Skip to Main Content

Crow Mary

A Novel


See More Retailers

About The Book

The New York Times bestselling author of the book club classics The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything returns with a sweeping and “richly detailed story of a woman caught between two cultures” (Sandra Dallas, New York Times bestselling author) inspired by the real life of Crow Mary—an Indigenous woman in 19th-century North America.

In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

From “a tremendously gifted storyteller” (Jim Fergus, author of The Vengeance of Mothers), Crow Mary is a “tender, compelling, and profoundly educational and satisfying read” (Sadeqa Johnson, author of The Yellow Wife) that sweeps across decades, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, while at the same time probing the intimacies of a marriage and one woman’s heart.


Prologue PROLOGUE 1891
IT WAS DARK and hot at the back of the big barn as I rolled aside a heavy wagon wheel that leaned against the entry to the storage room. A slam behind me made me jump, heart hammering even more, but it was only a stall door caught by the wind.

Careful of the bottle of whiskey that sat at my feet, I worked a key in the rusty lock. Finally, it clicked and the log door moaned open. This room had been built with one high, small window so none of the ranch hands, drunk or daring, would be tempted to break in, and I squinted into the dim light.

A fine dust covered everything, though the air smelled clean enough. A wood floor had been put in to keep the pelts dry, and the chinking along the logs had kept out the wet ice of our brutal Montana winters and the worst of our hot sun. Leftover goods from our fur-trading post were scattered on the pine shelves. A comb, a few bars of soap, and even an old can of sardines lay next to a mouse-nibbled red blanket and the remainder of one last buffalo hide. But there—there in the corner on the second-highest shelf, two tiny blue bottles shone in the pale yellow light.

Mice scurried when I pushed aside empty liquor barrels to get to the shelf, and as I reached up, my hand trembled. The tiny bottle was no heavier than a pinecone, but the enormity of what it held almost put me on the floor. With great care, I set it next to the liquor, unplugging first the whiskey bottle; then, before I could hesitate, I picked up the strychnine and held it to the light. How much did I need to kill a man? Just a small amount of this would take down any number of animals.

I shrugged and tipped the entire contents of the blue bottle into the whiskey. “Dead is dead,” I told myself. “You can’t overkill him.”

As I was locking up again, I heard the horses circling the corral, answering a whinny that had come up from the direction of my tipi. Was he early? Was he already waiting? My legs went weak, and I leaned against the wall. I was no match for him. I was as good as dead. But then I remembered what he had done to Song Woman, and what would happen to Ella, and rage straightened me.

I gave the whiskey bottle a last shake. “Awe alaxáashih! Hold firm,” I said to myself, and then I went out to greet him.

Chapter One CHAPTER ONE 1863
IT WAS THE beginning of April, the moon of the first thunder, when the man rode up. The air was crisp outside our tipi, but Mother had seated us in the warm afternoon sun.

“Now watch, Goes First,” she instructed, threading three tiny blue beads. “I was about seven snows, just like you, when I first learned to bead moccasins for my doll.…” We both glanced up at the approach of a horse, and as Mother took in the state of the rider, she handed me the pan of beads and got to her feet.

“Red Fox?” Mother asked, unsure if she recognized the visitor.

Father stepped from our lodge, carrying the musket he had been cleaning.

“Horse Guard,” the man greeted my father.

“Red Fox! Where did you come from? How did you find us?” Father looked pleased to see our visitor until the gaunt man suddenly tried to catch the gray blanket that fell from his shoulders. He moaned when it slipped to the ground, and his hand went to the deep gash across his chest.

Father grabbed hold of the reins. “You’re wounded! What happened?”

“A raid,” the man said. “Sioux—our old enemy. There were only four of them, but we were just three lodges and they caught us unprepared. We were heading down here, camped just below the Elk River where we were waiting out the snow. I was coming.… I wanted my sister to meet my new daughter. But they wiped us out. Killed…” He leaned forward in an effort to breathe, and I was afraid he was going to tumble off his horse. “My sister, your mother,” the man murmured. “Where is she? Is she well?”

Father’s face went tight as he glanced back at me. “Red Fox,” he said, “there was a battle not far from here, a year ago. Mother was… it was a bullet. She went to the Other Side Camp.”

On hearing the news, the man slumped forward. Father caught him and tossed the reins to one of the young boys who had come to investigate our visitor. “Take the horse to the water and then pasture it with mine,” he instructed. “Lean on me, Red Fox,” Father said, and half carried the injured man into our lodge, where he set him close to the fire.

“When did the Sioux attack?” he asked.

“Two days ago, if I’m remembering right,” Red Fox said.

“Where were you?”

“In that ravine where your father used to trap.”

Father nodded.

“They got our horses. Lucky for me, mine circled back.”

Exhausted from talk, the man listed to the side, and Father helped him lie back. “We’ll set up a lodge for you next to ours. You’ll stay here with us.” He glanced up at Mother, who nodded back.

“Go ahead. I’ll take care of him,” she said.

When Father leapt away, I had no doubt of his purpose. If he, chief of our fifty lodges, led a war party, I knew that the Sioux men did not have long to live.

Mother hurried to the back wall of our lodge, where a tripod held her medicine bag.

“Here, hold this,” she said, handing me a wooden bowl of water. Red Fox grimaced as Mother cleansed the deep knife wound, but when she dusted black root powder over the reddening gash, the old man sighed in relief.

“Rest now,” Mother said, and then nodded for me to follow. Outside, Mother stamped off a circle, and then I tramped down the dried grass while she uncovered and brushed the snow off Grandmother’s dismantled tipi. News of Red Fox’s arrival had quickly moved through the village, and before the two of us had all the lodgepoles in place we were joined by two of Mother’s friends. Together the women lifted the tipi covering. Fifteen buffalo hides stitched together were heavy, but this was familiar work for women who could put up or dismantle a lodge at a moment’s notice.

I helped by bringing in kindling and getting a fire started, and soon Mother and I had Red Fox settled in his tipi.

“He needs a good marrow broth,” Mother said, and with that the two of us went out to split some buffalo bones. These we covered in water, and as they simmered over our campfire, we began to hear our braves gathering. The men set up a sweat lodge close to the river, and as they prepared for war, they smoked and prayed and painted themselves while sending up animal calls as they sought help from their animal spirits. Their cries reminded me of the battle fought the day Grandmother went to the Other Side Camp, and as my fear increased, I stayed close to Mother.

When the marrow broth was ready, we filled a horn cup with it and brought it to Red Fox. Twice he refused to take it from Mother, and frustrated, she handed me the cup while she tended the fire. When the old man glanced at me, I didn’t ask, but pushed the drink toward him. Surprisingly, he took the cup and drained it, then handed it back before he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

Mother and I returned to our own lodge just as Father appeared, painted in dazzling yellow zigzag stripes and as charged up as a war horse.

“What do you think? How bad is his wound?” Father asked.

“It’s bad, but I think it will heal. He doesn’t speak, though.”

Father shook his head. “He was always shy with women, just like me.”

Mother thumped his shoulder with her hand, and he laughed as he caught her arm and pulled her into a tight embrace. There was one steady argument between the two of them, and that was Father’s flirtation with other women. Dalliance among the Crow men was not uncommon, and at forty snows, not only was Father chief of our village, he was also taller than most, and handsome. Mother was a good wife and took great pride in caring for his clothing. His deerskin shirts and breech cloths were always clean, and she made sure there were no beads missing from his leggings and moccasins. I liked to watch the two of them in the early mornings as Mother used her porcupine brush to care for his long black hair, braiding it, still damp from his early morning swim in the cold waters of the creek.

Now Father kissed her, his hands on her cheeks.

“How long will you be gone?” Mother asked.

He shrugged. “Depends on the amount of snow and the weather. They’ll have a few days on us, but I’m only taking six of our best men so we can move fast.”

“Come back to me,” Mother said, and they kissed again. As he turned to leave, he nodded toward me. “Don’t baby her,” he said, and I was hurt once more when I was reminded that he had wanted me to be a son.

With a great war whoop, Horse Guard leapt onto his gray horse. He called out again, waving his rifle with four eagle feathers attached, a reminder to everyone of the coups he had won in past battles. His shrill warrior’s cry sent shivers down my back, but to the other warriors it was like a hot flame set to dry tinder. Their answering cries reminded me again of the battle I tried so hard to forget, and when Mother left me to go and see to Red Fox, I climbed under my buffalo robe. There, trembling, I squeezed my head tight, trying to keep the memories away.

ONE YEAR BEFORE, I had gone with Grandmother to spend the winter at the camp of her younger son, Bears Head. I happily waved goodbye to my parents, reassured that I would see them again when the snow melted.

We Crow were one large tribe, made up of many villages that came together in the summer months, not just to visit and have fun, but because there was safety in numbers from our enemies. In winter we dispersed again into small villages to ensure that everyone could find good shelter, a sufficient wood supply, and plenty of elk and buffalo for food.

Over those cold months I enjoyed meeting Grandmother’s old friend, Sees Much, and her grandson, Big Cloud, but our good time was brought to an abrupt end in early spring when our scouts brought word that the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho had joined forces and were amassing with the intention of wiping out the Crow people. Being forced from their own land by the Yellow Eyes, they now wanted to claim ours. Our caravan traveled north as quickly as possible, picking up other Crow villages along the way until we were almost four hundred lodges strong. Days later, though exhausted from travel, we hurriedly set up camp alongside our familiar Arrow Creek. There we were offered a natural barrier of steep banks to give us an advantage.

As the braves set up their defensive positions along the creek bank and in the surrounding ravines and bluffs overlooking the creek, the women quickly erected their lodges in tight circles and then skirted the creek with lodgepoles. These they covered with buffalo hides to create further fortification.

A huge cloud of dust rose from the corral that had been built to hold the horses not used for battle. There, hobbled and pushed onto their side so they wouldn’t be hit by bullets or arrows, they struggled and screamed.

Along one side of the creek, braves prepared for battle, purifying themselves in sweat lodges before they opened their medicine bundles. From these, some took preserved pieces of their spirit animal and tied them to their hair, then painted their faces in vivid colors and called on their animal helpers to share their strength and courage. As the warriors took on the characteristics of their animal helpers, the air, already thick with the smell of sacred sweet grass and cedar smoke, now filled with the howling of wolves, the grunting and growling of bears, and the screeching of birds.

I lay between Grandmother and Sees Much as we peeked out from a trench alongside the fortified lodgepole barrier to see the enemy atop the hills. It was strangely thrilling to see the feathered war bonnets of hundreds and hundreds of our enemy as they rode back and forth along the bluffs. With frenzied war cries, they waved their weapons, taunting our warriors who waited below. Even I could see that we were desperately outnumbered. Some of our braves were mounted, but many were on foot, concealed in the trees and the tall grasses. Others, positioned in the hills, waited there for the attack.

“They say we’re outnumbered twenty-five to one,” Grandmother whispered.

“Is your knife sharp?” her old friend Sees Much asked, glancing at me. “You know what you might have to do.”

I could smell Grandmother’s fear when she stroked my head. “They won’t take us.”

AND THEN THEY came! The ground shook from the pounding of the horses’ hooves, and I felt Grandmother’s heart thump against her chest as she held me tight, trying to shield me from the war cries and the screams of pain. Too frightened to cry, I held to her, my teeth chattering uncontrollably.

Awe alaxáashih! Awe alaxáashih! Hold firm! Hold firm!” came the Crow command as guns blasted amid the cries of hand-to-hand combat. The enemy charged again and again, and when we heard the men call for the women to bring ammunition, Sees Much and Grandmother both pushed to their feet. I clung to Grandmother, but she pried me loose and pushed me back into the trench. “Stay down! Stay here and wait for me!” she shouted.

I tried to call her back, choking on dust, but when she disappeared, I crawled out of the trench to follow.

I was frantic, calling out her name as I made my way past young boys who fought to hold terrified horses. Women raced to treat wounded braves—and I stopped to watch in disbelief as one of them, his shoulder shattered by a bullet, was bandaged and then tied back onto his horse. With a warrior’s howl he reentered the battle, waving a hatchet that was tied to his one good arm.

Káale!” I screamed when I finally saw Grandmother in the distance and I ran through the blue smoke of muskets and whistling arrows when she gave an answering cry.

“Get down, get down!” she called, waving her arms as though to push me to the ground. She was coming for me when a gun blasted, shattering her chest and turning it red. She crumbled, and I stopped running. I wanted to go to her, but my legs wouldn’t move. An arrow whizzed by, and in front of me a rider fell from his horse. The panicked animal reared over me, and I stared up at the threatening hooves until an unknown hand pulled me back. I sat there, too stunned to move.

“Look! Look!” Thick smoke suddenly rose from the northern hills, where a Crow scout had set a fire. Our people’s cry went up, leading the enemy to believe this was a smoke signal from approaching Crow reinforcements.

When a massive cloud of dust rose opposite the billowing smoke, our old men and women saw another opportunity to bluff.

Drumming began, and cries went out to the enemy that a second large war party of Crow was on the way. Incredibly then, another huge cloud of dust formed over the far hills and began moving in the direction of the battle.

Fear of what appeared to be approaching reinforcements rippled through the enemy, and when they turned back, our braves gave chase while our women shouted cries of victory. I was alone when Bears Head came with Grandmother’s body.

WHEN MOTHER RETURNED from treating Red Fox, she found me damp and trembling, and took me with her to her pallet. There we lay as she soothed me with the lullaby Grandmother had given me, and slowly I came back to the present. As she grew tired, Mother’s voice dropped off, but I wanted her to stay awake.

“Who is Red Fox?” I asked. “If he is Grandmother’s brother, why don’t I know him?”

“You met him when you were just a baby,” she said, rousing herself. “He is a lot younger than your grandmother—only a few years older than your father. He lived on the other side of the Elk River and traveled around up there with our relatives, the River Crow.”

“What should I call him?”

“You call him Grandfather,” she instructed.

In the morning Mother insisted I come with her to dress Red Fox’s wound and then to offer him more of the healing broth. He didn’t speak but again, he would accept the broth only from me. We left soon after when we understood that he wanted to be alone.

The following day Mother sent me with some hot fry bread along with the broth. I stood close to the door while he drank the liquid, but he didn’t touch the bread. His body was so thin that I could see all his ribs, and I wanted to tell him to eat the bread but the way he stared off in the distance frightened me.

Finally, on the third evening after his arrival, when again he did not eat the bread, I approached him. By now I recognized his grief for his wife and daughter, and I remembered how after Grandmother’s death, I, too, had to be encouraged to eat.

“Here,” I said, dipping a piece of bread into the marrow soup, kneeling in front of him, and feeding him as Mother had fed me. After I pushed the soaked bread into his mouth, he swallowed, and after finishing the bread he took the bowl and drank the contents before angrily shoving it back into my hands. But I was not frightened, because I understood that he didn’t want to live.

The following day, when he turned away from a steaming bowl of elk stew, I pushed it toward him. “Grandfather, eat this,” I said. “It is good for you.”

He considered my words before he took up the food, and then nodded for me to sit. Before I took my woman’s place alongside the lodge door, I threw more wood onto his fire. Then I sat as Grandmother had taught, with my legs and feet under me, carefully covered by my deerskin dress. He gave me a fleeting look when he handed back the empty bowl. “You have the same face as my sister,” he said. My eyes filled, and afraid of my tears, I ran.

Mother insisted that I return the following day. “He doesn’t take the food from me,” she said, “but he’ll eat for you.”

“I suppose you will tell me to eat all of this?” he asked, receiving the bowl of plum pudding.

I nodded, though I kept my eyes down. It made me smile to think that I, a child of seven snows, was giving a grandfather orders.

AFTER FIVE MORE days, Father and the braves returned with four Sioux scalps. Red Fox attended the celebration that night, and the next day after finishing the meal I gave him, he stared into the fire. “I had a daughter,” he said.

I was seated, but I was prepared to run, scooting closer to the lodge door. I couldn’t bear to hear him speak of any violence.

“My wife and I were old when our daughter came. She was no bigger than a chickadee when she went to the Other Side Camp. She was only two snows.”

I held my breath. I didn’t want him to tell me more.

He cupped his head in his hands and rubbed his face. Then he sighed, and there was a long silence before he looked up at me. “You remind me of my sister,” he said, his voice soft.

“How am I like her? How am I like Káale?” I asked, hoping to turn his attention away from his daughter.

His mouth curved up in a half smile. “She was bossy.”

In spite of myself I smiled.

“She was more like a mother to me because she was so much older,” he said. “She had her two boys, but she always wanted a daughter. You must have been very special to her.”

I nodded but looked down, trying not to cry. I wanted to tell him about her and how I had caused her death, but instead I choked back the words and left at a run.

ONE OF MY last memories of Grandmother alive was when we arrived at the winter camp and she was reunited with her childhood friend Sees Much, who came to help us put up our lodge.

“Where is your husband, Goes First?” Sees Much asked me as she patted my head. “Is he out hunting?”

“I don’t have a husband yet,” I said, astounded that she should think I did.

“And why not?” she asked.

“Because I don’t like boys,” I said.

“And why don’t you like boys?”

“Because they think they can ride horses better than me. But they can’t. Right, Káale?”

I looked at Grandmother to see the two friends exchanging a smile. Then they got to work, and though they both carried weight they moved with the agility of younger women. I moved between them to do what I could, and soon the three of us had the lodgepoles in place. I groaned as I helped them lift the heavy cover, and again I saw them exchange a smile.

“So, do you have any news for me?” Sees Much asked Grandmother. “Have you found a new man yet?”

I gave a swift glance to Grandmother, who was pounding in stakes to hold the cover in place. After Grandfather died two snows ago, she had moved next to my parents’ lodge and helped Mother care for Father and me.

“I told you that I was finished with that business. I don’t want an old one, and the young ones don’t want me.” The two laughed.

“Well, you had a good one,” Sees Much said.

Grandmother agreed. “Fine looking, too.”

“And you are still beautiful! Between the two of you, you had some nice-looking babies. Horse Guard and Bears Head are handsome men.” She puckered her lips and pointed them toward me. “Looks like she has some of that Métis blood, too.”

“Métis blood?” I asked. “I don’t want it. What is that?”

“Too late,” Sees Much teased.

Káale,” I complained.

“Ach, Goes First. Métis are just people who are part Indian with some French or English mixed in,” Grandmother said. “Like your father.”

“Are you Métis, too?” I asked her.

“No. I am Crow. Your grandfather was a Yellow Eyes. Don’t you remember how he spoke to you in English?”

I nodded. “He always made me talk like him.” But I had never thought of my grandfather as anything other than Crow. He smoked with the men, and he loved to talk about the raids that he had been a part of. He was a tall, gruff old man, but he always had a smile for me, and whenever I was unhappy, he was the one I ran to.

“Ah, my little one. Tell your grandpop what’s troubling you.”

No matter what my complaint, his answer was always the same. “Now isn’t that just the worst?”

“Dance with me,” I’d plead, and I’d pull him to his feet while he moaned about his aching joints. Once standing, he’d reach for my hands. “Come on then, lassie. Let’s dance your troubles away.”

I loved to hop about with Grandpop, and soon I’d join him in song. “Ohhh, a-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go. We’ll catch a little fox and put him in a box and never let him go. Oh, a-hunting…” By the time we worked our way through the song, my unhappiness was always forgotten.

As the two old women bantered, I remembered how soft Grandpop’s white beard had been and how Grandmother was always trying to get him to cut it off.

“He was a trapper who got trapped,” Sees Much joked.

Grandmother poked at Sees Much. “He was happy enough,” she said.

“And why not? You gave him two strong boys and a good life here with the Crow.”

I DIDN’T WANT to be reminded of Grandmother again so I refused to take Red Fox his meal the following day, but when Mother returned from his lodge, she had a message. “He would like to take a walk, but he is not strong, and he asked if you would come with him.”

I shook my head.

Mother sighed. “Goes First. He said he will walk only with you. He said you are bossy and you will know when it is time to return home.”

Reluctantly I slipped on my fur-lined moccasins and mittens while Mother fixed my warm red blanket around my head and shoulders. It was a gray day with a chilly wind.

He was standing outside his lodge, dressed in Father’s clothing. The leggings were too long for him and bunched around his moccasins, and the buffalo robe looked too big, but he was ready for the cold. He didn’t smile when he saw me, but his look was kind and his hand shook when it reached for mine.

There was still snow on the ground when we began those walks. At first neither of us had a lot to say, but in the coming months we both began to take notice of Mother Earth’s changing face. When summer came, I pointed to a cluster of tall purple flowers growing along the rocky slopes of a hillside. “If I had my digging stick, I’d dig up that root,” I boasted. “Kaale always kept some of that, and she’d make me chew a sliver of it when I had a cough.” I shivered. “It tasted bad, but it helped.”

Red Fox nodded. “Black root is good for many things. When I was a young man, I was a good runner—”

You were a good runner?” I asked.

He looked down at me with a slight smile. “Yes, I was a good runner, and when enemies were spotted, I was often sent to alert other Crow villages. I had to run fast, sometimes for days, so I carried nothing, but if I needed water and there was no stream to be found, all I had to do was to chew one petal of this flower and my thirst was satisfied.”

“Only one petal?” I asked.

“Yes, one petal, and then I could run like a deer.”

I didn’t voice further doubt about his fleet-footedness, but said instead, “I wish I was a boy.”

“A boy?” he asked. “Why is that?”

“Because I want to be brave, like a warrior.”

He stopped and looked me. “You don’t have to be a warrior to be brave. Women are as brave as any warriors.”

“How can you say that?”

“Why do you think the men stay away from the birthing lodge? They can’t bear the idea of a woman giving birth, never mind give birth themselves. If they had to do it, they would be crying like a bunch of Little Toes.”

“Little Toes are just babies,” I said, and he returned my wide smile.

I took his hand again, and we continued on our walk through the sunshine and the open meadow.

“Tell me, Goes First, what makes you think that you aren’t brave?”

I shrugged, but remembered Grandmother’s death. Suddenly I was choking back tears.

“Are you crying?”

“No,” I said, turning away from him.

“Then what is that water running down your face?”

I shook my head.

“Let’s rest,” he said, and sat me down opposite him in the sun-warmed grass. With his thumb he reached over and dried each side of my face. “Now tell me, why you are crying?”

“Be… because I… made Káale… die.” I sobbed out the terrible words. “She told me to stay in the trench, but I didn’t. I followed her, and when she saw me, she came running and…”

“And she was shot by our enemy,” he said.

“Yes.” I leaned over in anguish, and the tears I had been storing poured out.

He waited until my sobs died down. “And then what? What happened then?”

“I didn’t go to help her,” I whispered. “I ran away.”

“You couldn’t have helped her. She had already gone to the Other Side Camp.”

“But I didn’t go to see. I ran away.”

“We do things like that when we are young and afraid,” he said.

“But I want to be brave,” I said. “I want to learn to ride and shoot a gun like the boys do. Then if the enemy comes, I wouldn’t be afraid and I could help to fight.”

He thought awhile. “Éeh itchik. Good. I can teach you about horses and guns, and after I finish with you, you’ll be able to outride and outshoot any of the boys. But there is something just as important that I want you to know.”

“What?” I asked.

“No one is without fear. There will be times in your life when you will be very afraid, maybe as afraid as you were with your grandmother. But the brave take action in spite of that fear.”

“Will I ever be that brave?”

“You already are,” he said. “It is the brave who tell the truth.”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Crow Mary includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In 1872, sixteen-year-old Goes First, a Crow Native woman, marries Abe Farwell, a white fur trader. He gives her the name Mary, and they set off on the long trip to his trading post in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada. Along the way, she finds a fast friend in a Métis named Jeannie; makes a lifelong enemy in a wolfer named Stiller; and despite learning a dark secret of Farwell’s past, falls in love with her husband.

The winter trading season passes peacefully. Then, on the eve of their return to Montana, a group of drunken whiskey traders slaughters forty Nakota—despite Farwell’s efforts to stop them. Mary, hiding from the hail of bullets, sees the murderers, including Stiller, take five Nakota women back to their fort. She begs Farwell to save them, and when he refuses, Mary takes two guns, creeps into the fort, and saves the women from certain death. Thus, she sets off a whirlwind of colliding cultures that brings out the worst and best in the cast of unforgettable characters and pushes the love between Farwell and Crow Mary to the breaking point.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. “What were our young warriors to do but to take a stand and fight for the right to live as their fathers and grandfathers had always done?” Crow Mary is about colliding cultures and a woman caught between the two. Farwell insists throughout the novel that the only way for the Crow people to survive is to adapt to the White laws and customs. Was there ever a way for the Crow people to retain their culture while adapting to the new laws and customs? Even if they adapted, could they survive? How is Crow Mary able to reconcile her Crow past with her husband and their way of life?

2. The Crow people honor and celebrate nature throughout the novel. Discuss the role of nature in Crow Mary. Does Goes First’s connection to the natural world change over the course of the narrative as she evolved into Crow Mary? How do these changes impact her well-being and identity?

3. “We Crow used every part of the buffalo . . . everything we needed came from the buffalo.” The buffalo is essential to the Crow way of life. Both the Crow people and the White people hunt for sustenance, but in distinct ways. Discuss these differences.

4. The Crow people are interdependent. They rely on each other for support, possessions, medicine, and more. How does this compare with the expectations of the White culture? Are the differences reconcilable?

5. “You don’t have to be a warrior to be brave. Women are as brave as any warriors.” The Crow women are raised to be independent, courageous, and strong. They can leave their husbands, they possess their own belongings, and they care for their own horses. Discuss how women are perceived in the novel by the different communities and characters. Does this create a conflict for Crow Mary?

6. Crow Mary’s marriage to Farwell was seen as a great honor when it was first proposed. How does Crow Mary’s decision to marry Farwell impact the rest of her life? How does their relationship evolve throughout the novel? Did they ever understand each other or were they making concessions until they finally couldn’t anymore?

7. Although Jeannie is one of the characters not based on a historical figure, Crow Mary’s friendship with Jeannie brings levity and warmth to the novel. What is the role of their friendship? Why did the two women connect so strongly? What does the friendship represent to Crow Mary?

8. “Another thing I like about you is how confident you are. And there is that—that determination of yours. Some might call it stubborn, but I call it having a mind of your own.” Crow Mary is known for being headstrong and stubborn. Do these attributes aid her throughout the novel or cause her more strife? Discuss times when she is praised for her strength and determination and times when she is rebuked for them.

9. “My mother was gone. Everything had changed. Where did I belong?” Crow Mary is about one woman’s epic journey to determine her own life. Crow Mary’s identity changes throughout the novel, from her name, to the way she dresses, to where she sleeps. Was she able to stay true to herself, even as she adapted? Discuss what parts of her identity she was able to retain and what she sacrificed as her life evolved.

10. Alcohol is the cause of much of the conflict in the novel. Discuss its impact on the people in the novel. How do you feel toward the characters who sold and drank whiskey? Was there another way? To what extent did they have the power to choose?

11. “It seems once I get started, I just can’t stop.” Abe Farwell is a complex character with a dark past always threatening to catch up to him. Discuss your perception of Farwell. Is he a good man who loses his way under the influence of alcohol, or was he never able to be the husband that Crow Mary needed? Does he deserve his fate in the novel?

12. “So this is the ‘justice’ you talked about?” Crow Mary and Farwell disagree on how to get justice for the crimes against the Nakoda people. Discuss how justice looks to the different cultures in the novel. Was justice ever possible?

13. Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library, said that while reading Crow Mary, she couldn’t help thinking of “the debt we owe to the women who came before us.” Discuss this debt with your group. What can we as readers do today to repay this debt?

14. Martha Conway, author of The Physician’s Daughter, said that Crow Mary is “a superbly spun tale about a life that deserves to be told.” Do you know of any other people in history whose stories have not been told? Discuss these with your group.

15. Kathleen Grissom wrote “my hope in sharing Crow Mary’s life is that others are given insight into this courageous woman’s life, and that it inspires them as it did me.” How has Crow Mary’s story inspired you?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Ask members of your club about their experiences with the Indigenous population in your area. Ask them to describe what they knew before reading the book. Did their understanding change after reading Crow Mary?

2. Crow Mary confronts many serious questions about race, culture, and territory. Compare the experiences of the characters in the book with what you have learned about the Indigenous populations today. How have the events shown in the book continued to have an impact today? Have there been improvements?

3. Kathleen Grissom first learned of Crow Mary after visiting Fort Walsh in Cypress Hills. There are many local Indigenous cultural centers, reservations, and Indigenous community organizations across the United States and Canada. Visit the historical site or learning center closest to your area with your group.

A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom

Q: You have shared before that your subjects speak to you so that you can bring their untold stories to life. Crow Mary has been speaking to you for over twenty years. What was the message you wanted to make sure came across in your writing, on behalf of Crow Mary?

A: From the beginning I did not know what her message might be. I only knew that I was meant to tell her story. My main concern was that I understand her culture well enough for her voice to come through. In the end, I think Mary’s story speaks for itself and will have specific meaning to each reader.

Q: What surprised you the most as you did research for this novel?

A: Throughout my twenty years of research, I was continually struck by the intricacies of the Crow culture. As a people, the Crow are highly spiritual, and so much of their lifestyle involves their spiritual practices. We see some of this in Mary’s story, but she does not go into detail as their practices are sacred to the Crow.

Q: Some characters were inspired by people in Crow Mary’s life, while others, like Jeannie, were not. Which characters were the easiest and the hardest to write?

A: Jeannie’s voice came through loud and clear, and I loved the deep bond that the two women shared.

Stiller, too, strutted into the story, big and bold. Vile as he was, everything about him was easy to see.

It was more difficult to write Abe’s story. He was a complicated man, and Mary cared deeply for him. Watching him succumb to alcoholism through her eyes was difficult. I cried when I first found his documented obituary.

Q: What is your writing process? Do you outline and plan or do you let the characters guide you in telling their story?

A: For me, the characters always take over. This book was different from my first two in that, with documentation of Crow Mary’s life, I had to work with something of an outline. My challenge was to comprehend her culture well enough so that when Crow Mary acted or spoke, I understood her.

Q: You include Crow dialogue throughout the novel. How did you go about translating and capturing the essence of the language on the page?

A: The Crow words came spontaneously when Crow Mary spoke. However, I relied heavily on Janice Wilson, Bird of Excellence, a Crow elder and teacher of the Crow language, to guide and educate me along the way.

Q: This is your first novel outside of the world of The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything. How was the writing experience different?

A: Initially, Crow Mary’s culture was completely foreign to me. The structure of the family, the rules of etiquette, their approach to the spiritual world—each had many nuances, and all had great importance. At times, learning the intricacies seemed an overwhelming task, but I was gifted with the experience and patience of many Crow elders.

Q: Writing a novel after your first can often be a very different experience to writing your debut. What advice do you have for writers working on their second or third novels?

A: Actually, I found little difference. My advice is as simple as this. Just do the work. Writing a novel is hard work. Each story requires dedication, research, drafts, edits, and more drafts, until the writer and editor agree that the story is ready to be published.

Kathleen’s Crow Mary Recipes

Creamy Rice and Raisin Pudding

My daughter, Erin, and I worked to get a creamy rich texture to this pudding. We think we’ve accomplished that.

Makes about 6 servings


2/3 cup rice (we used jasmine long grain white rice)

4 cups milk (we used 2% but you can use skim or whole)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted or salted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup raisins


Put the rice, milk, sugar, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. Stir in the raisins and remove from the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the rice to continue to absorb the liquid.

Serve hot or cold, with or without whipped cream.

We hope you enjoy it as much as Jeannie and Crow Mary did.

Easy Blueberry Syrup

Saskatoon berries, also known as serviceberries and juneberries, are similar to blueberries, though they are usually smaller and have more of a crunch. Serviceberries were highly prized by the Indigenous people for making pemmican, a food staple. Here we’ve made an easy syrup using blueberries. This easy-to-make syrup can be used over pancakes, French toast, or as a base for any number of drinks.

Makes about 1 cup


2 cups blueberries

2 cups water

3/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice


Combine the blueberries, water, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the mixture comes to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the lemon juice, whisk, and then strain out the berry pulp.

Serve warm or cold.

Delicious Blueberry Vodka Cocktail

One way to incorporate blueberry syrup is in your favorite cocktails. The sparkling water makes this vodka cocktail light and refreshing.

Makes one serving


1 cup ice

2 ounces vodka (plain, lemon, or vanilla)

3 tablespoons Easy Blueberry Syrup (see previous recipe)

4 ounces sparkling water or soda water

A squeeze of fresh lime or lemon

Fresh blueberries for garnish


Combine the ice, vodka, blueberry syrup, sparkling water, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker and shake to your heart’s content.

Strain into your glass of choice and garnish with the blueberries. We used a martini glass, but you can use anything you’d like.

For extra credit, spear the blueberries onto a decorative toothpick, mint sprig, or rosemary sprig as a garnish.

Refreshing Blueberry Mocktail

For those who don’t drink alcohol, we thought we deserved a fun drink too! If you don’t have all of the ingredients below, don’t worry—it will taste yummy no matter what you use.

Makes one serving


2 ounces Easy Blueberry Syrup (see recipe above)


Blueberries, mint leaves, and lime or lemon slices for garnish

6 to 8 ounces limeade (lemonade or sparkling water can be substituted)


Spoon the blueberry syrup into the bottom of a tall glass.

Then add alternating layers of ice, blueberries, mint leaves, and slices of lime or lemon.

Pour the limeade, lemonade, sparkling water or a combination over the top for a delicious refreshing drink.

Further Reading:

For those who might want to learn more about the Crow Tribe:


A TASTE OF HERITAGE by Alma Hogan Snell


THE WOMAN WHO LOVED MANKIND by Lillian Bullshows Hogan


COUNTING COUP by Joseph Medicine Crow

THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR edited by Phenocia Bauerle

THE STARS WE KNOW by Timothy P. McCleary

PLENTY COUPS by Frank Linderman

PRETTY- SHIELD by Frank Linderman​

Moe about the Nakoda Tribe:


LAND OF NAKODA Federal Writers’ Project

About the Cypress Hills:

THE CYPRESS HILLS MASSACRE edited by Robert Clipperton

About The Author

Photograph by Erin Plewes

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom is now happily rooted in south-side Virginia. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House, Glory Over Everything, and Crow Mary. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (March 12, 2024)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476748481

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“Grissom offers an ambitious account of bravery and initiative inspired by the true story of a Crow woman who married a white man in late-19th-century Montana…With a flashback-heavy narrative, Grissom effectively conveys how Mary’s Crow childhood stays with her over the course of her new life. This moving story of one woman’s grit, survival, and resilience will keep readers turning the pages.”—Publishers Weekly

“Kathleen Grissom is a tremendously gifted storyteller. Here she combines intensive research and her own superb novelistic skills, to unveil one of our nation’s darkest eras. In the process she brings back to life her narrator, the real Crow Mary—a native American woman who with love, wit and pure strength of character, not only survives these seemingly impossible times, but prevails against all odds. A riveting tale, beautifully told.”

Jim Fergus, author of The Vengeance of Mothers

"My favorite novels shine a light on women that history books have forgotten. Over twenty years ago, Kathleen Grissom heard about an incredible woman named Goes First, and Crow Mary is worth the wait. While reading Crow Mary, I couldn’t help but think of My Antonia by Willa Cather, and the debt we owe to the women who came before us."

—Janet Skeslien Charles, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library

"Crow Mary left me breathless. Kathleen Grissom has the gift of waking up the past with fever, illuminating an aspect of American history that few know. Each page engulfed me in a world of conflict, love, and heartache. Tender, compelling, and a profoundly educational and satisfying read. The strength and sheer bravery of Crow Mary will stay with me for a long time."

—Sadeqa Johnson, international bestselling author of The Yellow Wife and The House of Eve

“Kudos to Grissom for weaving truth into masterful storytelling about Crow Mary’s epic journey. The result presents the fragile legacy of an emancipated woman determined to make her own destiny. Prepare to marvel at the strength and wisdom of Crow Mary. She is a heroine for all times.”

—Leah Weiss, bestselling author of If the Creek Don't Rise and All the Little Hopes

"I fell into the world of Crow Mary utterly and completely. It’s a superbly spun tale about a life that deserves to be told."
—Martha Conway, author of The Physician’s Daughter

"Crow Mary is a richly detailed story of a woman caught between two cultures. You’ll be captivated by Mary’s strength and determination as she struggles to save her family and her people from destruction. A compassionate and deeply satisfying novel."

—Sandra Dallas, New York Times best-selling author of Where Coyotes Howl

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Kathleen Grissom