Grisson found inspiration for her new novel “Crow Mary,” in 2000 when she visited Fort Walsh in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan. At the Fort, a young docent shared that in 1873, 16-year-old Crow Mary, a member of the Crow Tribe, singlehandedly rescued five Nakoda women being brutalized by “a group of ruthless wolfers and whiskey traders.”
What Grissom heard at Fort Walsh gave birth to a novel that’s engrossing and fast-paced, the tale of an American Indian woman of amazing courage who honored her heritage, even when maintaining her customs was difficult because she married Abe Farwell, a white fur trader.
Farwell gave Crow Mary her name. As a girl she was known as Goes First. In 1863, when she’s 7, several tribes amassed to wipe out the Crows. These tribes were being forced off their land by the Yellow Eyes (white people) and needed more land and resources to survive. A battle ensued between the Crow and the other tribes. Goes First’s lost her grandmother and Big Cloud, a Crow brave she planned to marry.
When she’s 16, Goes First’s future changes dramatically when Farwell sets up camp outside her Crow village. The man proves himself kind and gentle, an honest, hard worker with high respect for the Crow. Farwell wanted to marry a Crow woman who’d be a helpmate, able to communicate with American Indians as he plied his trade. Goes First’s father believes Farwell would be a good provider.
Though Goes First is apprehensive about leaving her parents, family and tribe she accepts Farwell’s proposal. The two are married and the girl becomes known as Crow Mary.
Farwell is patient with Crow Mary and the couple comes to love one another, something neither of them expected. The early days of their marriage are joy-filled, and Grissom marvelously captures this beautiful beginning, that while happy, is still fraught with difficulty as Crow Mary adapts, but never completely accepts a way of life vastly different from what she’s known.
Using actual and fictitious characters, Grissom weaves the engrossing story of Crow Mary, a strong woman who eventually has three children, a female forced to adapt to a way of life completely foreign to her and accept her husband, despite his failings.
The beauty of this book is the manner in which Crow Mary’s life story is told, with respect, historical detail and accuracy, thanks to Grissom’s research and input from Crow people, including Crow Mary’s great-granddaughter. This stunning read is humbly told with simplicity and grace.